Companion planting: Real or myth?

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companion planting, cabbage and flowers growing alongisde each other

Growing a vegetable garden is a rewarding yet challenging hobby. I think everyone should try to grow something, whether it be acres of crops or a small window sill herb garden. A contaminated food supply has wreaked havoc on the health of Americans. The more food you grow yourself (preferably using non GMO seeds and no chemical pesticides) the healthier you’ll be. Whether you’re a novice gardener or an experienced veteran, you may have heard about companion planting. Many people believe that certain types of plants thrive when they are planting alongside certain other types of plants. Conversely, this same school of thought suggests some plants don’t grow well if they are near other plants in a garden.

Is companion planting real or is it one of many old wives’ tales that are passed through generations of gardeners? Some people claim the idea is nothing more than folklore, erroneous information and hype. Others adamantly stand by their belief that they’ve noticed improvement in their gardens when they grow certain plants near each other and keep other plants apart. No two gardens are exactly the same. There’s a plethora of information (some scientifically based, some anecdotal) available on gardening. It’s definitely a try-and-see type of hobby. What works for you (because of soil type, soil health, location, space, seed choice, etc.) may not be applicable or feasible for someone else. Companion planting is a topic that is ever-present among gardeners, although I’m not sure you’ll find a definitive answer on whether it’s real or just a myth.

Not many formal studies have been done on companion planting

The notion that certain plants are mutually beneficial to one another when planted in the same vicinity may not be supported by scientific proof. However, the reason isn’t that many studies have been done without concluding that companion planting is real. The reason is that not many studies have been done. That’s entirely different from studies existing that prove it’s not real. Lack of study is not proof of anything!

Experienced gardeners know a lot, and many say companion planting is real

companion planting, woman wearing blue glove reaching toward plants on a shelf

Some people reject an idea if “there are no scientific studies to prove it.” That makes no sense. What if I were an expert level snowboarder? Let’s imagine that hundreds or thousands of people have witnessed my astounding skills. There’s never been a formal study to demonstrate that my talent aligns with standards for “expert level” in the industry. Does that negate the fact that I have expert level skills? Of course, not! In fact, even if no one had ever watched me snowboard, I could still possess the skills of an expert. Similarly, we shouldn’t necessarily disregard companion planting as real simply because there aren’t a lot of studies to prove it.

Many experienced gardeners have experimented over a great number of years. They trust their own observations and tests. What if you had an ant problem in your kitchen and tried several different natural remedies over a period of time? Isn’t it possible that you’d notice that one option seemed to work better than another? Would you discount your success merely because you were unable to find a formal scientific study stating that it works? Is there any harm in trying companion planting or using it if you believe it’s been beneficial in your garden?

Crops that many gardeners say grow well together

basil and tomatoes

Gardeners who believe in companion planting often arrange their vegetable plots in certain patterns. For instance, many people grow peas and beans near corn and tomatoes. Sticklers for science will be glad to know that the reasoning behind this placement of crops has to do with “symbiotic nitrogen fixation.” In short, the legumes give the other crops a boost of nitrogen. (Sounds logical to me!) Basil is another plant that is said to grow well near tomatoes. Basil gives off a pungent aroma that might deter damaging pests from tomatoes.

Many people grow low-lying crops such as lettuce, bush beans or other smaller-sized plants at the foot of tall plants, such as corn. The larger plants provide a natural shade cover to the smaller ones. You can place plants that attract beneficial pests, such as ladybugs or praying mantises near crops at risk for aphid assaults. Parsley, mint and marigolds are also aromatic plants that help keep ‘bad’ insects away.

Which plants don’t grow well together?

companion planting, strawberry plant

Purists will likely say that recommendations to keep certain plants away from each other in the garden are without scientific merit. Gardeners who believe companion planting is real, on the other hand, often say to keep beans away from onions and garlic and sunflowers. Companion planters believe these crops can stunt the growth of beans.

You might also want to think twice before planting strawberries near tomatoes or cabbage. Strawberries are prolific (or invasive, depending on your perspective) and companion planting suggests that it might compete for nutrients with these other crops. Borage, beans, and caraway are said to be great companions for a strawberry patch.

Companion planting is an interesting topic that is worth investigating

bee on yellow flower

I noticed a significant improvement in my garden when I incorporated more flowers to attract bees. I also noticed less ‘bad pests’ after strategically planting certain herbs near certain plants where I’d been having a pest problem in past gardening seasons. Especially if you try to garden without chemicals, pest management, soil amendment and fertilization can be challenging. Companion planting might be worth a try!

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