In my previous post " Year Three Expanding Cucumber Variations", I mentioned companion planting. In this post I'm going to explain what companion planting is, and how it can benefit your garden. Companion planting is planting different plants in one area, a garden bed, or a plant pot, in order for those plants to enhance each other's growth, or to help protect each other from various pests.
Companion Planting To Help Enhance Growth
The first reason for companion planting is to help enhance plant growth by planting certain plants together that help to strengthen each other. An example of this would be planting basil plants with tomato plants. The basil plants actually help the tomato plants to grow stronger and healthier. Actually, basil and tomatoes are considered to be made for each other. When planted together, these two plants share nutrients under the soils surface, giving the tomatoes enhanced flavor, and the aroma from the basil, spoiler alert, will help confuse pests looking to eat the tomato plants. I have two tomato plants on one end of my newest garden bed, which also has my lemon cucumbers and Boston pickling cucumbers planted along the back, and right next to my two tomato plants I have a basil plant. Add in all the rain we've been getting these last couple of weeks and those tomato plants have grown tremendously well. One of them is already beginning to flower. I also have a golden tomato plant in a plant pot and Anise basil planted with it. That tomato plant is doing tremendously well, and already has a bunch of tomatoes growing, with more on the way. I can't wait to find out just how good they taste with the basil planted in that pot.
I'll be adding images here soon of my tomato plants. Right now there is just too much rain to be able to go out and get a good photo.
You need to be careful with companion planting though. There are certain plants that take the same nutrients in the soil as other plants, and putting those plants together would do more harm than good. I'll get into plant family do's and don'ts another time. For now I just want to give you a few ideas on how to enhance a few of the most commonly grown plants. I'll also add in a few crop plants that can be grown alongside these plants, which won't provide any enhancements, but if you need to save space, they won't do any harm to each other either.
Since cucumbers grow a lot of shoots that can sprawl out all over the place, the healthier these plants are the better. One good example of companion planting to help enhance the cucumber plant are peas and beans, which are legumes. These plants have root systems that increase nitrogen in the soil. The increase of nitrogen will benefit cucumber plants, helping to make them healthier and stronger.
There are also a few herbs you can plant with your cucumbers, a couple of those are dill and oregano. There are also flowers that work well with cucumbers, the best ones that actually help them out are nasturtiums, sunflowers, and marigolds. Other vegetables that won't do any harm, and can be planted along with cucumbers are radishes, corn, carrots and onions.
Although I will mention that potatoes compete with cucumbers for nutrients and water, so don't ever plant them with cucumbers. Other members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, don't have this effect, so planting tomatoes with cucumbers is perfectly fine. Oh, and sage attracts pests that feast on cucumber leaves, so avoid planting sage with your cucumbers. While sage has its uses, just keep it away from garden beds and plant pots that have cucumbers. Also, don't plant cucumbers with melons. They also share characteristics which would not help either plant, so make sure you plant them in separate beds.
While I've already mentioned how basil helps tomatoes grow strong, and even enhances their flavor, there are some other plants that also help benefit these plants.
Borage is a companion plant you could try with your tomatoes. This plant is known as the starflower, and is an annual herb that flowers. It's supposed to help protect them from tomato hornworms. Plus, since it flowers it will add some beauty to your garden. I can say from experience that those little buggers can take down the biggest of tomato plants. Now that my tomato plants are getting bigger I will definitely be adding this plant right next to them. Another thing to keep in mind with this plant is that you can also use it as a vegetable or a dried herb, and it can be used in salads as a garnish. Both the flower and leaves are edible. So it is a plant worth looking into.
Similar to basil, chives can help improve the growth and flavor of tomatoes. They also help keep aphids away, and might even drive away Japanese beetles. I have yet to try chives, but from what I've read this plants offers good benefits worth keeping in mind.
If you're running out of space and want to plant carrots you can plant them alongside your tomato plants. Carrots help tomatoes by breaking up the soil with their long roots. This creates space for water and air flow to get to the tomato plants roots. Also, tomatoes then turn around and help out the carrots by secreting a natural insecticide, solanine, which carrots can then absorb.
The petunia, which is an edible flower, with edible leaves, will help repel tomato worms. Plus, if you would like to add some color to your tomato garden bed or plant pots, this flower will do just that.
Also, if you plant leaf lettuce in the same container as your tomatoes it acts as a living mulch, which will help keep the soil cooler, and reduces the chance of spreading diseases from water and soil splashing on the leaves. While most lettuce will wilt in hot weather, and grows best in cooler weather, there are some varieties that will grow in warmer weather. These include Summer Bib lettuce, All Year Round lettuce, and Brunswick Cabbage. Seedsnow.com sells seeds for each of these plants if you're interested in giving them a try.
Basil is a good companion plant to plant around pepper plants as well as tomatoes. It is said that basil will also help enhance the flavor of peppers, as well as repel pests, such as aphids, spider mites, thrips, mosquitoes, and flies.
Chives can also be grown with you pepper plants to help deter aphids, and is supposed to also improve the flavor and yield of plants planted nearby. Plus, since it can come back year after year, since it is a perennial, this just might be a good addition to add to your garden.
Looking to plant carrots? Well, if you can't plant them with your tomatoes you can definitely plant them with your pepper plants. Doing so will help with weeds, working as a living mulch. So, if you don't have a lot of space to plant carrots on their own, this is another good way to maximize your garden space.
Onions are another good option to plant around your pepper plants. They don't take up a lot of room above the ground, and are supposed to help repel certain pests, such as aphids, slugs, and cabbage worms. If you'd like to grow onions, add them to your pepper garden bed, clip the greens throughout the season, and you have a great addition to your salads and other vegetable dishes. You can also plant Swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach to not only maximize garden space, but to act as a living mulch.
Looking to protect your pepper plants from strong winds? Plant okra, or corn next to your pepper plants. Okra can also help add some partial shade to your pepper plants to help with summer heat. Plus corn can also help cast a bit of shade during certain parts of the day. Corn is also considered to be a trap crop for aphids, which might help keep them off your pepper plants.
Similar to how they help out cucumbers, beans help with nitrogen in the soil, and can also help to crowd out weeds and block winds, or even cast partial shade. Peas also help with nitrogen in the soil.
You can also maximize garden space by growing squash near your peppers. Their large leaves can help keep the sun off the bare soil, and help to keep weeds down.
If you would like to add a splash of color to your pepper plant garden beds you can plant petunias, which also help repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, tomato worms, and aphids. Geraniums also help repel pests, such as cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, as well as providing colorful blossoms in your garden.
A few good herbs you can add to your pepper plants are oregano, dill, and parsley. Oregano won't compete for space, covers bare soil, and is a great compliment to various dishes. Dill attracts a lot of beneficial insects, and can help repel aphids, and improve the flavor of your peppers. Parsley is a great edible to grow, but also helps to provide shade and cover for the bare soil.
Companion Planting To Help With Pests
Another reason, which I kind of spoiled above is to confuse pests. By adding different variations of plants, such as basil, hyssop, and cosmos, for example, the pests can't clearly smell the vegetable plants, such as cucumber plants or tomato plants, or even melon plants. They are thrown off by all the scents and therefore less likely to find and attack fruits and vegetables growing next to them.
I've actually had very few squash bugs on my cucumber plants this year because of this type of companion planting. In my six foot by three foot garden bed, along with my Boston pickling and lemon cucumbers, and my two tomato plants, I have chocolate mint, basil, and Anise hyssop planted within close proximity. It's a wide variation, but each plant is helping it's neighbor out.
Now you still have to be careful with companion planting to help confuse pests. There are certain plants that attract the same pests, and putting those plants together would do more harm than good. For now, I'm going to give you a list of plants that will work great with cucumbers, melons, squash, and even pepper plants, which are the main plants I'm growing this year. Some of these plants will also help attract bees, which help with pollination. Although I also hand pollinate my cucumbers and melons to help ensure all my female flowers are pollinated. I hate finding a female flower dying off because it didn't get pollinated.
Marigolds help repel beetles, although they can be tough to keep alive. They also produce a substance called alpha-terthienyl that helps to reduce root-knot nematodes in the soil. These little guys are microscopic in size. They feed on plants, and can be quite deadly for your crops. Since they live underground or inside plants, they are difficult to control. Although, with marigolds, I will warn you, I tried growing them many times last year and every single time they were eaten away by cut worms. But if you can grow them then I definitely recommend them. You can plant them with cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and even melons. But don't plant French marigolds next to beans.
These plants taste horrible to thrips and other insects, such as aphids, beetles, squash bugs, and whiteflies, making these flowers a good companion plant for almost all vegetables and herbs. The flower is not only beautiful, but is considered to help aide many plants with their flavor and growth. These plants can be planted with your tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper plants, and your melons, such as cantaloupes.
This plant will add a burst of color to your garden. It works well in hot, dry conditions. So it's a pretty tough plant. It grows bluish-purple flowers that appear in mid to late summer, and retain their color for weeks. Plus this plant is quite fragrant, so it's a must have for your garden. Just remember, Russian Sage grows 3 to 5 feet tall, although there are dwarf forms that are more compact, reaching 3 feet in height. The best growing zones for this plant are Zones 4-9.
This plant is a very popular perennial. It is called Nepeta, or Catmint. It has rich blue flowers that stand up to heat and drought. Plus, after the flowers finish blooming you can shear the plant back by a third of its height and it will bloom again in the late summer and early fall. There are taller varieties that grow 3 feet tall, and shorter varieties that grow to 12 inches tall. The shorter varieties would be great along garden borders. They grow best in Zones 3-9.
The Coneflower is a perennial that was once found growing wild on the American prairie, and are now one of the most widely grown perennials in the country. There are single flower forms, as well as doubles and triple petal-packed varieties. The colors vary from purple to white, orange, yellow, and red. Coneflowers grow best in full sun, but will tolerate some light shade. They bloom from early summer to fall, and are attractive to birds and butterflies. They grow best in Zones 3-9.
Another beautiful perennial is Yarrow. I have this plant in the corners of one of my garden beds. This plant is tough, and also a potent medicinal herb. The flowers are very pretty, with their umbrella shape, and they vary in color from white to a pinkish-red. They also have fern like leaves that just add to their beauty. They don't do well in areas that are really wet, so make sure you plant your Yarrow in an area that has good drainage. I planted my plants last year and they are still growing strong.
Medicinal uses for Yarrow vary from stopping bleeding, to reducing inflammation. It also helps with fevers and colds and flus by reducing body temperatures and encouraging perspiration by making an herbal tea. It can also be used as a digestive remedy. See this post I found on the Medicinal Benefits of Yarrow.
These perennials are beautiful. There are so many varieties to choose from. There is the Chocolate Cosmos, which grows well in Zone 9, and actually have a chocolate like fragrance. Then there are other varieties that grow pink, white, or purple flowers. I definitely prefer these to Marigolds, which I could never keep alive. They were eaten by cut worms every time. Cosmos are a much better option. I have them planted in my melon patch, pepper garden bed, and alongside my lemon and Boston pickling cucumbers in their garden bed. They do best in full sun, and can be used in garden beds as a border plant, or grown in containers for decoration. The best part is, if you're in Zone 9, you can simply mulch them in the fall and wait for them to grow back the next spring.
The Liatris, or Blazing Star, is a hot pick for hot, sunny gardens. These plants are naturally resistant to heat and drought, and can be found in pink, purple, or white flowering varieties. Liatris form as clumps of narrow leaves that are topped in mid to late summer by 2 foot tall spikes of blooms. It is also a favorite with butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. They grow best in Zones 3-9.
Hyssop is an easy to grow herb that also has medicinal uses to help treat respiratory illness when put in tea. It is from the mint family, is beautiful, and definitely deserves to have a place in any garden. Older plants form neat, rounded bushes that grow to 1 to 3 feet in height. Younger plants are looser in form. They bear medium green leaves that are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. In areas that have mild winters these plants are evergreen. They have clusters of six to fifteen violet-blue, pink, or white flowers that top their spikes.
They bloom from summer to fall, and grows best in Zones 3-10. Hyssop flowers have been described to have a sweet, but not too sweet, skunky, but not unpleasant, clean and aromatic smell with a hint of turpentine, medicinal, and minty fragrance. Whew, that was a long description. Hyssop is native to southern Europe and Eurasia. They also attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, and are supposed to repel cabbage flies, and flea beetles. The varieties I have are growing very beautiful purple flowers. I've planted them in my melon patch, in my garden bed with my pepper plants, and in my larger garden bed that has my lemon cucumbers, Boston pickling cucumbers, and a couple of tomato plants. As well as in my cottage style garden bed that has a variety of plants, including my squash.
This plant has many uses, it's not only grown as a decorative flower, but it's also an excellent food crop. The bright colored flowery head of this plant contains tons of seeds, which are the Amaranth grains found in Amaranth cereal and flour, while the leaves can be used as Amaranth greens. Amaranth is a relative of beets, Swiss chard, spinach, and quinoa. So, some of its nutritional characteristics are more like the dark green leafy vegetables it's related to than cereal grain foods, such as quinoa. Although Amaranth is usually referred to as a grain, it isn't technically a grain. Basically, this plant is both a grain and green crop plant. It develops long flowers, which can either be upright or trailing depending on the variety. This plant grows well in average to rich, well drained soil that have equal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. It needs at least five hours of sunlight per day. While it does do well in moist, well drained soil it can tolerate soil that is somewhat dry.
You can sprout Amaranth from seed, just make sure that after the seeds sprout you either thin them out, or transplant the entire container you sprouted them in into a much larger pot. I sprouted a bunch of seeds this year and as soon as they developed their first true leaves I put the small compostable pot into a larger pot and so far my plants are growing strong. Eventually I will move them to their own spaces so they can grow even taller.
There are also many varieties of Amaranth, some considered best for growing as a grain and some better for leafy greens. For growing as a grain some varieties include Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus hypochondriacus, and Amaranthus retroflexus. For growing as a leafy green some varieties include Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus blitum, Amaranthus dubius, Amaranthus tricolor, and Amaranthus viridis. But, for whatever reason you choose to grow Amaranth I highly recommend adding this plant to your vegetable garden.
Last but not least I definitely recommend growing Basil, and Mint. I have Anise Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, and Chocolate Mint in my garden beds and plant pots this year. Some I sprouted from seed, and some I purchased from the Houston Garden Center for around $1.19 each. There are other great herbs you can also grow, these are just the ones I'm growing and recommending. Plus, with the mint, you can pick the leaves and use them to brew a cup of mint tea. You can also use the leaves from both the mint and basil to flavor a variety of dishes.
Oregano is another good option, and a well established herb with a good reputation for repelling pests.
While there are many other plants you can add to your garden beds these are just a few that I recommend that can be used alongside cucumbers, squash, melons, and tomatoes, which are the main plants I grow. If you want to try any other types of plants not mentioned here just do your research first to ensure they will grow well with your garden vegetables and fruits. Oh, and if you have any other suggestions of good companion plants not mentioned here feel free to let me know in the comments below.