This article looks at the role of companion planting and how certain combinations of plants can help improve the health and growth of your fruit and vegetable crops.
With our beds already dug over or mulched, now is the time of the year when we begin to sow our first seeds. However before you start filling up your vegetable bed with wild abandon, it's worth taking a moment to consider where your fruit and vegetables may be best planted and what benefits can be achieved by placing other plants next to them, helping them reach their full potential. Planning your vegetable bed can help ensure you have a more productive garden.
The practice of companion planting can be dated back to the ‘three sisters’ planting plan devised by Native Americans. This worked by having squash, beans and sweetcorn all planted in the same bed. The squash would cover the ground and prevent weed growth; the beans would feed the soil with extra nitrogen to promote better growth for other plants; and the sweetcorn gave the beans a structure to climb up. Although this particular method of growing is harder to achieve than it sounds, we can still use the basic rules of companion planting in our own garden to achieve better results for our crops.
It is worth noting that whilst companion planting has not been scientifically proven, it offers tried and tested rules of planting which can work to protect and strengthen our crops.
Tomatoes planted next to carrots result in the nutrient hungry tomatoes taking many of the nutrients away from the carrots next to them. This then leads to the carrot root reaching further down into the soil, resulting in a better crop. This also breaks up the soil for its neighbouring tomato, meaning its roots can grow fuller and result in more tomatoes.
While you should be wary of taller growing plants taking sunlight away from their shorter neighbours, in the case of pumpkin and sweetcorn, these two plants will benefit from the same amount of light as they begin to grow and in time the partial shade the sweetcorn provides will be of benefit to the pumpkin as it matures. This partial shade can also prevent lettuce and spinach bolting earlier than you want them to.
If this is a subject that whets your appetite to know more, you can look further into it online and find many diagrams that demonstrate where best to place your peas and what may tarnish your tomatoes.