Planning Your Plantings In the Edible Garden

Okiedawn OK Zone 7January 13, 2013

We've been talking about what we plant and how and why, and I promised to start a thread on how different plants can be arranged together in the garden.

While I refer to the fenced, edible garden at our house as "the veggie garden", it is a true cottage-style garden, with flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables all planted together. Sometimes it might look randomly planted, but each variety is planted where it is for a specific purpose.

On a different thread we discussed some of the various companion plants that can be used for different attract beneficial insects including pollinators to the garden, to repel some pests from certain plants, to improve soil or to grow compost crops specifically to be harvested and put onto the compost pile, but the purpose of this thread is to talk about how we deliberately mix all those various things together along with the veggies, herbs and fruit that we grow to eat.

Essentially, when you are companion planting 2 or more different types of plants together, your intent is to put together different plants whose growth will assist or benefit each other. Or, at the very least, you're hoping they have a neutral affect on one another and do not negatively impact each other. You also are hoping that you will be getting the best use possible of the planting area that you have available to you.

I'll start by saying that variety is the spice of life, so that I don't plant the garden the same way every year. I'm always experimenting to see if option A works better than option B or if maybe option C is better than both A and B. Don't be afraid to experiment because you'll learn something from it one way or another.

What we often refer to as companion planting also is known as interplanting or intercropping. Many books bave been written on this topic, some based on traditional knowledge passed down from one generation to another and others based on research showing what works, how it works or even questioning whether it works. If the big question is "does companion planting work?" in terms of helping you have a better garden, then I guess the best answer is that it sometimes works. There's so many variables that it can be hard at times to know what is working or what isn't working particularly with our erratic weather.

INTERCROPPING: This involves planting 2 or more different edible crops together in the same space. You would do it for various reasons. Intercropping allows you to make better use of your space, can make it harder for some pests to find their favorite plants to eat, can help some plants by shading them from sun or by making it easier for them to germinate or whatever. Here's some examples:

RADISHES + CARROTS: Radishes have relatively big seeds that germinate quickly and the seedlings pop right up out of the ground in just a few days. Carrots, on the other hand, have tiny seeds that are slower to germinate. If your soil has dried out and crusted over as soil tends to do, sometimes the little tiny carrot sprouts cannot break through the soil surface so that they essentially try and fail, and the tiny seedlings die before they see the light of day. As you look at that bare spot of ground where carrots should be growing, you cannot know that they tried to sprout but couldn't break through the soil, so all you know is that your carrot seed didn't germinate. The issues with soil crusting over is more common in dry years than wet ones, but it can happen at any time.

You can interplant your carrot seed and radish seed together, just putting a radish seed in the ground every inch or two in the row or block planting of carrot seeds. The radishes will pop up first and loosen the soil, which helps make it easier for the carrots to sprout. Because spring radishes mature in just a few weeks (in as little as about 3 weeks), you carefully pull out the radishes, leaving more space for the carrots. As the carrots enlarge and grow, they'll fill in the space left behind by the removal of the radishes. This is an old traditional planting scheme that's been used for generations, and you've just gotten 2 crops out of space that otherwise would have given you only one.

RADISHES + CARROTS + LETTUCE: I often add lettuceto the radishes and carrots planting. The part of the radishes and carrots we eat are below ground, leaving lots of useful space above ground. The part of the lettuce we eat that grows above ground can expand that space. Obviously you don't want to plant too much lettuce too close to radishes or carrots because you don't want to shade them out, but the three can be successfully grown in unison.

LETTUCE + ANY TALLER PLANT: Lettuce is pretty much neutral. It will benefit from being grown in partial shade provided by any taller plant because heat will make lettuce bolt. Keeping it partially shaded keep it cooler Lettuce doesn't really hurt anything, and it makes a lovely ground cover that will shade the ground under taller plants. By shading the ground, it cools the soil, reduces the evaportation of water from the soil and inhibts weeds from sprouting. I am not saying the weeds won't sprout, but with lettuce plants cutting off the sunshine to the ground, the weed seeds maybe won't get as much sun and heat as they need to sprout, or they'll struggle to compete with the lettuce. If you weed early and often while the lettuce is small, it won't be weedy and you'll have a lot less weeding to do after the plants gain some size.

SPINACH + BIBB LETTUCE: Planting spinach and bibb lettuce together is another traditional planting scheme. I don't know why, and I don't know if scientists even yet can explain it, but bibb lettuce grows better when interplanted with spinach.

We know that with some companion plants, exudates from the root of one plant can pass into the root zone or the actual root of the other plant, perhaps benefitting the plant in some way by making it grow better or repel insects or whatever, but I don't know if anyone knows why bibb lettuce grows better when it is interplanted with spinach in close proximity. I think the most commonly used ratio is one spinach plant for every four lettuce plants.

POTATOES + BUSH BEANS: The theory behind planting these two together is that the potatoes protect the beans from Mexican bean beetles and the beans protect the potatoes from Colorado Potato Beetles. I think it works, but I don't think it is easy to achieve this. I have problems with the potato plants outgrowing the bush beans and shading them out if I plant the potatoes too close to the bush beans. And, by the way, pole beans don't confer the same protection on the potatoes as the bush beans do. The first time I did this, I tried to alternate, planting one square foot of potatoes, then the next square foot of beans. All I got was bean plants that were too shaded by the taller potato plants to produce well, but I didn't see any potato bugs or bean beetles. The next year, I planted the potatoes in the north half of the bed and the beans in the southern half. It was a long rectagular bed that ran east-west. That worked out better. In between the two I planted a row of petunias, because traditionally it is believed that potatoes grow better when grown with petunias. All of that seemed to work out really well. As a further Colorado Potato Beetle deterrent, I planted 4 horseradish roots into 2 gallon pots and sunk them into the ground so they looked like they were growing in the ground. I had one at each corner of the bed. Horseradish is said to repel Colorado Potato Beetles. However it is very invasive, which is why it was in pots. You also can add several dead nettle plants and flax plants to your potato bed as both are to repel CPBs, and to improve their growth and flavor. The flax and dead nettle also likely attract beneficial insects. You can tuck a few marigold seedlings into this bed with everything else because marigolds are said to repel Mexican bean beetles. Obviously you should have the marigolds closer to the beans than to the potatoes. Rosemary also is said to repel Mexican bean beetles so you can put one of these plants into the groundin this bed. Watch your plants as they grow and you'll see many beneficial insects moving from one flower or herb plant to another. All of the insect activity will help keep down the number of pests you spot.

THE THREE SISTERS....OR MAKE IT 4 OR 5 SISTERS: The native tribes who lived in North America long before the white men arrived here traditionally grew the three sisters: corn, beans and pumpkin (winter squash) together, although they didn't necessarily grown them in the same way. Each tribe, or maybe I should say the various tribes in each region, altered the planting layout to suit their climate and soil. The reasons behind planting these together are interesting. Corn, which loves nitrogen, is a heavy feeder. Beans, as with all legumes, fix nitrogen from the air so that they can return it to the soil over time (but only if you incorporate the plants into the ground after you've harvested all the beans). So, your beans are going to put nitrogen back into the soil to help make up for all the nitrogen the corn took out of the soil. This is crop rotation over time. What is the purpose of the pumpkins or winter squash? They are large sprawling plants that will shade the ground beneath the corn and beans, serving as a living mulch that reduces weeding by shading out weeds and that keeps the ground more moist by blocking the rays of sunlight from hitting the ground. Best of all, the big coarse pumpkin or winter squash leaves often are somewhat prickly and it is believed they help keep the raccoons out of the corn. I have found that sometimes they keep the raccoons out of the corn and sometimes they don't, but I plant them together anyway. It is a great use of space, giving you at least three different veggies from space normally used for one.

In order to make this work in our modern gardens, we have to tweak it a little bit. The types of corn traditionally grown by the native Americans, depending on their geographic location, tended to be dent corn, flour corn or field corn. These types of corn grow taller and sturdier than most of our modern day sweet corn varieties, which tend to be wimps by comparison. I find it somewhat problematic to plant most varieties of modern day corn with pole beans as the weight of the pole bean plant can pull down the corn plants. You can do it, though, if you choose a really strong, sturdy variety of sweet corn. I like to do it with Texas Honey June which is a monstser plant that often gets 8-9' tall in my garden. I'd never try it with a small variety like Early Sunglow. Sometimes the vines twine around the ears as they are growing and impede their growth. So, while I love to plant three sisters style, I will alter it a little bit. Sometmes I will plant my beans on the garden fence adjacent to the corn planting. I might plant it on one or two of the four sides of the pen, Then I'll plant the pumpkins. It helps to plant the corn first and let it make some growth and achieve some height first so the winter squash or pumpkin doesn't shade it while it is too young. This is pretty easy to do because corn can go into cooler soils than winter squash can. So, if you just naturally plant your sweet corn at the right temperatures, then by the time the soil warms up enough to plant winter squash or pumpkins, the corn plants will be gowing nicely and too tall for the squash to shade them out. I usually plant the corn first, the pole beans 2 or 3 weeks later, and then the squash a few weeks after that.

How about a fourth or fifth sister? Because I sometimes grow my corn in a corn cage (picture a dog kennel type pen with a chicken wire fencing roof to completely exclude raccoons), I have fencing on all four sides of the corn patch. So, I'll come back and plant a pole type of lima bean (like Worchester Indian Red or Christmas Pole) or southern pea (like Red Ripper/Mandy) on the other two sides. Last year I planted Yard-long Bean on the fence alongside one side of my mid-season corn patch. Since they are legumes, they'll give back to the soil just as the beans will. The fifth sister I plant is sunflowers, which also are traditionally grown as a fourth sister by many native American tribes. I didn't know that until I read the utterly fascinating book "Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden". Sometimes I plant edible golden purslane or the ornamental flowering purslane on the ground just on the edge of the garden kind of between the fence with its legumes growing on it and the first row of corn. Along with the pumpkins it serves as a living mulch to help keep down weeds, but it is so small it doesn't compete and steal water away from anything else. The flowers attract beneficial insects, as do the flowers of the sunflowers. I also like to have a small patch of buckwheat near the winter squash and corn. Buckwheat flowers pretty early from seed--in about 5 or 6 weeks, and the flowers attract lots of the types of beneficial insects that attack corn and squash pests. The buckwheat can be pulled later on and put on the compost pile, pulled and laid on the ground where it will serve as a mulch until it decomposes, or can be dug into the soil or rototilled into it at the end of the season.

One of the biggest challenges with a Three (or more) Sisters Garden will be how to harvest the ears of corn or the beans without breaking the squash plants. I just try to watch where I put my feet and hope that if I step on the squash plants, they'll forgive me. I usually just leave the bean and corn plants in the ground after I harvest from them. Sometimes the beans meander over from their fence/trellis and climb on bean plants and I just let them. Sometimes the winter squash or pumpkin plants do the same thing. No harm, no foul. Last year, I crammed leftover okra plants down at one end of my five-sisters garden, with a few ornamental gourds on the fence at that end so I had a Seven Sisters garden in a space where some people only would have planted corn. It is your garden. If you want to grow multiple plants in the same area, do it. Does Mother Nature have all of one kind of plant in one corner of a field, and something else in another isolated spot? No. They all grow together and benefit one another in various ways.

TOMATOES: It is tempting to just plant your rows of carefully spaced tomato plants all in big beautiful rows and call it a day. That way nothing else is in the way when you're picking tomatoes. is so boring, and there's nothing growing there around the tomato plants to help them. When you grow in a monoculture, you invite both diseases and pests that feed on the monocultured crop to come have a feast. Instead, you can create a polyculture and sow carrot, radish and lettuce seeds to grow in the shade of the tomato plants. To do that, I usually plant the lettuce, carrots and radishes first, leaving an open spot periodically where I'll come along later and plug in the tomato transplants. The carrots, radishes and lettuce all will be done and out of there almost before the tomato harvest begins, except with the earliest tomato varieties. The lettuce will benefit from being shaded by the tomato plants as they grow and the shade may keep them from bolting quite as early once the air temps are getting hotter than the lettuce likes.

I like to plant basil and borage with the tomato plants. I just stick one in the ground every few feet. Basil is said to improve the growth and flavor of tomatoes and borage is said to help repel tomato horn worms, which I happen to believe as I seldom see any tomato or tobacco hornworms in my garden even though I grow tons of tomatoes and quite a few flowering tobacco (nicotiana) plants. I plant chervil and chives along the wooden edge of the beds, where they help repel pests and/or help attract beneficial insects. Chives are said to improve the growth and flavor of carrots while chervil performs the same function for radishes. Mint is said to improve the health and growth of tomatoes, but I'd never put an invasive plant like mint into the ground near my tomatoes, to I put it in pots near them. I usually add a few nasturium plants to any bare spot in the bed, and do the same with the The Three Sisters Garden. Nasturtiums attract many beneficial insects and improves the growth and flavor of the radishes. Over in the Three Sisters Garden, the nasturtiums will repel squash bugs, aphids and striped cucumber beetles (which attack all cucurbits and most any other plant they find as well).

Because I plant several raised beds of tomato plants, I vary my companion plants a lot. I will add green onions (to be harvested as scallions), parsley, and chives to some beds. I'll add short, compact zinnias and sweet alyssum to attract beneficial insects. If I put onions in a tomato bed, I'll interplant the onions with chamomile because it is said to improve their growth and flavor. I'll plant white-flowered borage in some tomato beds and blue-flowered borage in others. I'll use different types of bush nasturstiums to different tomato beds. Sometimes I plant marigolds, but I am careful about which kind I select. Some of them will attract spider mites, which are a major problem in my rural area. They literally blow in on the wind and that makes them more difficult to fight. Often, they will congregate on marigolds. If that happens, once the marigolds have a lot of spider mites, I sacrifice them as a trap crop, pulling them up and bagging them and trashing them in order to get rid of the spider mites. More mites will come later, but at least I've taken out all of that bunch of spider mites.

CUCUMBERS can be grown in your three sisters garden if you have space, but I usually plant them alone near a trellis or garden fence they can climb. They like to grow with sunflowers, so I plant a sunflower every 2 or 3 feet. You also can underplant your cukes with radishes or lettuce or both. I like to get a lot of cucumbers at one tine in pickling years so I can make many batches of pickles, and then not worry about pickles again for a year or two. I usually grow my cucumbers on the north garden fence bordering the woods because the pests are slower to find them there than if I grow them on the south garden fence near the driveway. I used to grow tansy inside the garden as it attracts many beneficials and repels some pest insects, but it is a rampant grower and was hard to control. Nowadays I plant it outside the fenced garden in the space between the north garden fence. It is a good companion for cucumbers grown there because it deters cucumber beetles, which surely are the bane of a cucumber grower's existence as they spread disease. I usually plant nasturtiums at the feet of the cucumber plants to both serve as a living mulch and to attract beneficials. You also can grow peas, beans, lettuce or radishes with your cukes. I like to plant rat-tail radishes near all members of the cucurbit family because their flowers attract beneficial insects that prey upon some pests of the cucurbits.

EDIBLE PODDED PEAS + ROOT CROPS + sweet alyssum. Sugar snap peas and snow peas are two of the earliest crops to go into the garden. If you plant the vining kind and let them climb a fence or trellis, you can underplant them with turnips or rutabagas planted at about the same time (or even a little earlier), or you can underplant them with nasturtiums or buckwheat. The nasturtiums and buckwheat attract beneficial insects that will help control pest insects like pea aphids.

ASPARAGUS + TOMATOES are said to be good companions to one another, but I don't interplant them. My asparagus is in a bed more or less by itself because it is a perennial crop and I don't want to disturb it. Last year, Laura Bush petunias (which live all summer and laugh at the heat and then reseed themselves too) popped up in the aspargus bed so I thinned out most of them, but let some stay as a living mulch to keep the soil cool and shaded. That seemed to work out pretty well. I did grow tomato plants in their own bed next door to the asparagus though. I also had a row of parsley down one side of the bed along the wooden edging and a row of basil down the other long side of the bed along the wooden edging.

OKRA + WATERMELONS: I use fairly wide spacing with the okra plants when I use branching varieties and underplant them with watermelons. It is just a good way to get more use from the space, and the watermelons shade the ground and serve as a living mulch for the okra and the okra helps shade the melon fruit and keep them from sunburning. It seems to be a mutually beneficial relationship. I usually have a few zinnias and nasturtiums in that bed, along with some flowering nicotines. If you've never grown nicotianas, you may not realize that the backs of their leaves are sort of sticky and insects can become stuck to those a natural form of flypaper. I've grown these plants together for several years and they seem to grow as well together as they do apart.

CABBAGE FAMILY CROPS: (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi). The types of plants I interplant with these are chosen for their ability to repel the dreaded broccoli worms. For this purpose I interplant with chamomile, dill and sage. If I have leftover onion plants (bulbing or green onions), I'll put one in the bed here and there. You can add any sort of aromatic plant known to repel moths, which includes chamomile, dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme. There are some other plants known to repel moths but you have to handle them differently. All mints are repellents, but are very invasive, so I have them nearby in pots. Wormwood is an excellent deterrent, but I like to plant it about 3' away, outside the garden fence if possible, because it has root exudates that can have an alleopathic effect and negatively impact the root growth of desirable plants. If the cabbage family plants are in the middle of the garden, I just put a few wormwood plants in pots near them. I like to leave a lot of my permanent herbs in pots, so I can move them around the garden every year without digging them up.

BEETS + ONIONS -- both are root crops, both go into the ground early, and they seem compatible with one another. Otherwise, I don't interplant too much with the main bulbing onion crop. They really don't like competition from weeds or from other interplanted crops, so I leave them alone for the most part, although every now and then I'll put a little sweet alyssum plant here or there to attract beneficial insects. I've never really had a problem with pests on onions, and if you have an issue in your garden with western flower thrips, I would keep all flowers away from the onions.

EGGPLANT grows well with potatoes or with beans, but I don't grow a lot of eggplant because no one in my family especially likes to eat it. Sometimes in the past I also companion-planted it with hot peppers and they seemed to peacefully co-exist with one another and with nasturtiums really well.

PUMPKINS + CORN, ETC. About the only way I ever grow pumpkins and winter squash is with corn. They grow just fine by themselves too, but I always like to grow buckwheat and nasturtiums around them to attract beneficial insects.

SUMMER SQUASH: These are such big sprawling plants that I don't really plant much else with them as an edible compaion, but I like to plant buckwheat, nasturtiums and rat-tail radishes with them. Actually, I usually plant the nasturtiums, rat-tail radishes and buckwheat first, and then transplant the squash plants into the ground (you can direct-seed them if you prefer). I feel like the companion plants need to be up and growing fast so they can attract beneficials as the squash grows. Since squash grows so fast, plant the companion plants a little further away so they won't be buried under the squash plants.

PEPPER PLANTS + OKRA: Okra is tall, peppers are medium-high. Okras love sunshine, peppers like some sunshine but suffer mightily if they are in full sun in our hot summers from sunup to sunset. I usually plant my okra and pepper plants together, letting the okra plants shade the peppers. Of course, I usually have a few herbs and flowers in the bed with them....often nasturiums early in the season, but dwarf zinnias and Laura Bush petunias later in the season as the nasturtiums sort of falter in the heat. I also often plant basil and parsley in the same bed with them.

SOUTHERN PEAS: These are almost always treated as succession plants in my garden, often going into the ground in May or early June to replace earlier crops like broccoli, snap peas, spinach, kale, etc. Being heat-loving legumes, they are happy pretty much anywhere. I especially like to plant them in any bed from which I've just removed heavy feeders (pretty much everything we like to eat except for root crops are heavy feeders). I try to plant the southern peas in beds where no beans or peas grew the year before. My garden is very large, so it isn't hard to rotate legumes into beds where no legumes were grown recently. Last year I grew legumes on one portion of the north fence, and muskmelons and cuckes on another portion of the garden fence, so for crop rotation, this year I simply grow the legumes where last year's cucurbits grew and will plant the cucurbits in the area where last year's legumes grow. I don't drive myself crazy trying to maintain the heavy giver, light feeder, heavy feeder cycle because when you intercrop a lot, it is almost too much to keep up with. Anyway, since I garden organically and work continually to add compost and other organic matter to the soil, I don't think the giver-taker rotation is a critical as it otherwise would be.

Well, I'm sure I failed to mention some sort of crop, but I'm tired of typing and anyone who's made it this far is likely tired of reading.

For those of you who had questions about how to interplant to create a garden that is its own little ecosystem of plants who help one another, I hope this post gives you food for thought. For the many types of companion plantsing that I didn't specifically mention, I just routinely scatter them around the entire garden. There's really no wrong place, for example, to plant lemon balm or Mexican mint marigold.

Got questions? I'm ready.

I'm not going to go back and proofread for errors, so forgive any typos.


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Hi Dawn: This is an incredible post with lots of food for thought. I'd love to see your garden but you describe what you do clearly, so that helps.

I'm printing it so I can study it and make notes of questions.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 8:37PM
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Okra plants and peppers...I would never have thought of that one. I always have too little okra and too many peppers so maybe if I combine them it would work out better.

For a few years I had lots of okra. I planted Burgundy and Cowhorn and they did well, but for the last three years I haven't had enough okra. I need to fix that.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 9:28PM
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Thank you for this incredible wealth of info all in one post! I have read it twice and thought this is almost like sitting and visiting with you over coffee, picking your brain. I appreciate all of you taking your time to help us new gardeners along.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 10:23AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Pam, I'll try to get photos this spring, or get Chris to take and upload photos. I just never have time to do photos. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am stretched to the limits, time-wise, from February thru July. To me, taking photos is one of those things way down on the priority list and I never make it that far down the list because more essential tasks that must be done demand all my time.

My garden is gorgeous in May and a totally crazy jungle by June, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I do have a lot of trouble maintaining it in years when we have a lot of fires because then I have even less time to maintain the garden. Chris always offers to take photos in his spare time, but he and I never seem to have any spare time....

Carol, I think it has been the heat with the okra the last two years. I've never had to water okra so much in my life just to keep it hanging on. This year, I had watermelon plants growing beneath okra in two beds and peppers shaded by okra in another bed. My best okra production was in July when I was still watering and then again in September/October after the ones that survived my no-watering-spell in late July/August leafed out again and made tons of okra.

This year I am planting cowhorn okra, among others, because it is one of the best producers in extreme heat, and because it makes huge monster plants that will make lots of shade for plants growing beneath it. Last year, when I planted refrigerator melons under the okra, I used Beck's Big Buck and Stewart's Zeebest and spaced the plants 3' apart. I was worried they might shade the watermelons too much, but then with high temps well over 100 degrees endlessly, I also thought the melons needed some shade. It all worked out well as we had endless numbers of watermelons and good, though spotty, production from okra.

If I remember correctly, my dad's garden did not produce okra well in the summer of 1980 in Texas, which had weather almost identical to what we had here in OK in 2011. As far as I can remember, that's the only year he ever had trouble getting an okra crop. It had to be the heat. Nothing else makes sense. I'm growing the variety of Cowhorn okra sold by Willhite. It is like cannas---it won't die and you can't kill it.

Kim, You're welcome. It all sounds so complicated, but when I am planting, I just try to do it in stages. First I put in the main vegetable or vegetables, then fill in around it with all the other companions. Remember this--Nature Abhors A Vacuum. Since Mother Nature is going to plant something in every square inch of bare soil, I'd rather plant companion plants of my choice rather than hers. If I plant, I'll use all those plants I listed, and many more--like the ones listed on the companion plant thread. If Mother Nature plants, do you know what she'll plant? Quack grass, chickweed, spurge, Johnson grass, ragweed, pigweed, bind weed. I'd rather plant my plants that let her plant hers.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 11:03AM
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Carol, I agree re: experimenting with peppers and okra. This year, I planted okra upwind of eggplants to protect the eggplants from prevailing southerly wind. The okra created too much shade for the eggplant so they didn't thrive. I planted both later than usual so that may be why the eggplant struggled.

Kim, You wrote, "This is almost like sitting and visiting with you over coffee, picking your brain. I appreciate all of you taking your time to help us new gardeners along." I agree with you 100%. People in this forum are incredibly helpful. I've learned so much from everyone am very grateful.

Dawn, I've always said that I'm too busy to take photos but I'm don't know if that's the case. A fellow gardener explained that photographs help her remember what she did, what worked and didn't work - photos are memory aids. They are also reality checks - for example, when she looked at photos, she realized that a particular flower or garden did much better than she remembered in hindsight.

One year, she wintersowed dozens of varieties of perennials - thousands of plants. She took photos of the seedlings when they emerged so when she was weeding, she would recognize those seedlings and know that they weren't weeds. (link below) My plant recognition skills are pretty bad so I check her seedling photos when I'm getting ready to weed a perennial bed.

I hope Chris can take photos, maybe from the same spots, and at monthly intervals. I'll bet you will be surprised at what you see when you look at them later!

Thanks everyone!

Here is a link that might be useful: Perennial seedlings

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 6:19PM
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What a wealth of information, Dawn! I am going to have to save this thread to read.....over and over and over again. One of these days, I hope to have the time to put a great deal of thought into why and how I plant something. The last 2 years have not presented me with that opportunity. The plants are lucky to get potted into forever homes at all.

Thanks again! You put so much into this forum and I appreciate it!


    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 5:59AM
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Awsome information Dawn...your passion for the garden doesn't go unnoticed! I have okra that reseeds itself in my gardens and I always leave enough to shelter or shade various plants.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 1:04PM
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Thanks as always Dawn. I need to do this better. At least more intentionally. I really like the okra/peppers idea, and Laura Bush in the asparagus. Thank you for the seedling pictures too.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 3:29PM
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Pam, loved the photos, but forgot to mention to you. I'm glad for that reason that this thread popped up to the top again.

I wanted to add, in the event you haven't seen it before, that there is a seedling identification site that I use frequently. It is mostly seedlings of various annual and perennial flowers and foliage plants, but not too long ago they added some images of weeds and vegetables, too. I'm attaching a link in case you want to look at it.


Here is a link that might be useful: Seedling Identification

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 4:56PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Betty, The Laura Bush/asparagus pairing was a happy accident. When I planted the asparagus last winter, I knew I'd have to fight the weeds in that bed. When one of the first "weeds" to pop up was Laura Bush petunias, I was delighted because I immediately realized they would make a lovely living ground cover in the asparagus bed. Had the petunias not popped up there, I likely would have planted nasturtiums there for the same purpose, but the Laura Bush petunias are so much more heat-tolerant that I decided to stick with them.

A lot of my companion planting was not precisely planned. It evolved over time as I saw what plants grew well together as well as which ones reseeded easily.

Speaking of reseeding.....I could have a whole garden of nothing but lemon balm if I didn't pull up its self-sown seedlings every year. I love plants that self-sow and leave the volunteers whenever and wherever I can, but lemon balm does self-sow in an extreme manner.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2013 at 11:06AM
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naejakire(Oregon 8b)

Thank you for your incredible post! Found it while searching for peas as a substitute for beans in Three Sisters plantings. But there is a lot of other great information too. I'll probably need to study it as well! (:

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 10:21PM
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wulfletons(Zone 7a)

Dawn, I am planning on planting some companion basil with my tomatoes. How worried do I have to be about spacing the basil? Of course I will space the tomatoes according the the osu extension guidelines, but can I just throw some basil plants in there or do they need to be carefully spaced? Thanks, krista

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 11:01PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Krista, A lot depends on which basil you use. Some of the newer varieties have been bred to be more compact that some of the older varieties. You don't want to let the basil get so big and so close to the tomato plants that it competes with them for light or water. I usually put a basil plant halfway between two tomato plants, with the tomato plants being spaced either 3' or 4' from one another.

The variety of basil I'm planting with the tomato plants this year is "Bush Spicy Globe". It gets roughly 10" tall unlike some basils that can easily get 2-3' tall. I bought the seed on the Ferry-Morse seed rack at Lowe's. The Bush Spicy Globe looks a lot like a little boxwood shrub.

The good news is that if you feel the basil is getting too big and rowdy, you can just cut it back 50% or so.

I wouldn't say I carefully space them, but I do make some attempt not to put a basil plant in the ground too close to a tomato plant. I usually put up my tomato cages as soon as I transplant the tomato plants into the ground, and then put the basil outside the tomato cage which forces me to not put it too close to the actual tomato plant.

About the only companion plant that's really given me fits by getting much too large and by reseeding itself with reckless abandon is the herb Tansy. I love Tansy, but it is an herb plant that aspires to be a tree, and now I plant it outside the garden fence where it can get as big as it wants.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 11:40PM
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After rereading your original post, Dawn, I noticed you suggested Sunflowers and cukes as good companions. My sunflowers are the first on the cucumber beetles diet so I am afraid I would not be able to plant these 2 together. Planting them apart some distance, though, allowed the sunflowers to act as a trap crop for the beetles and they stayed away from the cucumbers. This may not work for everyone but sure did for me.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 9:15AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Traditional gardening lore maintains that cucumbers taste sweeter when grown with sunflowers. I have no idea if that is true because I haven't used the scientific method of growing them both with and without sunflowers side-by-side in the same year in order to taste-test the results to see if I can taste a difference. However, it is the reason I started growing them together more years ago than I can count.

I'm all in favor of doing whatever works, so if using sunflowers as a trap crop works for you, then I think that is wonderful. It doesn't work for me with cucumber beetles, and I've tried it both with native sunflowers, which grow in abundance on our acreage with no help from me whatsoever, and with named ornamental varieties of sunflowers grown for their beauty. I suspect it just might be the difference between city living and county living and the number of pests we have in the country living surrounded by thousands of acres of land left in its native state as opposed to living in a city where much of the land is maintained in a more formal and consistent manner.

I had to live here in the country for a few years and observe the insect population cycles in the real world outside our house to understand that it was laughable for me to think I could control the population of any single insect. If there is anything I miss about city living (and there's not much I miss), it is that we have a million times more insects and arachnids here as we had when we lived in town. I don't mind the arachnids since they take care of so many of the pest insects, but it took me a long time to accept that I wasn't going to be able to control the insect population organically. I had to learn to just try to attract beneficial insects (and birds, bats, frogs, snakes,etc.) and then let them do their thing. I'm still not happy when a tarantula runs across the ground in front of me, but I can appreciate it is here in this ecosystem for a reason.

About the only trap crop that has worked well consistently fo me is marigolds for spider mites, but that eventually requires I pull up and dispose of the spider-mite-laden-marigolds, and I love marigolds and hate to grow them just as a throw-away trap crop.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 4:42PM
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wulfletons(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Dawn, for the basil information...that helps a lot!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 7:16PM
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Dawn- I love reading over your posts and taking down notes! I feel blessed to have found a board with so much knowledge in one place!

So I want to pick your brain for a minute. I had already been kicking around the idea of cutting back on the corn crop and putting my beans in with it, but just placing them in the corners so they climb the fencing, with corn between them for better picking. And then pumpkins on each side closer to the beans, so they can grow the fence, or spread on the ground. Will this work out ok?

Boy, I sure wish you were my neighbor!

This post was edited by momofsteelex3 on Thu, Apr 4, 13 at 15:17

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:06PM
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I am getting myself together, slowly but surely. Any suggestions on what to succession plant when the bulbing onions come out? In my small garden, about 20% of the space is onions right now. Ideally, I'd like something I can sow from seed, get going co-growing with the onions and let take off just as the onions are ready to come out... I think last year I tried to put some cukes or zukes or green bean seeds (I usually put these in the ground mid-June because I never have space once I get the tomatoes and peppers in every other square inch) right after onion harvest but it was just too hot and dry to really get them going.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 7:03PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

wulfleton, You're welcome.

momofsteelex3, Well, it should work but there's no guarantees because sometimes one thing or another (usually the pumpkins) will grow faster than the others and become a space hog. To some extent, you get around that by planting the corn and beans as early as you reasonably can so they are ahead of the pumpkins and the pumpkins cannot grow fast enough to shade them out.

Mia, If you like southern peas of any type (black-eyed, pink eye purple hull, lady, zipper or cream peas), they are easy to establish in the heat of summer. So is okra, or even a mini watermelon like Yellow Doll, Yellow Baby, Baby Doll, Tiger Baby, Blacktail Mountain, or Bush Sugar Baby or regular Sugar Baby. Or, sow seeds of one of the herbs that's easy from seed like basil, borage or Mexican mint marigold. Since that area is 20% of your garden, you also could use it for your earliest fall garden plantings. My earliest fall garden plants are fall tomatoes, and I Iike to put them in the ground in June if space is available, or in July if space isn't available until then.

If you want to reserve that area for a fall crop that goes in the ground in July or August, you could sow a cover crop like buckwheat. Buckwheat grows and blooms fast and is a nice filler for 4 to 6 to 8 weeks in between crops. It will keep weeds from spouting, attracts beneficial insects if you let it bloom and gives you raw material for your compost pile. Sometimes I sow catnip or catgrass into an empty spot just so something is growing there (to keep the weeds away) although of course it does greatly please the cats.

This year I am planning to put in fall tomatoes in the spot vacated by the onions. In some years, though, I've planted vining crops near the onions (pumpkins, winter squash, cukes or muskmelons) and just let them expand into the onion beds once I've harvested the onions. I rarely do it the same way any two years in a row. Sometimes I just look around the garden and ask myself "what do we not have enough of?" and that's how I choose the plant that replaces the onions. Sometimes I just sow zinnia and dwarf cosmos seeds there right after I pick the onions because you never can have too many flowers.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 7:20PM
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We lay out cinder blocks in strategic locations when we do a 3 sisters garden so we don't totally trample the pumpkins. Quite often we lay down a couple of boards atop them also. It helps to have agile kids who can hop from one block to the next so they can harvest everything within their reach.

Has anyone ever tried the 3 sisters "type" garden with cantelope and melons in place of pumpkins? Just curious....I never seem to plant enough melons.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:30PM
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Sorry for not responding earlier but I loaned out my kindle which I am using til my laptop is fixed. That certainly makes sense, dawn. It is different living in the city versus the country when it comes to critters. I am afraid I would be too much of a coward to be a country girl at this point in my life!


    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:39PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I've done it with watermelons and cantaloupes. They did okay but not great if left to ramble on the ground. I think the corn shaded them too much and since they have significantly smaller leaves than pumpkins and winter squash, I think they couldn't take in as much sun as they needed. If you plant them beside the corn but have a fence or trellis for them to climb, they do alright...but I'm talking about smaller melons like Sugar Baby, Blacktail Mountain, Yellow Doll, Tiger Baby, New Orchid, etc. I've never tried growing the really large melons on trellises because I think their weight would bring it down, but the small melons do just great. Using melons, though, wipes out the raccoon-stopping ability of the pumpkins because the melom leaves aren't as big and prickly as the pumpkin and winter squash leaves are. Some years the raccoons haven't touched the corn when it is surrounded by winter squash but I lose it all if I don't interplant it with winter squash/pumpkins or in a corn cage with a fencing top. If raccoons aren't a problem in your garden, then this isn't an issue.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 10:03AM
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I've had this old post clipped for a long time and with this year's interesting weather have come back to it so am adding my questions on the topic here. I have a fairly small veggie garden (essentially three raised rows, 3'x15' each) and am trying to plan to get the most out of it. I have the equivalent of half of one row dedicated to perennial asparagus and garlic that I let sprout each year and a big rosemary plant. I'm going to relocate the rosemary to my front part-sun flower bed and plant all my herbs up there this year - will be much more convenient to the kitchen. I've got trellises at the head of each row, and grew cukes successfully and cantaloupes unsuccessfully on those last year.

I have onions in .75 rows right now, but am afraid they will bolt from our temp swings, so bought three more bunches yesterday. When I plant them, I will have 1.75 rows of onions instead of the usual 1. When summer comes, I won't have my usual amount of space for tomatoes and peppers, which I plant in all available non-perennial/non-onion spots. I am thinking about spacing my new onions less bio-intensively (2-4"diamond) so I could pop a tomato or pepper plant into the row come summer crop planting time. Do experienced gardeners think this will work?

If yes, I am wondering about trying some spring crops in the third row, like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and radish, and just leaving room to put my main crop (tomatoes) in later. I guess I'm thinking that instead of bio-intensive spacing for a single item, I might spread plants out but have two crops going at the same time (late spring and early summer) to try to make best use of the space (in a different bio-intensive way).

What do you think?

Last year, before it became a jungle:
This year:

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 12:46PM
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Mia, think for bringing this up. I don't know how to Clip, Print, or any of that stuff on a computer. Some of the kids and grandkids are coming over today and I want them to show me how I can bring this thread up easily. There is some really good info here.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:07PM
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Hi Larry - you seem to get around the computer pretty well - I love seeing your pics! Just tell your grandkids there is a little icon on each Garden Web post that says "Clippings" directly to the right of the title of every post (and response). Underneath the scissors and word "clippings" are the options to "clip this post" "email this post" and "what is this?" Whichever post you want to "clip," just click the "clip this post" link. That will take you to a "My Clippings" page and it will show which post you are clipping, and you just have to click the "save" down at the bottom of that page. Later, when you want to look back at posts you've clipped (and maybe revive old dead threads like I just did!), you go to "Tools & Resources" along the top of the Garden Web page (to the right of Forums, Galleries, FAQs, etc), and drop down to "My Clippings." It will show you all popular clippings on GW but will also have a hyperlink to get back to your "My Clippings" page near the top just under the clippings search field. I have no idea why it shows the other popular clippings on most of the page instead of going directly to your personal clips, probably just to increase traffic.

Clippings are handy because while it only keeps track of one post out of a whole thread, you can click the title of your clipped post and go back to the whole original thread and refresh yourself on whatever it was you wanted to save.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:28PM
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Thanks for your help. I think I was born 100 years too late. I just don't understand new technology. I don't even have a cell phone, but, I now have a "Clippings" file.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 5:35PM
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wulfletons(Zone 7a)

What do you mean when you say you have garlic that you let sprout every year? Does that mean you don't harvest it all each year and just let it grow again the next year? This is my first year growing garlic and I'm still a bit confused by it. Thanks! (and unfortunately, I don't feel experienced enough to help with your question).

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 7:24PM
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Krista - yes. That is my totally accidental master plan! I planted garlic in that spot in 2012, which I received at the spring fling in April (proving that there is no time too late to plant garlic). I popped it in the ground just went out and dug up a piece whenever I needed it (obviously, I had no idea what to do with garlic, either!) Sometime in the fall, I dug it up and tried to braid it and keep in the garage. It dried out like a mummy out there :). In 2013, it sprouted in the same spot on its own (guess I missed some!) so I dug it all up in the midsummertime, probably sometime after I harvested the onions - I think it was sending up scapes and maybe the leaves died back like onions or maybe I asked here so I knew when to do it. I let these bulbs dry out to cure like the onions but this time I kept the bulbs loose in my pantry with all the onions (which also rotted/mummified/sprouted quickly in the garage in 2012, which is why both onions and garlic came indoors for 2013 harvest).

I've meant to go out and plant some of the remaining cloves from the pantry in the "garlic spot," but when I was cleaning up the beds a few weeks ago, I see garlic is sprouting again! I think what has happened is that some of the small bulbs' foliage had died back so completely I didn't know it was there to harvest and now it's making a new patch. I'm happy, because I obviously can't be counted on to replenish my planting! Think I will purposefully leave garlic in the ground each year. I'm betting it's weather dependent as to if it will be a perennial garlic patch - like if it's wet and soggy, they might rot and not come back - but this is a good raised area so I'm hopeful.

I have an area outside the "garden" that is elephant garlic which came with the house and I've never done anything with it seems to be thriving. This year am going to move it so it doesn't get mowed down or sprayed by the lawn guy.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 8:09PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Mia, Yes , I think it will work. Interplanting tomatoes with other crops is something I do all the time. I often grow smaller plants like lettuce and carrots underneath and between tomato plants, essentially using them as a living mulch beneath the taller tomato plants. I also mix all kinds of herbs into the tomato beds as well, and think those herbs help explain how I grow so many tomato plants and yet only rarely see even a single tomato hornworm or fruit worm. You sometimes will get less yield per plant when you interplant multiple kinds of crops together using close spacing, but since you have a lot more plants occupying the soil, you still get a good harvest .

The best carrot crop I ever had was a result of me broadcast sowing lettuce and carrot seed randomly into the tomato bed after the tomato plants already had been transplanted into the ground. My garden was smaller then and I had run out of space, so was packing as much into each bed as I possibly could. I just thinned carrots and lettuce after they sprouted. When I grow onions with tomato plants, normally I hammer a stake into the ground where each tomato plant will be planted later, and leave a small unplanted spot there as I plant the onions. When it it time to transplant the tomato plants into the ground, I put one tomato plant next to each stake. If I have to pull up a couple of onions to make room for a tomato transplant, it isn't a big deal . We eat those onions as scallions.

I started interplanting multiple types of plants together long ago, after reading John Jeavon's book "How To Grow More Vegetables...." book. It is amazing how much you can pack into even a small space when you interplant. Even when I grow tomato plants in molasses feed tubs, I generally have pepper plants, herbs and flowers mixed into each container with the tomato plants.

Look at how Mother Nature mixes everything up together. On the eastern edge of our woodland, for example, we have native pecan and oak trees growing as the dominant plants, but underneath them we have wild cherries, American persimmons, possumhaw hollies, and redbuds, and beneath those understory trees we have American beautyberry bushes, native blackberries, inland sea oats and brushy bluestem, peppervines and several native wildflowers which ebb and flow with the seasons. All of them happily co-exist. Why can't our gardens be the same way?

To garden bio-intensively in this manner, you need to pay careful attention to soil fertility and irrigation (if adequate rainfall is not being received). Obviously when you interplant several types of edible crops together, the plants will be competing with one another.

I get smaller onions in interplanted beds than I get from onions grown in a monoculture with recommended spacing, but still get tons of onions. We still have several dozen onions from last year's crop, though now they are starting to sprout. There pretty much is nothing grown in our veggie garden that isn't interplanted with several other things. If I ever were to plant even one single monoculture bed, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like the way it looked and would be out there trying to fix the bed by adding more stuff to it. In fact, I do have my onions planted as monoculture beds right now, but that is because they are the only thing I've put into the ground so far this year. The onions will not be alone in those beds for long.

Hope this helps ,


    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 2:29AM
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Thanks, Dawn! An amazing amount of info that I'll be using, for sure!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 12:09AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

You're welcome!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 8:34AM
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