In Good Company: Tomatoes and Companion Planting
Spring has arrived, and gardening season is beginning to really bloom. The days are getting longer and warmer: time to break out the gardening gear, prepare your plots, and get ready for a productive growing season. This is a crucial time for planning your garden, and whether you're an ambitious gardener or new to the art, smart planning will help ensure yours will thrive.
Many gardeners dream of a bountiful harvest of bold, delicious, beautiful, healthy tomatoes. However, plenty of pest insects also find tomatoes irresistible, which can make that dream harvest difficult to achieve. Fortunately, tomatoes can get a helping hand from fairly common, attractive, useful, and even edible plants that will add beauty and balance to your vegetable garden. Utilizing these plants is known as companion planting.
Tomatoes and Company
Companion planting uses a mix of beneficial plants to ensure good yields, garden health, vigorous growth, and pest resistance. The technique was developed by different cultures around the world, from Asia to North America, and many centuries of experience prove its effectiveness. Companion plants offer direct benefits such as better growth, repelling pests, improving soil quality, reducing the risk of diseases, attracting pollinators, and even improving produce flavour. Many of them are also edible and desirable in their own right.
No matter which type of tomato you plan on growing this year, you can give them some good company to help ensure their ongoing health and a spectacularly glorious garden. Three common and easy to grow companion plants for tomatoes are basil, chives, and nasturtiums. They're all edible, offer specific benefits, and serve as an all-around security detail and friendly neighbours for your tomato plants.
Basil and chives are great plants for many reasons, but foremost are their benefits for garden health: repelling insects, improving tomato growth, and preventing diseases. Basil can help increase ground cover, helping soil retain water and shading roots and fruits. Nasturtiums are edible, gorgeous flowering plants that are attractive to pollinators like bees and repel some pest insects.
Basil: the Companion
Growing basil alongside tomatoes makes a lot of sense from a culinary standpoint: the two plants really complement each other in the kitchen, whether in appetizers, salads, or sauces. More importantly for gardeners: they've also got a very friendly relationship when grown together.
Basil's greatest strength is in repelling one of the worst tomato pests: the tomato hornworm, a voracious caterpillar that can strip tomato plants of their leaves, scar their stems, and even damage fruit. Basil also helps tomato plants grow more vigorously throughout the season, and some gardeners report it enhances the flavour of tomatoes.
Since they're very leafy, basil plants help to provide shade in gardens, which keeps the soil moist, prevents sunscald on tomatoes, protects roots, and invites predatory insects to hunt. Basil keeps producing pungent, tasty leaves all season, so you can keep plucking them—plucking leaves encourages basil plants to put out more. If you allow basil plants to flower, their blooms will attract pollinators: crucial for maximizing your tomato yield.
Chives: the Defender
Chives are amazing plants to keep in the garden. Not only can you dry or freeze the stems for use in recipes all year round, but you can get multiple harvests in a growing season. If you allow them to develop their edible flowers, chives will also attract pollinators to your garden. Their presence is also said to improve the flavour of tomatoes, so their use alongside basil can help make your tomato crop extra savoury.
In terms of combating pests, chives are versatile. They contain sulfur-based oils that repel aphids, slugs, Japanese beetles, as well as other types of boring beetles. A mixture of water, chives, and dish soap blended and sprayed onto plants can help deter the growth of powdery mildew—combining chives with Scotts® EcoSense® Bug B Gon® Insecticidal Soap can make for a safe, great defense that won't affect the edibility of your plants.
Nasturtiums: the Giver
You might not think of nasturtiums when you're planning your vegetable garden, but they're incredibly helpful plants: easy to grow and not picky about soils. You'll want to keep them closer to tomatoes, as nasturtiums are irresistible to aphids and whiteflies, acting as a ‘trap crop' that redirects pests away from your produce. Nasturtiums can also ward off fungal diseases, making them invaluable for damp and warm summers. Gorgeous nasturtium blooms attract pollinators, and the plant itself is excellent at providing ground cover, which pest-hunters like spiders will utilize.
Nasturtiums are also edible: the stems and leaves have a mild peppery flavour that is ideal for summer salads, the flowers can also be eaten and make a splashy garnish. Unripened seed pods can be prepared with vinegar and used in place of capers in recipes. Not bad for an ‘ornamental' plant!
A Friendlier, Healthier Garden
Companion planting will help you turn your garden into a healthy, cooperative, green oasis. Overlapping layers of defense will drive pests away from your tomatoes, keep the soil healthier, increase yields, and attract the kind of insects that feast on pests. A thriving crop of companion plants will also help block out weeds by using up covering the ground and soaking up sunlight.
Gardening with companion plants is also a boon for the kitchen. Fresh herbs like basil and chives can breathe flavour into a wide range of dishes. Edible nasturtium blooms make a beautiful garnish for dishes, and the stems and leaves will supercharge your salads. All this in addition to making your garden healthy and vigorous!
If you really want your garden to live its best life, some Miracle-Gro® Nature's Care® Organic & Natural Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Plant Food 6 - 3 - 9 will help you get a bold, big, and beautiful crop. Simply work it into the soil before planting, or 2 weeks after planting seeds to reap the rewards of well-fed plants. Just remember to reapply every 6 weeks to keep your friendly garden thriving and nourished.