One of the interesting things that happens when we start combining vegetables is the leaves and roots intermingle. There are a wide variety of effects created in both the root zone with chemical interactions and in the leaf zone with shade and overlap interactions. While we’ll ignore the chemistry part of all this, in this practical section we’ll outline the basics of what you’re trying to achieve.
Long and Short Term Plants.
Each vegetable and even variety within each vegetable has its own maturity date and combining these is the subject we’ll cover in other sections.
It is important for you to consider the maturity dates of the plants you want to grow so that you can always have something growing in each section of the garden.
Do understand that while there is a difference between individual vegetables themselves, (radish versus corn) within each vegetable you can find early and late varieties (early corn versus late corn) of almost every plant you’d consider growing.
This means not only can you plan around the difference between vegetables, you can plan on the difference within varieties of the same vegetable. You can plant early tomatoes in one bed and later tomatoes in another for example.
Height and Growth Pattern Above Ground
It is important to know how your plants grow. Some are vine-like (cucumbers) that provide a living mulch and they’ll grow very well if you give them a little support such as corn. Some are upright plants (celery) and planting them next to floppy plants (beans) will support the beans. Spreading plants with open leaf patterns (peppers) grow very well next to squat, dense-leaved plants such as cabbage.
So in any discussion of combining plants, we look for good combinations of above-ground growing habits that work well together.
Here are some plant combinations that grow nicely together with their above-ground growing patterns:
beans-corn-squash,melon or cucumber
cabbage – chives
cabbage – cucumbers
cabbage – pepper
cabbage – tomato
cole crop – carrot
corn – cabbages
corn – lettuce
corn – potato
corn – squash, melons, cucumbers
leeks – carrots
leek – parsley
lettuce – carrot, onion
lettuce – onion
lettuce – radish
melon – radish
onion – radish
onion – carrot
onion – eggplant
onion – pepper
onion – spinach
peas on trellis – cole crops, turnips, lettuce, carrot, spinach, radish
sweet potato – pumpkin
While this isn’t every possible combination, it will give you a good idea about combining your plants so the top growth matches.
Remember that using this top-bottom planting combination system covers the ground so that no bare ground is left. This is a “living mulch” that shades the soil thus preserving moisture and stopping weed germination. You can still mulch with organic matter but the top growth further reduces weed growth.