What is Companion Planting (& why you should try it)

What is Companion Planting (& why you should try it)

I often get asked the question, "What is the difference between companion planting and interplanting," and rightfully so! The terms Companion Planting and Interplanting are often confused because they are so similar in nature and practice. 

Both are useful in the garden and when applied appropriately, can improve the health and vitality of your plants, provide beauty and texture, improve pollination, and reduce the pest burden.

Additionally, both practices involve growing one variety of plant among plants of another variety.

Where people get confused is understanding their relationship to one another.

Plums & Prunes

When I'm trying to define these two terms to clients, I liken their relationship to plums and prunes....

You might be familiar with the saying, "Not all plums are prunes, but all prunes are plums." Well, it's the same story with companion planting and interplanting.

Not all interplantings are considered companion plantings; but all companion plantings ARE interplantings!

So, they're essentially the same thing except that Interplanting is an "umbrella" term that encompasses multiple different planting practices, including Companion Planting, Succession Sowing and Crop Rotation (see my Intensive Gardening post for more on the topic of succession sowing and crop rotation).

Examples of Interplanting

An example of interplanting that I'm using in my garden this year is with arugula, spinach, mustards, and Brussel sprouts. 

I know that arugula and spinach have a tendency to bolt once the weather warms up in late May. In order to avoid this (or at least slow it down), I've interplanted these smaller plants on the northern side of my much taller mustards to provide shade.

I've also interplanted Brussel sprouts down the middle of the same row because as they mature, I'll have harvested the mustards, spinach and arugula, opening up space for the Brussels to fill out.

I could've just planted the Brussels in their own row, but I'm maximizing that space by interplanting small, quicker-to-mature crops alongside larger, slower-to-mature crops. That is a mainstay principle with interplanting!

Other examples include combining plants with deep roots, like tomatoes, with shallow rooted plants, like lettuces, to avoid competition for soil space.

Plants that require pollination, like squash, melons and cucumbers, may be grown with flowers that attract pollinators.

Tall plants like corn can provide support for vining plants like pole beans, while tomatoes can provide shade for sun-sensitive crops like lettuce.

Intensively Planting crops and flowers close together will also help suppress weed growth in the garden.

Ultimately, the benefits of interplanting will vary depending on the chosen method. So, let's look at how interplanting works within the scope of Companion Planting.

What is Companion Planting?

Companion Planting falls under the Interplanting Umbrella but is more specific in its practice and in its goals. 

Generally speaking, INTERPLANTING is growing two or more plants in the same garden space with the goal of maximizing space, producing a higher yield in a smaller area, increasing color and texture, and improving the health of your plants.

COMPANION PLANTING accomplishes these overarching goals by combining two or more plants in the same space with the goal of using their synergistic relationship to enhance growth, protect plants from specific pests, create a haven for beneficial insects, and encourage pollination.

So again... not all plums are prunes (but all prunes are plums), and not all interplantings are companion plantings (but all companion plantings ARE interplantings!)


An example of companion planting in my garden this year is interplanting brassicas (specifically cabbage, cauliflower, & kale) with plants in the allium family (onions, chives, leeks, and garlic), as well as aromatic herbs such as dill, mint, rosemary and oregano.

Brassicas are particularly vulnerable to damage from caterpillars, specifically the cabbage moth/worm. These pests locate brassicas by the scent they release (as is the case with most pests).

However, you can deter these pests by confusing them with a nearby companion plant that releases a stronger scent. A perfect example of this are alliums and aromatic herbs! Their scent overpowers the scent of the brassicas, throwing off and repelling the pest.


  • Succession planting lettuce after spring onions (only pulling every other spring onion). The pungency of the onion will repel rabbits, while the lettuces aid the growth of the onion.
  • Planting dill with cabbages will improve their growth and health.
  • Peas and beans planted near corn help improve nitrogen content in the soil near these heavy feeders.
  • Sunflowers interplanted with corn help reduce the appearance and, therefore, the effects of the Carpophilus beetle.
  • Eggplants grown among green beans will be protected from the Colorado potato beetle because they are repelled by the scent of the beans.
  • Bush beans and strawberries will grow more rapidly when planted together.
  • Radishes are a powerhouse of a companion plant!
    1. Planted with carrots, they become particularly flavorful and tender
    2. When allowed to go to seed near cucumbers, squash and melon, they will repel the striped cucumber beetle
    3. Planted with tomatoes, they will repel the two-spotted spider mite


** Note ** Many of these examples are from my FAVORITE companion planting book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte, which I highly recommend you consider purchasing! This has been a consistent go-to resource for me over the years that I can easily pull out for a suggestion. It's SUPER EASY to look up a plant, as it's organized alphabetically and categorized by type of crop (vegetables, herbs, wild plants, grasses & grains, fruit, ornaments and more!) **

    Don't Get Caught in the Weeds

    ➡️ Keep in mind that the various interplanting techniques may overlap, so don't let yourself get caught in the weeds of all the terminology!

    There are so many wonderful ways you can pair plants, but you can easily get overwhelmed by the pairings and then not plant anything at all. Don't do this!

    I remember back in the day drawing out very detailed maps of companion plant pairings and driving myself crazy with whether or not I had the best plan laid out. 

    It wasn't a wasted effort, to be sure, but I also don't believe you have to go to this extreme to reap the benefits of interplanting.

    My Suggestions for Getting Started

    1. Pick a few plants that you've had problems with in the past, whether because of pests or reduced growth, and choose one companion plant to plant alongside it.
    2. Have a designated garden notebook to keep record of which plants you companion plant (or interplant) and write down what worked and what didn't. This will be super helpful information that you can use in subsequent seasons. JUST DON'T RELY ON YOUR MEMORY TO REMEMBER! (You know you'll forget! 😂)
    3. Pick your favorite plants, specifically flowers, flowering herbs/vegetables, and ornamentals to incorporate into your garden landscape. I LOVE interplanting flowers for their beauty, texture and their ability to bring pollinators to the garden.
    4. DON'T BE BOUND BY RULES! I often take companion planting & interplanting suggestions and play around with them to see what works for me. 

    As you dig deeper in the interplanting world, you may come across dogmatic rules of thumb - take them or leave them. Learn from them, but don't be bound by them. What works for one gardener might not work for you (& vice versa), but you'll never know unless you try.

    And that's my final piece of advice to you, fellow gardener, JUST GET STARTED AND TRY!

    My Top 10 Favorite Pairings 

    1. Tomato plants interplanted with parsley

    2. Pepper plants interplanted with basil

    3. Tomatoes with a border of Marigolds

    4. Dill interplanted with Cabbage

    5. Nasturtiums as "trap plants" for squash bugs & aphids (trap plants will draw away a pest from another plant, so you DON"T actually want to plant them together!) Nasturtiums are one of my favorite plants, by the way!

    6. Onions interplanted with lettuce

    7. Radishes interplanted with carrots

    8. Corn and vining plants, such as winter squash, pumpkins & cucumbers

    9. Spinach interplanted with strawberries

    10. Bush Beans planted with EVERYTHING!!! (Well, everything BUT onions & fennel - they especially don't like onions!)