Companion planting is a technique that has been around for centuries. It is the practice of planting certain plants next to one another in order to create an environment which fosters better plant production. The idea behind companion planting is that specific plant species complement each other by providing positive physical and chemical contributions both above and below the soil level.
Plants may complement each other in a number of ways; they may provide extra space or shade above the soil, or deposit minerals and chemicals that provide a positive root growth environment below the soil. These complementary plants are called companion plants, and will help one another to grow more productively. In order to find the best companion plants for fruits, vegetables, and flowers, you will need to consider the plants’ growth habits, sunlight and water requirements, their soil necessities, as well as what the plants themselves contribute to the soil.
In general, the best companion plants will start by having the same sunlight requirements. Try to keep all of your full sun plants together, and place them in an area that gets a lot of light. Plants that need less light can be placed together in a shadier area, and so forth. The exception to this rule is plants that require more or less sun and grow to different heights. You can plant a tall, sun-loving plant next to a shorter plant that requires more shade, for example. The taller plant will provide shade for the shorter plant, creating a good environment for both plants. Corn and pumpkins are a good example of this, because the tall, sun-loving corn provides excellent shade for pumpkins. Pairing sun and shade plants together will also help you make the most of limited garden space since you will be able to plant them so close together.
The same general principle goes for watering and soil requirements. If you group plants by watering needs, then you will avoid overwatering plants that prefer dry soil, and vice versa. You must also ensure that companion plants have the same basic nutrient and acidity requirements; this will make fertilizing and soil amendment use much easier and effective.
The plants you cultivate will also influence the soil in which they’re planted by causing chemical and compositional changes. As roots spread through the soil, they will provide channels and help decrease erosion. Each individual plant also releases chemicals that can change the pH of the soil. These pH changes can positively or negatively influence the plants surrounding them, depending on the needs of the plants. For example, alfalfa is generally considered to have a positive impact on the surrounding soil, and makes a good companion plant for many fruits and vegetables. Its roots can break up clay soil, and it fixes poor soil by helping it to accumulate nitrogen, iron, and potassium, among other nutrients. It is a good companion plant for many species in a garden, especially if there are overarching soil problems.
For additional information on soil pH, visit Encap’s pH app online, and discover your fruit, flower, vegetable and/or herb’s recommended pH. We’ll also offer advice on how to either lower or raise your soil pH, if it does not fall within the plant’s preferred pH range. Soil pH is a crucial factor in companion planting, and needs to be taken into consideration when choosing plants.
There are a number of charts and online resources that can help you learn which vegetables and other plants work well together based on soil chemistry. A few examples of good companion vegetables and herb groups based on soil chemistry are:
- Group one: beans, cauliflower, cucumber, rosemary
- Group two: peppers, basil, peas, swiss chard
- Group three: tomatoes, basil, beans, carrots, chives
- Group four: celery, daisies, snapdragons
Keep in mind that these groups are only examples of vegetables and flowers that you can pair with one another. You can also pair vegetables and herbs with other fruits and flowers depending on how each plant influences the soil and its growth habits. Furthermore, some plants, especially certain herbs and fragrant flowers, will help keep away pests like rodents and aphids, which will also improve neighboring plants’ health. Garlic, with its pungent aroma, is a good example of this. Its smell can help keep aphids and other pests away from neighboring flowers.
By grouping plants based on plant family, soil chemistry, and sunlight and watering needs, you will help provide each of your plants with the best possible environment. In order to take all of these factors into account, you can plan your garden before planting, using paper and pencil to determine the best areas for each type of plant, and what companion plants will provide the best nutrients and sun protection. By doing this, you will help your plants and also cut down on your own workload by making watering simpler and allowing your plants to grow better without extra help.
This type of companion planting is a time-tested method that has been used in many cultures for years. It takes into account the sunlight, water, and soil quality factors that will always play the biggest roles in how well your plants grow, and uses them to each plant’s advantage. The best way to create a customized companion planting plan including all of these factors, is to not only plan your garden, but also test out different options in small areas or during different years to determine which method works best. Once you find good companion plant groups, then you can replicate them in a larger area, or duplicate them year after year to create the healthiest possible garden. For more information on companion planting, contact us today!