Many varieties of clovers work well with perennial grasses! Image: Rob Dukes
Avid home gardeners and agriculturalists have probably used or heard about companion planting (or companion gardening) to optimize their plants’ growth and yield. But for those who haven’t, companion planting is the practice of growing different plants, both ornamental and edible, together where plants benefit each other. It is similar to a mutualistic relationship between plants and beneficial insects. Companion plants can be found naturally in the wild, and examples of these practices date back thousands of years!
The Three Sisters
A well-known example of companion planting in history were corn, squash, and beans, or commonly referred to as the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters were commonly grown together- the maize’s (corn) tall structure acts as a pole for climbing bean vines and a shade for squash during the summer heat; the bean vines help stabilize corn against strong winds and are nitrogen-fixing plants, giving the corn and squash some extra nutrients through its roots; and the squash’s broad leaves kept the soil cool and moist, suppressed weed growth, and had a prickly defense against hungry wildlife! (Ag Education) Various cultivators also grew the Three Sisters with other plants, such as the Hopi (a Native American tribe) who grew Rocky Mountain Bee Plants to attract pollinators for the squash. Others took advantage of their location, in regions where fish were abundant for example, the locals used the fish carcass to fertilize their soils, followed by the remnants of plants at the end of growing seasons. (Fischer)
The Three Sisters Image: The Oneida Indian Nation
Take advantage of companion plants to enhance growth, deter pests, attract beneficial insects to pollinate and/or eliminate pests, efficiently use light and soil, etc.. But not every plant is compatible with each other. Some plants stunt each others’ growth, are attacked by unwanted pests and diseases, all bringing more harm than good to your garden or land. So always do your research before setting up!
Companion Gardening Image: Joe Urbach
Tomato and basil is a common example of companion plants. Basil’s aroma can help repel flies, aphids, and beetles from your tomatoes! You can also substitute basil for borage or dill (mature dills, however, will stunt your tomatoes’ growth). Other companion plants that go well with tomatoes and deter pests are marigold, anise, mint, and chives. Sometimes available at our Native Plant Nursery, the Scarlet Beebalm ‘Jacob’s Cline’ (part of the mint family), pairs well with tomatoes. Indian Grass and Rosemallow are both assertive plants tolerant to various growing conditions, and may grow well together. The Short-toothed Mountain Mint and Dense Blazing Star are another pair of companion plants at our Nursery that repels unwanted insects and attracts pollinators.
Short-Toothed Mountain Mint Image: North Creek Nurseries
Dense Blazing Star Image: North Creek Nurseries
Visit our Nursery page to check out what’s available: https://www.landhealthinstitute.org/copy-of-landhealth-nursery-1
"Companion Planting". Millcreek Garden. July 19, 2019, https://www.millcreekgardens.com/companion-planting/.
Fischer, Nan. "Ancient Companion Planting: The Three Sisters". Nannie Plants. December 18, 2018, https://medium.com/nannie-appleseed/ancient-companion-planting-the-three-sisters-e1d3b5f34285.
Ag Education. "The Three Sisters". American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. November 8, 2016, https://www.agfoundation.org/news/the-three-sisters.