Companion Planting: 11 Herbs to Help Your Garden Grow

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Maybe you’re just starting to think about gardening, getting an early start on new spring additions to your garden, or debating how to best nurture your herbs through the winter months. Perhaps you’re frustrated with how things turned out this year or worried about future threats to your healthy plants. Whatever your state of mind or the state of your garden, you may want to consider the benefits of companion planting in the future. I don’t even have a garden in my tiny apartment, and I find the concept fascinating.

Companion planting can be an efficient and natural way to protect your garden from pests and promote healthy, glowing growth in all your herbs, vegetables and flowers. Some plants benefit the soil, while others may deter specific pests and diseases or enhance the flavors of fruits and vegetables. Herbs are particularly valuable in the context of trap planting because they can both discourage pests and attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, bees and butterflies.

Tomatoes grow alongside basil and purple-podded peas.
Photo by Cpt. Obvious/courtesy Flickr

When designing your garden, be sure to keep the specific needs of each plant in mind. Often, companion planting is a composition of opposites in terms of shade needs, soil nutrient absorption, depth of root growth, aroma, and speed of growth. Also know that depending on conditions and climate, the following combinations may not be entirely successful. Spacing, relative plant ratios and manner of planting can be very important, and some plants should not be grown near each other. Also, the effects of companion planting are often subtle, and a major pest problem is likely to require other methods. As most companion pairings are not scientifically supported experimentation is the only way to find the best companion herbs for your gardening needs.  Here are some general traditional guidelines to get you started.

Basil: Basil can benefit the growth petunias and the flavors of tomatoes, asparagus, peppers and oregano; it should not be planted near common rue or sage. To increase the essential oils in your basil, plant chamomile or anise.

Borage: Borage acts as a deterrent to tomato hornworms and cabbage worms and is known to attract bees and wasps. It also improves soil composition and helps any plants near it be more resistant to both pests and disease. Plant borage with strawberries, tomatoes or squash to enhance both the flavor and amount of your fruit or vegetable harvest.

Chamomile: In addition to increasing the essential oils of any nearby herbs, chamomile can help basil, wheat, onions, cabbage and cucumber plants. This herb also attracts hoverflies and wasps, which assist in pollination and prey on aphids and other pest insects.

Chive: A long-term investment, chives are often planted in conjunction with tomatoes, carrots, apple trees and roses. At first growth they will repel aphids from tomatoes, mums and sunflowers, and after about three years they have known to prevent apple scab and rose black spot.

Cilantro/Coriander: This familiar kitchen spice will deter aphids, potato beetles, and spider mites. It’s a good companion to anise, caraway, spinach and dill. If you have continued problems with spider mites, a tea made from coriander can repel them.

Dill: Companion to lettuce, cabbage, onions, sweet corn and cucumbers, dill should not be planted near carrots, caraway, lavender or tomatoes (it attracts tomato horn worms). This herb will keep aphids, spider mites and squash bugs from taking over your garden and will attract hoverflies, wasps, and honeybees. To avoid cross-pollination, don’t plant dill near fennel.

Garlic: In addition to its health benefits, garlic deters rabbits as well as tree borers, aphids, cabbage looper, codling moths, Japanese beetles, snails, carrot root flies, ants and cabbage maggots. It is especially beneficial when planted near apple, pear and peach trees, roses, cucumbers, peas, lettuce or celery.

Mints: Be careful when planting mints as they can be very invasive; keep it in a container if possible to prevent its spread. Cuttings of mint can be beneficially used in mulching around turnips, cabbage, broccoli and mustard, and can also be effective in discouraging mice. As a live plant, spearmint and peppermint are especially useful in attracting bees and repelling black flea beetles, ants, mosquitoes, white cabbage butterflies, aphids and cabbage maggots. Do not plant mint near parsley.

Rosemary: Rosemary benefits the growth of sage, cabbage, beans and carrots by deterring cabbage moths, bean beetles and, if cutting are placed around carrot crowns, carrot flies. Again, don’t plant rosemary near basil or the rosemary will die.

Sage: Another herb to pair with beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots as it repels cabbage moths, black flea beetles, carrot flies and some bean parasites. Again, sage grows well with rosemary, but do not plant it close to rue, cucumbers or onions.

Tarragon: A general nuisance to pests, tarragon is well-planted throughout any garden and can help enhance the flavor and growth of nearby vegetables, especially eggplant.

Companion planted marigolds and beans at the St. James Park victory garden.
Photo by KirrilyRobert/Courtesy Flickr

As you can probably tell, this is only a small selection of the many options for companion planting: herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers all work together to keep your garden healthy and thriving without the use of damaging pesticides. And just think of all the delicious recipes you can indulge in with these multi-talented herbs!

For more information, consider the following sources:
Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunnigham (Rodale Press, 1998)
Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening: Companion Planting by Susan McClure and Sally Roth (Rodale Press, 1994)
by Louise Riotte (Storey Publishin, 1998)

Resources: Golden Harvest Organics: Companion Planting
Companion Plants by Professor Stuart B. Hill Department of Entomology Macdonald College
Down Garden Services: Companion Planting
Gardening Know-How: Companion Planting in your Herb Garden

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