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Omaha Magazine

Harvest: Every Plant Deserves A Partner

Apr 20, 2020 01:19PM ● By Patrick McGee

People aren’t the only organisms that benefit from companionship. Plants also form mutually beneficial relationships. Some provide scarce nutrients, while others provide relief from parasites and pests. Gardeners can improve yield by knowing which plants provide benefit to their neighbors. This practice is known as “companion planting.”

Companion planting aims to take into consideration various characteristics of plants that may be beneficial to one another. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac Companion Planting Guide, companion plants provide each other shade regulation, natural supports, improved plant health, healthy soil, and weed suppression.

Companion planting is nothing new. According to livelovefruit.com’s Companion Planting Chart, companion planting can be traced back to indigenous people across North America who utilized the Three Sisters gardening method, which incorporates maize (corn), beans, and squash. The method aims to capitalize on the complementary characteristics and needs of all three different plants: corn stalks provide a structure on which beans can grow; beans provide a source of nitrogen for corn and squash; and squash provides ground cover that discourages non-beneficial organisms such as parasitic insects and undesired plants (competition). Theoretically, the plants nourish one another, shelter one another, and their arrangement saves space. Three Sisters gardens are just one example of clever gardening to suit a particular set of needs.

Modern vegetable gardeners have myriad needs to consider when companion planting. Tomato gardeners, for instance, may look to repel pests such as nematodes, also known as round worms, to improve yield. According to the Companion Planting Chart, asparagus does just that (and tomato plants repel asparagus beetles). According to the Chart, chives repel pesky aphids and Japanese beetles (and may even improve the flavor of tomatoes). Garlic is also an excellent companion to tomatoes, as it reportedly repels aphids, whiteflies, Japanese beetles, root maggots, and many other non-beneficial pests. Basil, beans, borage, carrots, celery, collards, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, and peppers all possess qualities that may benefit tomatoes, according to the Chart.  

On the flip side, some plants reportedly grow poorly with one another. These pairings are known as “combatants.” Gardeners interested in companion planting should be cognizant of them. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, white garlic and onions are not compatible with beans and peas and will stunt their growth. Potatoes and beans do not jive with sunflowers, and cabbage and cauliflower are also combatants. 

Although there are many resources available on companion planting, according to Is Companion Planting Scientific?, companion planting has few and controverted scientific bases (cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/archive/companionplanting.html). That’s not to say it should be discouraged or that it has no merit. If gardeners find that it works, they should continue onward.

Companion crops benefit each other in a variety of ways. Moreover, such a carefully planned garden also provides satisfaction to the gardener and connection to the earth itself—our companion. 

The Companion Planting Chart can be found at livelovefruit.com/companion-planting-chart/.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Companion Planting Guide can be found at almanac.com/content/companion-planting-guide.

This article was printed in the May 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.