Tomato Companion Planting Guide
Peanut butter and jelly. Wine and cheese. Tomato and basil. Perfect pairs prove that some things are simply better together — even with it comes to gardening.
Take tomatoes, for example. These fleshy fruits are the darlings of summer gardens, for novices and experts alike. Eight-plus hours of sunshine, nutrient-rich soil and plentiful water ensure most plants produce a fair harvest, but to get the most out of your farming sweat, try this little-known tip for growing tomatoes: companion planting.
What Are Companion Plants?
Companion planting arranges veggie seeds and plants in pairs to benefit one, the other, or both. The best side-by-side relationships offer benefits like insect protection, pollinator attraction, soil fertility, shade (for cool weather plants), weed control or crop control. This method is not an exact science but rather based on observations found in farmers’ almanacs or trial-and-error in your own garden.
Nature’s matchmaking abilities are unrivaled. The smell of cucumbers repels ravaging raccoons. Corn stalks provide shade to tender lettuce leaves. Catnip repels mischievous mice from any garden. Alyssum flowers attract (1) hoverflies whose larva eat nasty aphids and (2) attract bees to pollinate early blooming trees.
Best Companions for Tomatoes
Although somewhat effortless to grow, tomato plants are susceptible to disease and pests. Blossom end rot, fungal diseases, early blight, late blight, Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot, and Verticillium Wilt plague tomato plants. And pests such as aphids, cutworms, hornworms, whiteflies and root-knot nematodes, and spider mites wreak havoc on them as well. These companion plants help eliminate these diseases and pests to enable prime tomato nutrition, growth and yield.
Basil: This Caprese companion not only tastes good (especially with that fresh burrata), but its aroma also repels flies, root-knot nematodes and hornworms attracted to tomato plants.
Marigolds: These cheerful blooms add a pop of summer-long color to the garden and also deter whiteflies that invade the underside of tomato leaves. Calendula, also known as pot marigold, repels hornworms that like to nibble on tomato plants.
Beans and peas: Legume plants add nitrogen to the soil, which benefits tomatoes' heavy-feeding qualities. Bush beans add the benefit of increasing air circulation to reduce fungal diseases.
Garlic: Garlic’s pungent aroma — either as a neighboring plant or as a spray administered by the farmer — repels red spider mites, beetles and aphids.
Lettuce: Tuck lettuce into the spaces around tomato plants. The greens appreciate the shade, while tomatoes enjoy the natural mulch of cool, moist soil supplied by the lettuce roots.
Which Plants to Avoid
Much like the human dating pool, not all plants make a match. Tomato is a nightshade plant, a family of plants that contains alkaloid compounds. Nightshade vegetables also include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Because nightshades compete for the same nutrition, it’s best to keep them apart from each other. Likewise, brassicas — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and rutabaga — are heavy feeders that also compete with tomatoes for similar nutrition.