By Rachel Crow
If you choose wisely when planning potato companion plants, you can encourage a healthier and bigger homegrown crop.
The flavor of a homegrown potato is unparalleled, and with many different varieties to choose from, now is the perfect time to be planting your future roasted, fried, mashed, boiled or baked potatoes – there are myriad plot-to-plate potentials.
Planting potatoes is easy, but you want to ensure a good yield that will keep you well fed throughout the year. Here is where the concept of planting companions for potatoes comes in. The idea is simple: you plant your crop next to different herbs, flowers or vegetables that are known to benefit them as they grow.
See: Companion planting - your ultimate guide
What are good companion plants for potatoes
The best potato companion plants are those that bring some benefit to the sprouting spuds. This may be in deterring pests that would otherwise attack the young potato plants, improving soil nutrients available to the growing tubers, helping to increase the potato harvest, or enticing essential pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, to the potato plants.
Potato companion plants can also act to create a better growing environment, whether that is providing beneficial shade, ground cover or by breaking up the soil.
'Although there is limited scientific research surrounding companion gardening, many gardeners find it extremely beneficial to their plant’s performance,' says Sue Sanderson of seed and plant company Thompson & Morgan.
Early spring is a prime time to be planting second earlies or 'new' potatoes, as well as main crop potatoes. They are grown from 'seed potatoes', known as tubers.
See: How to grow potatoes - a step-by-step guide
Potatoes look great in the vegetable patches, but can also be grown in bags or pots in even the smallest back yard and need little looking after. If you plant in succession, you can enjoy a potato harvest from June right through to October.
Vegetable planting companions for potatoes
'Avoid monocultures – where the same type of vegetable crop is grown en masse or in rows – as this makes it much easier for pests and diseases to find their favorite plants and then spread quickly,' says Sue Sanderson.
Among the good planting companions for potatoes are plants in the cabbage family, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. These plants all have shallow root systems, so they won’t compete for the space or nutrients that deep-rooted potatoes will need.
See: Small vegetable garden ideas - from layout ideas to the best crops to grow
Beans and other legumes are good potato companion plants as they release nitrogen into the soil, which helps improve yields and crop quality. In return, potato plants deter the Mexican bean beetle, which attacks many legumes.
Corn grown as planting companions for potatoes is believed to improve the flavor of the tubers and make them grow better, and also grows tall with shallow roots, so this makes the best use of available space in the vegetable patch.
The pungent aroma of garlic and onions is thought to repel some pests and to confuse or distract others, putting them off the scent of the potatoes.
See: How to grow garlic - a step-by-step guide to growing from cloves
Herb planting companions for potatoes
There are many good planting companions for potatoes in the herb family – many of which also go perfectly in dishes cooked with potatoes.
Chives attract beneficial insects to either eat pests or improve the yield. Added to which, they are wonderful as an addition to a potato salad or baked potato dish.
Cilantro – or coriander – also attracts beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, hoverflies and wasps, while horseradish is understood to improve the disease resistance of potatoes by producing pest repelling odors and chemicals.
Parsley and thyme are believed to be good planting companions for potatoes as they improve the flavor of the tubers, while also attracting beneficial insects, such as hoverflies.
'Mint also makes an excellent companion plant as it deters pests, including whitefly, ants and mice, and the flowers attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies,' says herb specialist Jekka McVicar.
See: Starting a herb garden – a beginner's guide
Flower planting companions for potatoes
Flowers planted in among the vegetable crops can add a pretty, colorful element to a vegetable patch, but also have hidden talents.
Nasturtiums make complementary planting companions for potatoes as they act as an attractive sacrificial plant, luring predatory pests, such as aphids and potato beetle, away from the potato crops onto themselves.
By contrast, marigolds emit a strong odor that repels a variety of insect pests.
Petunias may also protect potatoes from certain pests by confusing them with their strong fragrance so that the insects can't find their target crop.
- See: Kitchen garden ideas – easy ways to get started
What can you not plant next to potatoes?
There are also vegetables and flowers that you should avoid planting near potatoes. 'This may be because they compete for space, light, water, soil nutrients, or attract insects detrimental to the companion vegetables,' says gardening writer and photographer Leigh Clapp.
Potatoes are part of the same nightshade plant family as tomatoes and capiscum (peppers) so these do not make good planting companions for potatoes. They will compete for the same nutrients if planted side by side. Plus pests and diseases will also spread between them easily, so they should be kept well apart.
See: Tomato companion planting - the best crops to grow with tomatoes
Cucumbers can make potatoes more susceptible to blight and, along with other members of the cucurbit family, such as squash, can also compete for the same nutrients.
See: Cucumber companion planting - what to grow alongside cucumber
Sunflowers do not make happy planting companions for potatoes as they excrete chemicals that can inhibit seed germination and stunt the growth of crops grown close by. To avoid small, misshapen potatoes, keep them away from the tubers.
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