Companion Planting in Your Garden – What It Is and How To Make It Work

companion planting

Plants are a lot like people. They have friends and they have enemies. You don’t want just anyone showing up at your door and forcing you to chit-chat for hours over a few espressos or a bottle of wine, do you? No, and neither do your fruits and veggies. So if you want to get the most out of your backyard garden consider knowing a little bit about companion planting.

Like how it sounds, companion planting means grouping two or more plants that get along well together. Combinations of specific veggies, herbs, flowers, shrubs or trees provide benefits to their neighbours in the form of nutrients or protection from the elements, disease and even pests. To give you an example, consider how Native Americans grew The Three Sisters for hundreds of years. They planted corn, beans and squash in the same fields. The corn grew tall offering a stalk for beans to climb up. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil for the corn and squash to use. And the squash spread out to cover the ground which limited weeds and kept soil temperature and moisture levels ideal. You don’t need a field or be growing for an entire village in order to utilize the benefits of companion planting. Even for urban gardens and small spaces you just need to remember a few tips and try out some of my favourite combinations.

Easy Ways To Remember Companion Plants

High with Low: Group plants that grow taller leaf and stem structures with lower ones to avoid crowding and give each the type and amount of sun they prefer. 

Slow with Fast: Plant quick growing veggies with ones that take longer to mature so that by the time you harvest the first, the slower growers will fill in the newly open spaces.

Deep with Shallow: Consider the space below the soil by planting plants that really anchor in deeply with ones that stay closer to the surface.

Flowers Stay Together: Keep flowering fruits and veggies in close proximity to attract pollinators and ensure fruits will form.

Companion Plants in Italian Gardens

Tomatoes & Basil

Before this classic duo makes it into the kitchen for insalata di pomodori or fresh sugo, it likes to spend time together in the garden. Planting basil within a foot of tomato plants will increase tomato yields, improve their flavour and keep fruit flies away. The taller tomato plants will also help shade fully grown and mature basil helping to prevent premature flowering and going to seed.

companion planting tomato basil

Lettuce & Onions or Garlic

Not only will growing these together make it easy and quick to pick everything you need for a fresh salad, they help to ensure you eat more of it than bugs or animals. Onions and garlic give off strong odors that help to repel pests from tender, leafy greens.

Zucchini & Flowering Plants

Unlike other garden favourites that have single flower fruit production, zucchini (along with cucumbers) need pollination from male to female flowers. If you don’t want to come out every morning to do this by hand then make sure you’re attracting friendly pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Having annual or perennial flower beds or pots close by will help bring the right flying insects into your garden.

bee pollinating zucchini

Beans & Spinach

Climbers like pole beans love the heat and sun. Low, leafy greens like spinach not so much. Plant these two together so that overhead beans will shade spinach from too much of a good thing and provide lots of nitrogen back to the soil which will give the spinach the deep green colour you want to see. 

Hot Peppers & Parsley

What kind of Nonno doesn’t grow hot peppers?! While the peppers themselves are usually safe from pests, the leaves and stems can be a dinner bell for aphids and other insects. The aroma of parsley attracts a protection racket of predatory insects to take care of your problem. 

Need more helping planning what and how to best grow in your space? The Young Nonno offers garden plans, planting and coaching so you too can grow like a pro.

Buon giardinaggio!

1 comment

  • Thank you for all the great advice, tips & ideas for the garden. I live in upstate New York & enjoy gardening. Looking forward to applying your ideas in my garden this year.

    Donna Birch

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