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Best Companion Plants

Best Companion Plants for Square Foot Gardening

In this article we look at what companion planting is, why it works and we will answer the question, what are the best companion plants for Square Foot Gardening?

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Contents

Do you know what Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is? If not, check out our article: What is Square Foot Gardening?

What is Companion Planting?

Companion planting (sometimes called ‘intercropping’ or ‘polyculture’) is the system of growing two or more plants next to each other so that they provide added benefits.

These advantages could be pest control, more diverse pollination, and a sharing of nutrients.

The whole purpose of companion planting is that at the end of the season you are left with a stronger crop and a higher yield. It is also an effective way to organically deter pests from your plants.

Square Foot Gardening raised beds

Does Companion Planting Reduce Pests?

You may be wondering “Does companion planting actually reduce pests on my crop?” and the answer is yes!

Plants have evolved to survive and, just like animals that live in different environments, have unique features that prevent them getting eaten or destroyed by predators.

For example, the brassica family of plants (which includes cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli) is very susceptible to damage by insects.

Butterflies love to lay their eggs on the leaves, and the caterpillars that follow will decimate the crop.

Not only that but cabbage root fly and cabbage white fly are so small that they will start to destroy your precious vegetables before you have even realised they’ve become an issue.

The organic solution is to position plants next to your brassicas that repel these nuisance insects.

Top gardening tip

Did you know that by planting rosemary, mint, or other strong-smelling herbs of this type can assist in keeping bugs at bay? Their essential oils (which are in the leaves and root system) act as a deterrent and discourage the pests from remaining in the area.

If you are as excited about companion planting as us, you could take this one step further and intercrop plants that attract the natural predators of the creatures you are trying to eliminate.

Aphids can be a real problem for vegetables and flowers alike. Gone are the days when a quick squirt of Fairy Liquid solution will do.

They are a real issue and by sucking the sap out of the plant they stunt its growth. Their residue can allow mould spores to take hold and essentially rot the plant.

The solution? Incorporate dill, yarrow and marigolds into your planting scheme to attract ladybirds. The ladybirds prey on the aphids and the best part is you can eat parts of those plants too – so it’s not ‘wasted’ growing space.

We mentioned rosemary earlier, and this is one of the big guns in your insect control arsenal. Did you know that it can also repel slugs and snails?

The same is true for lavender; both these herbs are used widely in cookery and will make an attractive addition to your Square Foot Garden.

Finally, on the subject of garden pests, how could we overlook birds? These can’t be prevented from flying over your garden on the hunt for a tasty looking vegetable shoot, however they can be discouraged.

Unfortunately there’s no ‘magic plant’ that will stop a bird from pecking at your parsley, but square Foot Gardening does make it easier to protect your crop because it is all planted together and often in a raised bed.

You can position small sticks at odd angles leaving no room for the birds to land, or you can use a garden wind spinner or chimes.

If birds become a big issue, it’s easy to fit a protective net over your crops if they are in a raised bed. However, unless absolutely necessary, we would not advise using plastic garden netting or chicken wire as hedgehogs, birds and other animals have been known to get caught in it and injure themselves. So use with caution!

If we are attracting beneficial insects to the garden, perhaps, the birds will feast on some of them instead of our crops!

Square Foot Gardening is perfect for elderly people who may want to continue their hobby despite age-related restrictions such as poor mobility.

Why does Square Foot Gardening make companion planting easier?

SFG is one of the easiest ways to create a companion planting system.

Everything is planned in advance and the types of plants that benefit each other can be planted around the delicate crop, whereas in traditional allotment planting and agriculture everything is in long wide rows.

It would be difficult to get the benefit from rosemary and lavender protecting cabbages when you have a single line of them stretching off into the distance – you’d have to buy a plant to pair with each cabbage!

In the SFG grid you can carefully place a couple of companion plants at the edges of the square, and these will act as a barrier.

You can also consider the height of the plants, and determine where you can create shade for crops that like partial sun, or where you can leave open gaps for full sunlight most of the day.

It is equally useful for children or beginners who want to have the immediate value of growing their own plants but may not have the space or skills for ‘traditional’ layouts.

Garlic is a fantastic companion plant. It’s a great repellent for rodents, just from the smell alone – as are most alliums. However, you can also use some of the cloves to make garlic water, a natural insecticide.

It grows to around 30cm but is not a dense crop, so if you need a little shade you can plan your planting so the garlic acts like a sundial at the centre of your grid. Garlic also attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies!

Everything we have discussed so far is so much more difficult to achieve in a traditional planting layout. The beauty of Square Foot Gardening is that you can easily protect your plants, create shade, and experiment with companion planting without needing to invest in lots of plants.

Companion planting is a fantastic way to organically manage pests in your garden. You can find out more about organic Square Foot Gardening here.

What are the best companion plants for Square Foot Gardening?

There are so many species of plant that we could never make an exhaustive list, so we have researched the most common companion plants that people use in SFG.

Rosemary and Lavender

Their strong smell (especially when they are warmed by the sun) deters beetles, flies and other creepy crawlies that would do harm to your crops!

If you plant them at the edge of your grid they should prevent pests entering the main growing area. The great news is that they are also the perfect accompaniment for lots of dishes!

rosemary and lavender

Borage

This beautiful plant is edible and you can even use its blue flowers in your summer drink… its use as a companion plant comes from the fact it deters underground beasties from attacking the roots of your vegetables and stunting their growth.

It’s also a great pollinator.

borage companion planting

Marigolds

These are often used to brighten up borders in gardens, or as a burst of colour in flower arrangements, but they are by far one of the best companion plants available.

You only need to take a quick look at the list of things they protect: asparagus, corn, cucumber, pumpkins… they discourage nematodes, beetles and some species of pest worms too!

beneficial insect on flower

Strawberries

Wild, alpine or cultivated, strawberries are great at protecting onions, lettuces, and spinach. Their attractive white flowers turn into succulent fruit.

They are self-seeding, and fairly low maintenance. This makes them an easy plant for a Square Foot Garden.

Garlic / Alliums

These strong-smelling plants put off bugs and beetles as well as rodents and some birds. Animals can sense their presence from a great distance and will avoid the area.

Although only some are edible, the colour and safety they bring to your garden will be worth the space they take up.

garlic / alliums

A great way to embrace the ethos behind Square Foot Gardening is to consider making your own compost. This is a form of recycling; it’s often organic and can be cost effective.

If you want to follow traditional SFG methods, you should try to use “Mel’s Mix”.

Officially Mel’s Mix is:
1/3 of a good blended multi-purpose compost made from at least 5 different sources
1/3 coarse vermiculite
1/3 peat moss (or coco coir)
In the UK it is possible to create this mix with 50/50 blended multi-purpose compost and vermiculite.

what is square foot gardening composter

If you are looking to start the process of composting at home we suggest purchasing a compost bin. These come in various shapes and sizes.

They sit in a secluded part of your garden, you then add food and plant waste to them.

Here are some of your options:

Compost bin for Square foot gardening
You can make your own compost using something as simple as a wooden crate or search for composters here.

See some of our other articles here:

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Do I need a Raised Bed for Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening: Planting Guide

Top gardening tip

You can buy a ready made raised bed or build your own using a kit!

what is square foot gardening without a raised bed

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) has enjoyed a recent resurgence because the method is suitable for many people’s outdoor areas.

no dig gardening
square foot gardening is suitable for flowers
top gardening tip

Did you know that garden centres and hardware stores such as B&Q and Homebase now carry kits that are affordable and easy to assemble if you are creating a new SFG?

These might be the way forward if you’re not comfortable sawing, or building your own wooden frame.

Useful Videos

FAQ’s

When was Square Foot Gardening invented?

Square Foot Gardening was first invented by Mel Bartholomew in 1976 and he published his first book on the topic in 1981.

How much does it cost to set up a Square Foot Garden?

You could set up your square foot garden for free using things you have lying around in the house or garden. It depends if you are using a raised bed or not and how much you are investing in your initial set up. You should plan ahead and fully cost your materials before you begin.

What compost do I need for a raised bed?

If you want to stick to the official method of square foot gardening then you should try to use mel’s mix for maximum results. However, depending on what plants you are growing, you may need to add specialist types of compost. It may also depend on your climate and how wet or dry your compost is likely to be.

Can I make my own compost?

Yes. Absolutely! There are many reasons why you should make your own compost. Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also a great way to make use of your garden waste and spent plants. It’s also said that using compost you’ve made in the same garden is a great way of attracting beneficial insects to your square foot garden which helps to reduce pests.

What is Mel’s mix?

Officially Mel’s Mix is:
1/3 of a good blended multi-purpose compost made from at least 5 different sources
1/3 coarse vermiculite
1/3 peat moss (or coco coir)
In the UK it is possible to create this mix with 50/50 blended multi-purpose compost and vermiculite.

Should you dig the ground over before you start?

This all depends on how you feel about the whole dig vs no dig debate! There is absolutely no reason you would need to dig if you can’t or don’t want to!

Things you’ll need for a Successful Square Foot Garden

Tools

Mel’s Mix

Home Composting

Suggested Reading

Want to learn more about No Dig Gardening?

no dig gardening
no dig gardening
no dig gardening

Learn more with these books from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Square Foot Gardening
Square Foot Gardening
Square Foot Gardening

Still want to know more about Square Foot Gardening? Find out how it all started!

Check out the video below for more help to get started with Square Foot Gardening!

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