November 9, 2022

Companion planting - noun

Definition: Also referred to as intercropping, the practice of planting two or more crops closely together to provide benefits to one another.

Companion planting in the Forest Garden:

Farmers apply companion planting to maximize organic improvement of their plots. As they grow alongside one another, carefully selected plants will mutually improve those around them. Companion crops are also commonly incorporated in integrated pest management (IPM) to repel pests from primary crops or to attract pest predators.

Farmers musthave a clear understanding of the role each crop will play in this mutual relationship. Without the right compatibility, these crops could begin to compete for resources rather than helping one another flourish.  

One of the most practiced companion pairings is known as “The Three Sisters.” This approach combines corn, pole beans, and squash with each crop providing its companions with some form of benefit.

First, pole beans require a trellis (some sort of support) to climb as they grow. By incorporating corn, cornstalks will provide a natural trellis that allow the beans to grow upright. Next, both squash and corn rely heavily on nitrogen to grow vigorously. By incorporating beans, which are legumes, an abundance of nitrogen is fixed in the nearby soil for both the squash and corn to uptake. Additionally, squash has a dense and sprawling foliage that can serve as mulch, help keep the area cool, and retain moisture. 

Tell us which companion crops you like to plant together with an email at 

Want to learn more about agroforestry? Sign up for our FGTC newsletter here. Plus, join our FGTC Facebook Group to get connected with a global community of agroforesters.