Companion Planting Combos
Companion planting is one of the best ways to control pests and attract pollinators.
But it also brings beauty, colour, fragrance and variety into the veggie garden. Space is often at a premium, so it makes sense to plan your companion planting combos with plants that work well together and make the most of every bit of soil.
There is plenty of scope to get really creative with your combinations. For instance, incorporating edible or bee-friendly flowers into every mix, or using aromatic culinary and healing herbs as low-growing borders or living mulches to repel pests.
Companion-planting principles can infuse the entire garden, which increases the scope for planting more edibles without needing a dedicated space for veggies. It simply requires zoning veggies and herbs with flowers and shrubs that have the same sun or shade, soil, watering and fertility requirements.
Scan through a list of ‘good companions’ and you will likely find flowers and flowering herbs like lavender, roses, carnations, cornflowers, feverfew, echinacea, golden rod, marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, petunias, Queen Anne’s lace, sunflowers and violas. You’ll notice than many of them are heirloom varieties that fit right into the companion-planting ethos.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for putting together a companion-planting combo, but here are some suggestions that might help:
Start with the main vegetable
- This will provide the focus, and narrow down the criteria for choosing the companion plants
- Insect-repelling herb or herbs. This could be a general insect-repelling herb or one that specifically repels insects that attack the main vegetable. Also consider the herb’s culinary, healing or aesthetic uses
- Pollinator-friendly plants such as flowering herbs, edible flowers and nectar- or pollen-rich garden flowers, especially those that are fragrant or good for picking
- Soil-enriching plants such as legumes that fix nitrogen; chamomile and lovage, which benefit the plants around them, or borage, which adds minerals to the soil
- When putting the combo together, take into account height and spread, so that plants don’t shade one another (unless that is the purpose). Also look at colour combinations, texture and contrast. A companion garden can be both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Do your research
The internet is obviously your quickest and broadest research tool. There are many companion-planting sites, but you might find that they don’t all agree. A safe bet is where there is consensus among sites about the companion properties of a particular herb or herb/veggie combination. One of our favourite references is a book called Companion Planting by Margaret Roberts (published by Briza). There is so much detail about each companion plant and how they were used in her gardens at The Herbal Centre. It’s a good read, too. Another favourite and reliable reference is the Healthy Living Herbs website: www.healthyliving-herbs.co.za.
5 companion planting combos
Classic caprese: tomato, basil and marigolds or nasturtiums
This is probably the best-known companion-planting combo. Sweet basil planted between or close to tomatoes repels insects and improves the flavour of tomatoes. Marigolds or nasturtiums are included for their colour as well as the fact that marigolds repel soil nematodes and attract pollinators (the single French marigolds), and nasturtiums are a trap crop for black aphids and attract pollinators, and the flowers and leaves are edible.
Tutti frutti: Strawberries, Swiss chard, spring onions, green beans and parsley
Strawberries are the ‘hero’ of this combination, providing both fruit and flowers. Look out for ‘Summer Breeze’, which is a double-flowered variety with long-lasting rose-coloured flowers that cover the sturdy plant throughout summer and develop trusses of snackable sweet fruit. It is a compact grower with few runners, which makes it easier to combine with other veggies and herbs. Parsley boosts growth and improves the flavour of strawberries. Spring onions repel aphids and bush beans repel some beetles and, more importantly, fix nitrogen in the soil (by hosting nitrogen-fixing bacteria). Swiss chard enjoys the same growing conditions as strawberries (regular watering and fertile soil that drains well) and it can be used to provide some afternoon shade for the strawberries.
Sweet or spicy: Sweet peppers or chillies, lettuce, beetroot/carrots, oregano and marigolds
Peppers or chillies are definitely the main attraction for their colourful fruit. Adding marigolds makes the combo even more colourful. Lettuce will be shaded by the peppers, and both like plenty of water and free-draining soil. Root crops, like beetroot and carrots, also like free-draining soil, and beetroot would also benefit from the shade of the peppers or taller-growing chillies. As a beautiful contrast, consider planting beetroot ‘Bulls Blood’ or ‘Ruby Velvet’, which are grown more for their edible leaves, either as baby leaves or for eating like spinach. Oregano is the pest-repellent herb, especially golden oregano or variegated oregano ‘Country Cream’, which act as pest-repelling groundcovers.
Best buddies: Brinjals, borage, carnations, lovage and marjoram
Brinjals benefit from an organically rich soil that is moist but not soggy. Borage acts as a nutritious mulch that adds minerals to the soil and keeps it moist and cool. The edible blue flowers attract bees, as does the sweet, spicy fragrance of carnations, which are long-lasting cut flowers. Lovage also benefits brinjals, because it acts as a plant tonic and has the same growing requirements. It is a delicious culinary herb for flavouring slowcooked stews and soups. Keep its size under control through regular clipping. Marjoram repels insects with its aromatic leaves and attracts pollinators to its flowers. Another valuable culinary herb, especially for brinjal dishes.
Coming up roses: Bush squashes (baby marrow/patty pans), single or semi-double standard roses and chives
You won’t find this combo in any traditional companion-planting guide, but for rose lovers who don’t need an excuse to plant just one more rose, here is your chance. Squashes have both male and female flowers, and they need bees to do the pollinating deed. Single or semi-double roses with exposed stamens are a magnet for bees. Standard roses (Try white, burgundy or pink ‘Iceberg’) between, alongside or behind the squashes will also shade the tender squash leaves in summer, and they share the same growing requirements; plenty of water at root level and fertile soil. Plant chives as an insect-repelling border.