Hello, dear readers! My name is Andrew, and I’m an experienced gardener and botany enthusiast based in Wisconsin. For over twenty years, I’ve helped home gardeners like yourself learn the secrets of companion planting and create vibrant, healthy gardens that thrive in our unique midwestern climate.
This blog post will explore one of my favorite companion plants: sweet basil. As you’ll soon discover, basil is more than a versatile culinary herb. Strategically pairing basil with other plants can boost yields, intensify flavors, and deter pests in vegetable patches and flower beds.
So grab a spade, and let’s get growing!
- 1 What Is Companion Planting?
- 2 The Outstanding Advantages of Planting Basil
- 3 Best Companion Plants for Basil
- 4 Basil’s Frenemies: Plants to Avoid
- 5 Companion Planting Design Strategies
- 6 Maximizing Your Garden Space with Basil
- 7 A Guide to Companion Plant Care
- 8 Harvesting the Bounty
- 9 Conclusion
What Is Companion Planting?
Before pairing plants, it’s essential to understand companion planting. Companion planting is strategically planting different crops together to benefit each other. This ancient agricultural technique taps into the powerful synergies between plant species.
There are a few fundamental mechanisms through which companion plants help each other:
- Pest confusion: Mixing plants with different scents, colors, and heights obscures pests’ ability to find their host crops, protecting more vulnerable plants.
- Pest distraction: Some plants lure pests away from other crops, acting as a “sacrificial lamb” while their companions grow unbothered.
- Nutrient provision: Certain plants, like legumes, fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. They boost their neighbors’ growth by sharing the nitrogen bounty when interplanted with nitrogen-hungry crops.
- Soil enhancement: Dynamic root systems break up and aerate the soil, boost microbial activity, and accumulate organic matter, creating better-growing conditions for accompanying crops.
- Pollination assistance: Flowers interplanted with crops attract pollinators, increasing fruit and seed production.
- Climbing support: Tall, upright plants like corn and trellised beans support climbing companions like peas or cucumbers.
- Shade provision: Quick-growing or tall plants shade lower-growing companions, protecting them from excessive sun exposure.
As you can see, well-matched companion plants form symbiotic relationships, ultimately yielding more bountiful and beautiful gardens!
The Outstanding Advantages of Planting Basil
Now that we’ve covered the broad companion planting concepts let’s focus specifically on our herbaceous friend, basil. Sometimes called the “king of herbs,” basil offers numerous advantages to gardens beyond its bold flavor and fragrance.
Natural Pest Repellent Properties
Basil contains powerful essential oils like eugenol, citral, and citronellol that deter many destructive insect pests, including:
- Nematodes (microscopic worms)
You can avoid damage by interplanting basil near crops susceptible to these insects without resorting to nasty pesticides.
Improved Flavor in Companion Crops
That signature sweet, spicy punch of basil also influences the taste of nearby fruits and veggies. Here are some examples:
- Tomatoes – basil accentuates fruity notes
- Peppers – basil lends sweetness and fragrance
- Cucumbers & radishes – basil adds a fresh, crisp bite
- Carrots & eggplants – basil contributes an aromatic richness
- Okra – basil infuses deliciously savory undertones
Consider this flavor boost when deciding where to place your basil plants!
How Basil Promotes Healthy Growth
On top of repelling pests and boosting flavor, basil also actively nurtures plant health in several ways:
- Attracts pollinators: Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators flock to basil’s nectar-rich blossoms. Their visits increase fruit sets and yields for nearby tomato, squash, and fruit trees.
- Improves soil texture: Basil’s shallow roots loosen and aerate topsoil as they grow. This facilitates better drainage and nutrient absorption for basil and everyone around it.
- Provides essential nutrients: As basil plants mature and trimmed leaves decompose, they release a variety of macro- and micronutrients. These serve as a slow-release fertilizer.
- Deters nematodes: Specific compounds exuded from basil roots repel destructive nematodes and other soil-dwelling pests.
By welcoming basil into your beds and borders, you gain a powerful plant ally that actively protects and nourishes its companions!
Best Companion Plants for Basil
Now that we’ve explored basil’s stellar benefits let’s discuss which crops make the best basil buddies. We’ll cover optimum vegetable companions and some excellent herb and flower pairings.
Vegetables That Thrive with Basil
Tomatoes: The Classic Companion
Basil and tomatoes are perhaps the most iconic pairing – for good reason! Tomatoes thrive when interplanted with bushy basil. As companions, tomatoes provide the structure for basil to climb up, while basil deters various tomato mites, aphids, and worms. Plus, it makes tomatoes taste amazing!
Plant 4-6 basil seedlings between every two tomato plants in sunny raised beds amended with compost for best results.
Peppers: Spicing Up Flavor Profiles
Basil also complements peppers fabulously by moderating their sometimes sharp bite. Its presence deters aphids, flea beetles, and other irritating insects that enjoy snacking on delicious peppers. Culinary combinations like basil and sweet bell peppers or hot basil and jalapeños are scrumptious!
Interplant groups of 3-5 pepper and basil seedlings in alternating rows to maximize symbiotic effects in fertile garden loam.
Asparagus: Sharing Space with Basil
Since asparagus and basil thrive under similar conditions, they make excellent companion plants. Once mature, asparagus’s ferny foliage provides protective shade for shorter basil plants. Basil repays the favor by improving drainage and soil nutrition for asparagus’s extensive root system.
For a spring feast, sow basil and asparagus seeds in loose, compost-enriched beds. Basil will emerge first and later make room for asparagus spears.
Other Compatible Vegetables
In addition to classic pairings, basil also grows well with beans, beets, radishes, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, celery, onions, potatoes, spinach, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, eggplant, arugula, and more!
Basil’s versatility allows it to assist almost any vegetable crop. It should be thoughtfully incorporated wherever insect pests or soil issues pose problems.
Favorable Herbs and Flowers for Basil Companionship
Beyond vegetables, many flowering herbs also thrive alongside basil. These herb companions enhance growth for both basil and themselves through symbiotic relationships. Consider interplanting basil with:
- Parsley – these leafy cousins mutually deter problematic flies and nematodes
- Mint – mint improves moisture retention and repels aphids around basil
- Chives – chives mask the scent of basil from pests looking to feast
- Marigolds – cheery marigolds discourage nematodes and beetles
Many flowering plants, such as zinnias, calendula, dahlias, cosmos, bee balm, sage, and more, make excellent companions for basil. Their bright petals attract essential pollinators while also confusing problematic insects. Weave flowering herbs and blooms throughout basil plantings for a gorgeous and vibrant kitchen garden!
Basil’s Frenemies: Plants to Avoid
While basil makes fast friends with hundreds of plants, a few species don’t get along well. Learn to recognize basil’s adversaries:
- Cabbage family crops include rutabagas, kohlrabi, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. These plants attract caterpillars that munch on both groups.
- Beans & peas – vining varieties grow too large and aggressive. They shade out and compete with basil.
- Rue – this potent herb exudes chemicals that inhibit basil’s growth.
- Sage – intense sage aromatics overpower nearby basil plants.
- Rosemary – another intense herb that overwhelms basil and stunts its growth
- Potatoes – these sprawling plants steal nutrients and water from shallow-rooted basil.
When planning your garden landscape, keep basil separate from these poorly-matched plants. This will prevent less productive growth for both plant groups.
Companion Planting Design Strategies
The compatible companion options I shared will spark some inspiration for your gardens! Now, let’s transform that inspiration into action with some fundamental companion planting design principles:
- Consider mature plant sizes. Small, low-growing companions like lettuce and basil can grow at the base of larger plants like tomatoes but keep overly aggressive plants apart.
- Use basil as a border plant. A ring of basil plants helps encircle and protect companion plants by deterring flying pests.
- Interplant basil with pest-susceptible plants. Blend basil throughout plantings prone to heavy insect damage. Its aromatic oils will obscure pests’ detection mechanisms.
- Plant pollinator-attractors – Encourage pollination and biodiversity by interplanting blooming herbs and flowers among basil foliage.
- Include dynamic root depths – Shallow basil roots occupy different soil strata than long carrot or bean roots, enabling efficient use of space.
- Employ vertical planting – Adapt smaller basil varieties to vertical gardens, walls, and trellises alongside trailing veggies for 3D harvesting!
Some quintessential basil companion planting combinations include:
- Basil & marigolds – pest protection & pollination power
- Basil & tomatoes – improved growth & irresistible flavor
- Basil & oregano – doubling up the savory goodness
- Basil & garlic – aromatic insect deterrents
- Basil & lettuce – quick-growing, insect-confusing greens
Feel free to get creative with your concoctions! Thoughtful experiments often lead to horticultural revelations.
Maximizing Your Garden Space with Basil
In addition to traditional in-ground companionship, basil’s versatility also allows it to assist plant allies in unique garden settings:
The vertical gardening trend maximizes limited space while providing lush greenery. Lavender cascading from balcony railings, succulents clustering in living walls, and the like are popular. Fortunately, columnar basil varieties thrive in vertical gardens! These narrow cultivars fit perfectly in rail planters, tall pots, living walls, and trailing veggies like cluster tomatoes or cucamelons. Train both plant groups up trellises and strings for a gorgeous edible display.
Intercropping refers to growing two or more crops together in repeating rows instead of solid blocks. This intelligent system promotes higher total yields on smaller spaces compared to monocropping. Luckily, bushy basil adapts wonderfully to intercropping configurations with compatible veggies, herbs, and flowers!
Some excellent intercrops for basil include:
- Tomatoes & basil – stake alternating tomato and basil plants in rows
- Peppers & basil – grow bell pepper/basil pairs in rows to enhance flavors
- Marigolds & basil – alternate quick-growing insect deterrents
- Beans & basil – bush beans fix nitrogen for heavy-feeding basil plants
Get creative with your intercrop designs to maximize productivity. When planting, just ensure adequate spacing and light exposure.
For urban gardeners and backyard spaces, container gardening enables growing fresh herbs and veggies anywhere. An aromatic, ornamental basil makes an ideal container focal point! Choose free-draining pots at least 10-12 inches deep. Then, surround basil transplants with compatible edibles like cherry tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, bush beans, radishes, cucamelons, strawberries, or dwarf marigolds. Container companionship allows these plants to protect and nourish each other in confined spaces that preclude traditional row gardening.
A Guide to Companion Plant Care
Creating your tailored companion garden design sets the stage for success. But, maintaining thoughtful cultural practices helps your plants capitalize on companion synergies. Here are my top tips for stewarding thriving basil plantings:
Moisture-loving basil requires 1-2 inches of water weekly from rain or irrigation in well-draining soil. Be careful not to overwater, as soggy roots quickly succumb to fungal diseases. Drought-tolerant companions like marigolds or zinnias thrive with less water, so position them accordingly.
Basil flourishes in organically rich loam with abundant oxygen and a slightly acidic pH of around 6.5. To maintain soil health, side-dress plants with balanced organic fertilizer and compost. Alternatively, let shredded leaves accumulate as nutritive mulch.
Legumes, like beans, infuse soil with nitrogen through symbiotic bacteria on their roots. They make the perfect nutrient cyclers for nitrogen-loving basil!
Applying 3-4 inches of organic matter like shredded leaves, wood chips, or straw as mulch regulates soil temperature and moisture while suppressing weeds. Just leave a few inches bare around basil stems to prevent disease. Mulching also nourishes soil food webs that basil relies on.
Pruning & Training
Pinch or snip basil stems just above leaf nodes to encourage bushy growth. As plants mature, selectively harvest up to 75% of leaves and flowers for household use. This stimulates the emergence of new foliage.
Train trailing basil varieties vertically on supports paired with vine tomatoes, cucamelons, or peas.
Pests & Disease Prevention
Basil is vulnerable to various foliar fungi, root rots, bacteria, and insects. To protect it, grow resistant cultivars and scout regularly for symptoms. If pests prevail, remove affected foliage immediately and use organic interventions like neem oil sprays, insecticidal soap, horticultural oils, or microbial biopesticides. Intercropping basil with pest-deterring onions, garlic, chives, calendula, and marigolds also offers protection, as does attracting beneficial predatory insects.
With attentive care focused on cultivating biodiversity and soil health, your thoughtfully designed basil companion garden will thrive!
Harvesting the Bounty
Every gardener’s joy is a thriving companion garden erupting with herbs and produce! As your basil and its vegetable, herb, and flower friends near maturity, monitor them carefully. Harvesting at peak ripeness ensures the highest nutrient quality and flavor.
Frequent harvesting stimulates tender new basil growth, so don’t be shy! Initiate picking once plants reach 6-10 inches tall. Cut stems just above leaf nodes using clean pruners or scissors. Harvest before flowers emerge for the best flavor. Seek out the youngest top leaves, identified by their petite size and intense scent. Know that frequent pruning prolongs productive growing seasons until the first frost.
Snipping companion veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and greens at their prime ensures balanced nutrient levels and sweetness. Time flower cutting according to bloom shape and pollination needs.
Preserving Your Bounty
From tangy basil pesto to sundried tomatoes, transform garden produce into pantry staples! Refrigerate basil leaves for 5-7 days. Or blanche and freeze into flavorful ice cubes. Convert tomatoes and peppers into sauces, salsas, juices, and other preserved products. Your interplanted basil takes these foods to the next level!
These companionship tips help you see basil as more than just another herb. Thoughtfully partnered with edibles and ornamentals, basil actively contributes ecosystem services like enhanced nutrition, pest control, and pollination facilitation that benefit the entire garden. This symbiotic relationship demonstrates the powerful potential of skillful companion planting to increase yields, improve crop quality, and reduce external inputs for a more sustainable food system.
As you experiment with integrating basil into your vegetable patches, flower beds, container gardens, and vertical growing spaces, pay close attention to your observations and keep records of which combinations thrive. Over time, you’ll discover custom complements suited to your unique growing conditions and tastes. That’s the true delight of companion gardening – learning which plant “friends” get along best by creatively collaborating with nature in your backyard.
To recap, remember these essential tips when companion planting with basil:
- Interplant basil with tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, and a wide variety of other vegetables
- Include marigolds, parsley, oregano, and other herbs in basil plantings
- Avoid planting basil with beans, kale, potatoes, or sage
- Use basil as a fragrant, insect-repelling border plant
- Include flowering plants to attract essential pollinators
- Employ vertical gardening and containers to maximize small spaces
- Carefully tend to water, nutrients, and pest prevention
- Harvest often once mature, and preserve that fresh flavor!
We wish you a season overflowing with garden abundance and wisdom from partnering with nature! Reach out anytime with questions.