11 Plant Combos You Should Grow Side-by-Side

It’s part folklore, part science, but companion planting just may help your garden grow.

Step back in time to embrace some gardening wisdom your grandparents may have practiced: The concept of companion planting, or planting combinations of specific plants for their mutual benefit. “The theory behind companion planting is that certain plants may help each other take up nutrients, improve pest management or attract pollinators,” says Tom Maloney, horticulture educator for Penn State Extension. “Some research, such as how to attract beneficial insects like lacewings to the garden to fight pests, has been studied, so we know it’s effective. We’re still researching other aspects of companion planting.”

In the meantime, it certainly won’t hurt to try these common-sense combinations in your garden:

Nasturtium + Cucumber

“For me, companion planting is about bringing pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden to improve biodiversity,” says Amy Stross, blogger at TenthAcreFarm.comand author of The Suburban Micro-Farm. Stross grows cukes up a trellis, and lets the nasturtiums, which have a unique scent that seems to repel pests, grow in a colorful tumble underneath.

Alyssum is an annual that’s easy to grow from seed in between rows of vegetables. “It’s a big attractor of hover flies, which are beneficial insects that control aphids,” says Stross. Plant pretty Swiss chard as a border, interspersed with these delicate low-growing flowers.

“Pairing plants with different growth habits together is referred to as ‘intercropping,’ and we do have some data to show it’s effective,” says Maloney. In this case, tomatoes and eggplant grow tall and eventually can shade cool season crops such as lettuce, which doesn’t like heat. This trick may extend your lettuce season slightly.

Aphids steer clear of smelly plants like chives or garlic, so try it near your lettuce. Or add alyssum nearby to bring in the beneficial insects, says Stross.
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