Plant tomatoes with companions
Some things are just better with a buddy. Consider peanut butter and jelly or thunder and lightning. After all, where would Andy be without Raggedy Ann?
Companion planting applies this "buddy principle" in the vegetable garden.
Part science and part traditions passed down by generations of gardeners, companion planting is not wholly accepted by the gardening community. But, if you are going to grow these vegetables anyway, why not give it a try?
Possible benefits include better flavor, improved vigor and protection from insect pests and diseases.
Tomatoes are the most widely grown vegetable by home gardeners. We plant and nurture them, longing for that first juicy tomato. This year, give your tomatoes some companions in the garden. Will it give them a tastier taste? Will it make your tomatoes more productive than ever before? Will your tomatoes suffer less from damage caused by insects or disease? Time will tell.
Some of the beneficial companions for tomatoes include basil, borage, chives, leaf lettuce, marigolds, nasturtiums and parsley.
Basil protects tomatoes from a variety of pests that favor tomatoes including aphids, spider mites, tomato hornworms and whiteflies while attracting pollinators (if allowed to flower). It also improves the health of the plant and enhances the flavor of the fruit. Plant a few basil plants for every tomato plant.
Borage is also believed by some to repel tomato hornworms; others report it to have little effect. Hornworms aside, borage is a pollinator favorite and most agree it does encourage stronger growth while improving the flavor of fruits.
Chives deter aphids. Parsley entices hoverflies that devour tomato pests while boosting the flavor and growth of tomatoes.
Leaf lettuce growing around the base of tomatoes offers the same benefits as mulch. It maintains an even soil temperature and prevents water from splashing soil (and disease spores) onto the tomato's foliage.
Marigolds drive away a pack of pests -- tomato hornworms, slugs and a variety of garden insects along with nematodes in the soil. Plant nasturtiums along with marigolds at the base of tomatoes and repel aphids and whiteflies while preventing fungal diseases.
While these plants may improve the health, yield or taste of tomatoes, others may do the opposite. Like oil and water, some plants don't mix well together. Plant these several feet away from each other in the garden.
Keep all members of the Brassica family away from tomato plants. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi all hinder the growth of tomatoes.
Corn and tomatoes are best kept apart, too. They both are targets of the tomato fruit worm, also known as the corn earworm. Planting them together gives their enemy a bigger target.
Both dill and fennel inhibit the growth of tomato plants.
Eggplants, peppers and potatoes may belong to the same family as tomatoes, but they should keep their distance from each other. They are all at risk for early and late blight. In addition to separating them in the garden, practice crop rotation. Members in this family should only be planted in the same area every three years.
Don't plant tomatoes near walnut trees. Their roots produce juglone -- a chemical that stunts the growth of tomatoes (and many other plants, too).
Give companion planting a try this year but remember good cultural practices -- preparing the soil before planting, watering correctly and fertilizing properly -- are most important.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.