Companion planting in the vegetable garden

Martyn Cox / 18 April 2013 ( 05 April 2017 )

Companion planting is associated with organic gardening, but there's no reason why this clever technique shouldn't be more widely practiced to deter pests and improve productivity in the vegetable garden.



What is companion planting?

Companion planting is essentially a method of growing two or more different plants together for the reputed beneficial effect they have on the crop you wish to nurture. 

Companion planting is mainly carried out in the vegetable garden to control pests, to attract pollinating insects and to improve the growth of plants.

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Onions and carrots companion planting
Plant onions with carrots to help deter carrot root fly

Detering pests with companion planting

Pungent herbs or flowers are excellent for growing alongside vegetables to disguise its smell from pests or to drive them away completely. 

Carrots can be decimated by the dreaded carrot root fly, so stump the pest by sowing rows of seeds among onions - the scent of the bulb will confuse the tiny fly and you’ll make better use of limited space by giving you the opportunity to squeeze in more crops.

Elsewhere, dot strongly scented French marigolds around tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn – not only will they add a splash of colour to the garden, but they will help to repel whitefly and aphids.

Thyme, marjoram, sage, coriander and parsley are other strongly scented herbs that can be used to fill gaps around other plants in the veg patch.

Find out how to deter aphids

Companion 1 Companion 2 Benefit
Beans French marigolds French marigolds repel whitefly and aphids
Broad beans Summer savory Summer savory deters blackfly
Carrots Onions, spring onions, leeks The onion smell deters carrot root fly
Potatoes French marigolds French marigolds deter eelworms
Sweetcorn French marigolds French marigolds repel whitefly and aphids
Tomatoes Chives, onions The onion scent can deter aphids
Vegetable bed Tansy The smell of tansy deters ants
Nasturtium and cabbage
Plant nasturtiums to lure cabbage white butterflies away from vegetables such as cabbages and broccoli

Martyr plants

A novel way of keeping crops pest free is to plant others nearby that you know will attract pests like a magnet. 

Nasturtiums are a great sacrificial lamb to lure pests away from those plants you want to nurture. Plant them around your edibles and they’ll be attacked by blackfly, while your precious crops remain free of this pesky aphid. These trailing plants also attract the dreaded cabbage white butterfly, so plant them around cabbages, cauliflowers or broccoli to keep them free from caterpillars.

In the greenhouse, find room for a pot of basil and it will attract whitefly, preventing your tomatoes or cucumbers from suffering from attack.

Companion 1 Companion 2 Benefit
Broccoli Nasturtiums Nasturtiums will attract cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas
Cabbage Nasturtiums Nasturtiums will attract cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas
Cauliflower Nasturtiums Nasturtiums will attract cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas
Cucumbers Basil In a greenhouse basil will attract whitefly away from cucumber plants
Kale Nasturtiums Nasturtiums will attract cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas
Tomatoes Basil In a greenhouse basil will attract whitefly away from tomatoe plants
Sweet peas and runner beans companion planting
Plant sweet peas near runner beans to attract pollinators

Attract pollinating and predatory insects

The yield of some crops can be poor if there is a lack of pollinating creatures, so increase your chances of a bumper harvest by growing some nectar-heavy flowering plants around your edibles. 

A good plant partnership is sweet peas with climbing beans. Grow them together on a wigwam of canes or ornamental obelisk, and the sweet peas will provide colour and interest to the structure, along with attracting beneficial insects.

Sow seeds of poached egg flowers under soft fruit such as raspberries to attract bees, hoverflies and other creatures. Apart from improving the pollination of flowers, thus increasing the chances of a great harvest, many of the creatures that are lured in by the pretty yellow and white flowers will vacuum up pests.

Find out how to attract helpful insects into your garden

Companion 1 Companion 2 Benefit
Beans Sweet peas Sweet peas will attract pollinating insects
Courgettes Calendula Calendula will attract pollinating insects
Raspberries Poached egg flower Poached egg flowers at the base of soft fruit plants will attract pollinators
Vegetable beds Yarrow Beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds are attracted to yarrow
Peas and currant
Peas and beans release nitrogen, so grow near fruit bushes or trees

Improve the health of plants

Plants that belong to the pea family, which includes lupins, peas, beans and sweet peas, benefit the soil by taking nitrogen from the air and storing it in their roots – any excess is then made available to the plants growing alongside. To make the most of them, try planting in the fruit cage or around fruit trees.

Some plants are also said to improve the taste of vegetables - for example basil improves the taste of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.

Companion 1 Companion 2 Benefit
Aubergines Basil Basil is said to increase the productivity and improve taste of aubergines
Fruit bushes Peas, beans and sweet peas The nitrogen released from the roots of plants in the pea family will benefit fruit
Fruit trees Peas, beans and sweet peas The nitrogen released from the roots of plants in the pea family will benefit fruit
Lettuce Basil Basil is said to improve the taste of lettuce
Peppers Basil Basil is said to improve the productivity and taste of peppers
Tomatoes Basil Basil is said to improve the taste of tomatoes
Vegetable beds Yarrow Yarrow fertilises the soil around it, benefiting all plants, and can be added to the compost heap

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.