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Anyone who wants to start a respectable vegetable garden in their home often starts their journey because of that one thing. The desire to grow and eat fresh vegetables. It’s usually after a disappointing dinner, like a night of store-bought canned tomatoes on the pasta. Nothing beats the flavors of a fresh, firm, and juicy tomato.
Reading this, you may already be growing in your garden a patch of the healthiest tomato plants. And you’re wondering to yourself, “I have more space for more vegetables… what should I grow next?”
Or you may be someone who has a smaller vegetable garden space and would like to maximize it. You think, “which vegetables can I grow in my small garden? Which plants grow well with tomatoes and are a good companion for each other?”
Is it really possible to enjoy different vegetables and grow them side by side with tomatoes for healthier growth and harvest? Yes and yes!
The art of tomato companion plants is one of the best ways to give you the vegetable garden you so desire. This article will help you understand the basics of companion planting, why the tomato is a good measure for other vegetables, and other gardening tips.
Why and How To Grow Tomato Plants:
The key to a perfect BLT is fresh ingredients. You can’t get any fresher than the firm and juicy tomatoes plucked right out from your garden. And that’s just one reason you should have them growing in your garden.
Some types of tomatoes like the cherry tomato are the easiest vegetables for beginners to grow. They have productive growth and are unproblematic. Tomatoes in general are easy to grow, they are long-season and heat-loving plants.
You can start your tomato vegetable garden by planting young seedlings in nutrient-rich soil. A good mixture of equal parts potting soil and planting mix is ideal to give your tomatoes a slightly dense but still aerated soil. Your seedling should be planted very deep covering all but the top three to four inches.
It’s crucial that you give your tomato plants plenty of sun, at least six to eight hours to ensure that they thrive with growth and flavor. A tiny seedling can grow up to ten feet! So it’s best to provide at least two cubic feet of soil.
Tomatoes don’t need a lot of water and would rather have dry feet. When they are young, you can soak the roots every three days or so. But once there are green tomatoes already forming, water less often.
If you are cultivating your tomatoes vertically in your home garden, provide your growing plants with a physical support structure like a trellis. Also remember to feed your tomatoes, especially those grown in containers. Organic fertilizer every two weeks is a good schedule to follow, one idea is to add crushed eggshells on top of the soil. This can scare off pests.
When your delicious tomatoes start flowering, pinch off the first yellow flowers that it produces. Pruning helps your plants grow taller and stronger before it starts producing fruits. (That’ll require a lot of energy and focus for your tomatoes). So pruning earlier sets them up for great health and flavor.
…And What Is Companion Planting?
If growing tomatoes are a treat, what about companion planting? What even is companion planting? Jessica Walliser in her most recent book “Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden” shares the facts and debunks the myths that surround this vegetable gardening practice. Her book would be a great start for those interested in companion plant gardening.
Companion planting has been a long practiced tradition (read: ancient) of planting different plants together to gain better benefits. It claims to be a better alternative to mono-crop cultivation. And it’s not randomly growing two plants together in any way we like.
Proper companion planting, which has different types and ways, involves strategy and some understanding about how different plants can benefit and help their neighboring plants.
The Different Types of Companion Planting
There are plenty of great tomato companion plants but before we look into that, we need to first understand the number of ways you can practice companion planting and learn the benefits of companion planting.
One of the most common reasons gardeners do companion planting is to make the most of a given space. This is especially true for properties with smaller garden areas. If you want to make sure that your patch of land is giving you all that it can, this type of companion planting is for you. When you layer plants, you enjoy not just one crop but more. That may mean that you’ll harvest lesser tomatoes in the season, but that can also allow you to grow and harvest cucumbers (salad, anyone?). Cucumber and tomato plants are also great companion plants because you can set them up even in smaller spaces.
When a plant companion gathers all the good and healthy nutrients from the environment and shares it with other plants surrounding them, that’s what you call a dynamic accumulator. It’s basically a fancy term for a beneficial pairing. One crop famous for helping their companion plants is beans who take nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil. This improves the quality and health of all the roots of their companion plants.
General Pest Control
According to J. Walliser, controlling garden pests is the most popular goal gardeners are trying to achieve when they do companion planting. That’s because some companion plants are absolutely so useful in distracting and repelling unwanted insects, pests, aphids, and other harmful elements.
Take for example the onions and carrots, they are great companion plants because they emit strong smells that distract the pests of either one.
Pest control isn’t limited to vegetable crops. In fact, one pretty flower is known to repel pests, a great pesticide – marigolds! If you plant marigolds throughout your garden, you are doing the rest of your plants a great favor. They give off a scent that can repel most pests. French Marigolds take it up a higher notch by giving off a chemical that can kill root-knot nematodes in the soil!
Attracting Beneficial Insects
Companion planting isn’t only about repelling pests though, some companion plants are ideal because they attract beneficial insects. Don’t be confused! Let me explain… Sometimes in our garden, repelling pests can only go so far, but with the presence of predatory creatures and insects, pests are eliminated. These beneficial insects can prey on pests and protect your garden.
Other beneficial companion plants include those which can attract bees to your garden (flowers). Without pollinators, it would be difficult to enjoy any of your vegetables, groups, and flowering plants.
When it comes down to it, companion planting generally enhances the environment in one form or another. Some types of companion plants can reduce weed infestations, and keep the water and soil healthy. Some plants provide shade to plants that easily burn from sun exposure. Other companion plants make for great ground covers. There are all these great factors and reasons for you to try companion planting in your garden.
However, it’s very important for us to understand that companion planting still has a long way to go scientifically. There aren’t enough studies and research conducted to provide a definite fit-all pairing. Plants and their interactions with one another continue to spring up with surprises. That’s nature to you!
But what we do continue to note is the anecdotal evidence that proves that certain plant combinations work. Some pairings and companion plants already have scientific studies that support their match.
If you’re a seasoned gardener, you know enough that there are a number of factors involved. What can work for one may not work entirely for others. The climate, air, soil, and other conditions play a role and make all the difference.
Companion planting then is an experiment and a study on both your plants and your patience. Study the nuances of each plant, understand how ecosystems work, pay attention to your plants. All this process is part and parcel of what makes gardening a rewarding journey, after all.
13 Best Tomato Companion Plants
When you’re deciding the best companion for tomatoes, space isn’t the only thing you have to take into consideration. Time is also another factor. How do you want to harvest your crops? Do you want to enjoy your grown tomatoes and harvest them alongside the companion plants? Or do you want different harvest schedules?
When you practice tomato companion planting, you also need to consider the crop rotation plan. The health and flavor of your tomatoes are also dependent on the quality of your soil. Which plants should best come before and after your tomatoes? These choices are important! So when you are planning, planting, and lay-outing, these crops are a few of the most ideal tomato companion plants.
We start our list with a Mediterranean herb that goes perfectly well with your tomato plants whether on the dish in your kitchen or on your garden as companion plants. Thyme can repel pests especially yellow-striped armyworms. Researches from Iowa State found that thyme or basil herbs can reduce the presence of egg-laying pests like adult armyworms. This companion plant serves as a great ground cover around the edges of a tomato plant bed.
Beneficial insects are a wonderful design of nature. They are the happy little helpers that will ensure the health, growth, and safety of your tomato as well as the crops planted near it. Now, the dill is an interesting choice as a companion plant. A few gardeners will tell you to avoid planting dill near tomatoes because mature dill plants can hinder tomato growth. But here’s the thing with dill: this plant attracts ladybugs and caterpillars who feed on aphids, spider mites, and all other kinds of tiny pests.
Have you been having problems with tomato fruit worms or tomato hornworms? Planting plenty of dill in your garden, letting it flower (at a safe distance from tomatoes) will invite the presence of beneficial insects to help you solve your pest problems.
This is one of the most popular perennial vegetables that’s a sure hit for many vegetable gardens. This is one of those truly beneficial tomato companion plants. First, tomatoes along with petunias and calendula are known to deter asparagus beetles. Also, once you harvest asparagus in the spring, you’re mostly left with an empty patch of land. This is a great time for you to plant tomatoes.
The next two vegetables are one of the most perfect combinations of crops you can plant together with tomatoes. Beans as we’ve mentioned above provide a boost of nitrogen to the soil. Tomatoes, in general, are not nitrogen-needy. instead, tomatoes need a good boost of potassium to bear healthy fruits.
But dynamic accumulators like the beans are absolutely healthy to plant all around your garden. Pole beans and bush beans are also great companion plants. They often attract bumblebees that can feed on their nectar. The pole beans and bush beans then help play the role of pollinating your tomato plants. If you have tomatoes climbing onto trellises, beans are the best companion to climb with them.
This is the vegetable that goes well when planted with beans. Squash is nitrogen-hungry and will reap the benefits of these soil-friendly beans. Squash and tomatoes need almost the same growing conditions, which means they are good plant companions for tomatoes.
Squash has large leaves that can create a good ground cover, helping keep the water and moisture in the soil.
If you haven’t heard of this before, remember this: trap crop. Nasturtiums lure pests, especially aphids, towards them instead of feasting on the tomato plants. So not only are they edible flowers that are pretty on any salad, but they are also a trap crop for aphids. Plant them a short distance away from your tomato plants.
7. Bee Balm
Bees are beneficial insects that will pollinate our gardens. and that means we want plenty of them visiting our patch of land. Bee balm adds color to your land and it’s also a delicious aromatic herb. Planting this near your tomatoes will improve the growth and flavor of your crops.
If you are growing your tomatoes with spaces in between or beneath them, the lettuce and other low-growing leafy greens can be slotted into the available spaces. As companion plants, they can serve as a ground cover that will ward off weeds and keep soil moisture. On the flip side, summer can be a challenge for the lettuce plants, having the tomatoes casting a shade will prevent the lettuce from bolting.
9. Garlic, Onions, Chives (and the rest of the alliums)
Garlic, onions, and chives are generally ideal companion plants for many crops. They have a strong scent that can repel garden pests, including the ones that tend to invade your tomatoes. Garlic is known to repel red spider mites. And chives with their aroma also help improve the health and flavor of your tomatoes.
If you don’t mind harvesting smaller carrots (but with better yield), consider pairing tomatoes and carrots together. Carrots are better planted with overlapping schedules with tomatoes on the same vegetable bed. You can plant and harvest early carrots before the tomatoes are fully mature, and then you can plant more carrots once again when the tomato plants are past harvest.
The borage. Here’s another beautiful flower that provides more benefits than just its looks. Borage has been noted to deter the presence of tomato hornworms. Borage is also one of the bees’ favorites, attracting more beneficial insects to your garden.
Most aromatic herbs serve as helpful and beneficial tomato companion plants. Parsley is quite easy to grow and are excellent ground covers, tomato plants can also help the parsley by providing shade during the sun’s intense seasons.
Oregano doesn’t just taste good, it’s a great companion for tomato plants. It helps improve the growth and flavor of your tomato plants. If you let oregano flower, it can attract beneficial insects which help deters disease and pest.
Tomato Companion Plants FAQs:
What should not be planted with tomatoes?
Avoid planting the following plants with tomatoes:
- Cabbage – the cabbage family and all of the brassicas are notorious for stunting the growth of tomato plants. Brassicas such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts are great companions for other vegetables, but not tomato plants.
- Corn – the tomato fruitworm is the same kind as corn earworm. That means growing them together will invite the same dangers for both crops. A total nightmare!
What is a good companion plant for tomatoes?
- Bee balm
- Garlic, onions, chives
What to plant with tomatoes to keep bugs away?
For pest control, plant thyme, radish, basil, asparagus, and onions. Crops that emit a strong odor are natural deters to pest that invades your gardens.
What vegetables should not be planted together?
Avoid planting vegetables whose needs and requirements don’t pair well with others. For example, a crop that enjoys a little water in its soil should not be planted with a crop that likes to keep its soil dry before watering. Don’t pair together plants that attract diseases and insects that can be harmful to the other. The key to companion planting is thorough research and a ton of hands-on experience to understand your plants.