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Companion Planting to Maximize Garden Space

Photos by Rebecca Anne Cole

When I first started my garden I made sure each vegetable variety had its own designated row. I wanted my garden to resemble a compact version of a farmer’s field, with meticulous crops carefully maintained in systematic rows.  

While my garden looked neat and tidy, it limited my ability to grow a wide variety of vegetables in the small space I had to work with. I soon realized that I could grow a lot more vegetables and experiment with different heirlooms if I was open to comingling plant varieties.

Three Sisters Planting  

The first companion planting I tried was a Native American method called Three Sisters. The technique consists of corn, beans and squash planted close together in the same garden space. The corn is planted first to provide support for the beans, followed by squash which serves as a ground cover. Using this method, I was able to grow three vegetable varieties in the space that would have housed only one using traditional crop rows.  

To plant the Three Sisters, I used the mouth of a 5 gallon bucket to imprint a circle in the soil, leaving enough room in between circles to walk. Then I sowed corn seeds (Dorinny Sweet and Country Gentleman are my favorite) 6” apart in the outline of the circle. When sprouts appeared, I planted bean seeds on either side of each corn sprout. Any variety of climbing beans will work. I used a combination of lima beans and pole beans. Squash is planted last, after the beans have emerged. I sowed squash seeds in the middle of the circle so that the vines would extend out and provide ground cover. A vine type of squash works best.

Other Companion Planting Ideas

Many vegetables grow well together. Take into consideration what each plant has to offer the others, then plan the garden space accordingly. Taller crops such as tomatoes and peppers can serve as much needed shade for tender leaf lettuce varieties, which can in turn serve as a ground cover to deter weeds and retain moisture.

Photos by Rebecca Anne Cole

Interplant vegetables within the same family, such as brassicas, to add variety and additional plantings. Instead of spacing rows for each variety, I plant cabbages, kale, and Brussels in a staggered pattern. The plants fill in the space completely, leaving just enough access room to harvest without wasting precious space. I have almost doubled my brassica planting by using this method.  

Root vegetables like carrots and radishes can share space with cabbages and broccoli. I like to sow Half Danvers and Early Scarlet radishes around my brassica seedlings at the time of transplant in early spring. Radishes will be mature and be harvested before the carrots, leaving plenty of room for the carrot roots to flourish.

Most herbs companion well with other vegetables, and some herbs may act as natural pest control for the plants they share space with. Flowering herbs will also add beauty while attracting pollinators. Dill, chives, bee balm, basil and parsley may be planted in corners and boarders around the garden. Edible flowers such as nasturtium and marigolds are beneficial to cucumbers and squash varieties by attracting bees. Nasturtium is also believed to be an effective deterrent for unwanted insects.   

Published on May 29, 2018

Mother Earth Gardener

Expert advice on all aspects of growing.