Companion Planting for Natural Gardens
Companion planting is basically just arranging your garden so that complementary plants are near each other. This can mean different things, including plants that deter pests, attract insects, or require different nutrients to reduce competition. Most gardeners will be planting a common assortment of vegetables, so we will try to focus mostly on those you’re likely to find in any garden.
For starters, there are some plants that are pretty much good to plant near anything. Alfalfa is one of these. A drought-resistant crop, it has strong roots that help to break up soil and aerate it for others with weaker root systems. Its tap root also deposits nitrogen into the soil, reducing your need for fertilizer and making the soil richer for the next planting year.
Basil and Tomato
Along those same lines comes basil. This herb also puts off nitrogen and is especially popular to plant near tomatoes. It will help to enhance their flavor, and the strong smell helps to repel thrips, flies and mosquitoes, which can be a big deal both for protecting the plants and the human harvesters. Many backyard gardeners say planting basil nearby helps contribute to sweeter tomatoes and a bountiful harvest.
Next Row: Carrots and Leeks
Since you’ve planted basil and tomatoes together, the next row would look good with some carrots. Carrots love tomatoes, and vice versa. Tomatoes, in their leggy-goodness, help to provide a bit of shade to their orange companions, who tend to wilt in high heat. On the flip side, carrots, which are clearly a tap root vegetable, help to break up the soil and get air and water down to the tomatoes’ thirsty roots. This is low-level aeration, suitable for a small plot, but you might need the super charged aeration if you have a larger farm.
An entire row of carrots might be a bit much, so try mixing some leeks in with them. They will help to deter carrot flies. If leeks aren’t your thing, planting chives nearby can help to enhance carrot flavor, and the smell will, again, protect them from certain pests.
Based on what we’ve gone over so far, let’s talk about bell peppers. If you’re planting tomatoes, carrots, and onions, bell peppers will fit right in! These brightly colored additions grow well with a variety of plants, including tomatoes, basil, carrots and onions! However, be careful planting them near broccoli, fennel or apricot trees. Those guys don’t get along, and you’ll end up with some sickly peppers — and some really sick apricots.
Onions are another great companion plant for, well, all of the above, and then some! They work well with chives, carrots and bell peppers since the roots go to different depths, which prevents them from crowding each other out. Plus, onions smell. We all know they do, and so do insects. In fact, onions smell enough that they can hide the scent of other plants and confuse the insects into thinking there’s nothing there.
Dill is a lovely herb that grows well with onions, but only onions. Try to keep it a bit farther from the carrots and bell peppers, as they don’t make for friendly neighbors. However, dill can be used as a segue into another garden section for plants that don’t grow well with those we’ve already gone over. Onions and dill work well, and they should provide enough space that you can start the next section without messing up your current neighborhood.
Dill, as you may have guessed, also grows well with cucumbers. The scent will help to attract beneficial insects that can help with pollination. Bear in mind cucumbers tend to take up a decent amount of space, so make sure you plan for that! Many people won’t plant cucumbers near tomatoes, but don’t despair if you’ve done it before. Your soil may need some extra fertilization, as the two will compete for resources, but they won’t spread disease or anything.
Near to the cucumber patch, you can set down some stakes and stick in some beans. Bear in mind that wherever beans are planted, you’ll have extra-rich soil next year. This is because the plants die back at the end of the year and decompose back into the soil, leaving it full of nitrogen. If you keep a similar style of garden for the following year, try to rotate the direction a bit, so the beany goodness can get spread around.
Corn is the last one we’ll cover. You may not find it in every gardener’s plot, but it grows very well near beans. You might be able to guess why — corn loves nitrogen! This is also why farmers use those massive sprayers to cover acres and acres of farmland with nitrogen-rich fertilizer. You’ll also notice many farmers alternate corn one year, soy beans the next. You, however, can make use of the organic option, and just keep beans nearby.