GARDENER COLUMN: Accompanying planting in the vegetable garden | Home & Garden

“Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun part about them. You’re always learning.” – Helen Mirren

I planted my vegetable garden on May 21st and it took me almost all day to work on my garden plan. I have eight 4ft by 8ft beds so I can rotate my plants. However, I continue to struggle not to overcrowd my beds as I still end up with several broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers or some other veg I forgot in my original design. I practice a form of square foot gardening and companion planting in my gardens, so I do a lot of research before planting to make sure I don’t plant certain things together. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage belong to the brassica family — cabbage — and they don’t always play well with other vegetables in the garden. I like to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, runner beans and strawberries and they don’t like being around members of the Brassica family.

Whether you have a large or small garden, it’s helpful to know which plants work well together and which don’t. Companion planting has numerous benefits. For example, planting certain plants together can help deter harmful insects or critters. Onions and garlic are two such plants. I set aside some garlic cloves to plant around my roses to deter aphids and Japanese beetles and to reduce fungal diseases like black spot. Companion plants such as marigolds, calendula, snow peas, borage, and nasturtium can be used to attract beneficial pollinators or deter pests. You not only have happy vegetables, but also a beautiful garden. Companion plants can provide shade for smaller plants or those that like to shoot in hot weather. If you have climbing plants, a tall, sturdy companion plant can provide support. In some cases, the plant can change soil composition or improve soil fertility. Vegetables from the Fabaceae family — legumes — like peas and beans help make nitrogen more available in the soil. You can even use companion plants to help with weed suppression. Of course, using square foot gardening techniques can also help reduce weeds.

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Planting companion plants isn’t difficult, it just requires a little research before planting. When I plan my vegetable garden, I first list the vegetables I want to plant. For each I make a note of how much space they need, light requirements – as I get shade on different parts of my garden at different times of the day, and how long they need to grow before harvest. I then research each plant’s recommended companion plants and those I should avoid planting nearby. With pencil and grid paper in hand, I sketch each vegetable patch. You can do this with raised beds or large soil beds – the process is the same. I recommend using a pencil or erasable pen as you may find that you need to move things around. As you rotate your garden, you may find that you can go back to your original plan every three to four years. I couldn’t really go back to the same plan as I tend to try new veggies every year and others get crossed off my planting list from time to time as well. Plan your vegetable garden first to find good vegetable neighbors and you may find that your garden is even more amazing than the year before.

For more information on companion planting, you can listen to this radio show at wpr.org/shows/companion-planting. Now if I could only figure out how not to overcrowd I would have an amazing vegetable garden.

For more information or garden questions, contact the University of Wisconsin Madison of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250 or email trripp@wisc.edu.

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