Kale is a versatile and nutritious leafy green that is easy to grow and harvest. However, like all plants, it can be vulnerable to pests and diseases. Companion planting is an age-old gardening technique that involves planting different species of plants together to improve their growth and health.
This article will explore some of the best companion plants for kale and how they can benefit your kale crop. From herbs to flowers, we will discuss how to use companion planting to protect and enhance your kale.
Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, this article will provide valuable information on how to get the most out of your kale crop.
- Learn More: For more information about growing kale, check out our full guide!
What is companion planting?
Companion plants have traditionally been used as an alternative to chemical pest control for years to reduce pest infestation and maintain a balanced ecosystem.
BENEFITS OF COMPANION PLANTING
Companion planting can bring several positive benefits to the homegrown garden. Fruits, flowers, vegetables, and herbs have many beneficial partners that can help improve taste, growth, and yield and help manage pests and diseases. Companions can also help:
Brightly colored flowers with solid and spicy scents and food sources attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Pollinators are beneficial for increasing yields – and who doesn’t want a higher-yielding garden?
ATTRACTS BENEFICIAL INSECTS:
Marigolds and nasturtiums, for instance, can help attract helpful bugs like hoverflies, parasitic wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.
Many plants like Marigolds and nasturtiums can work very well, repelling pests away from your prized crops. In addition, you can use companion planting to prevent problems such as Japanese beetles, flea beetles, squash bugs, spider mites, asparagus beetles, cabbage loopers, and tomato hornworms. Or the plants can be used as a trap crop to lure away harmful pests like leaf miners, fungus gnats, and corn earworms from the primary crop.
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CAN HELP IMPROVE THE SOIL:
Marigolds can help destroy root-knot nematodes. Other leafy plants, like basil and lettuce, can provide a ground cover to control moisture evaporation.
Other plants with large taproots, like carrots and beets, can help break up heavy soils.
IT CAN HELP CONTROL WEEDS AND MOISTURE.
Densely planted leafy greens or flowers can prevent weeds and help the soil stay cool and retain moisture during hot growing periods.
COMPANION PLANTING CAN HELP WITH DISEASE ISSUES:
Adding a variety of plants in the garden can help break up groupings and can help slow the spread of diseases such as downy and powdery mildew as well as early and light blight.
Companion planting is an excellent addition to any organic garden planning.
The Best Companion Plants for Kale
So, you’re wondering; what grows well with kale? Plant these beneficial companion plants with your kale crops and enjoy the benefits:
Marigolds are always one of the top picks for companion planting due to their ability to confuse and repel pests with their aromatic scent. In addition, studies have shown that marigolds attract parasitic wasps and predatory hoverflies, which help drastically reduce aphid infestations.
There is also evidence that marigolds help discourage root-knot nematodes in the soil.
The brightly colored flowers also look lovely contrasted against the dark leafy kale.
- Learn More: Want to know more about companion planting with Marigolds? Check out our complete guide!
Herbs are beneficial companions for kale as they repel kale pests, attract predators, regulate soil moisture and even enhance the flavor of nearby plants.
While almost any herb can benefit kale plants, some herbs are more effective companions than others:
If pests are your biggest concern, plant herbs like catnip, fennel, and cilantro to help repel and confuse pests and attract beneficial predators that will help reduce pest populations.
Root vegetables like beets make great companion plants for kale; kale plants have a shallow root system and will not compete for water or soil nutrients with deep-rooted beets.
If you return your beet greens to the compost pile, try using the greens instead as mulch around your kale plants. Beet greens contain loads of organic materials and minerals to help you grow healthier kale plants.
- Learn More: Did you know you can grow beets in containers? You can! See our complete guide on growing beets in pots right on your patio.
Buckwheat is an excellent ground cover companion plant that helps retain soil moisture and chokes out those pesky weeds.
Planting buckwheat in the garden will attract beneficial insects like parasitic wasps, beneficial flies, and bees, and it helps to shelter spiders and ground beetles.
Buckwheat makes an excellent perimeter planting around a vegetable garden.
Carrots offer no pest control or sizeable benefits like some of the companions mentioned in this post. Still, they enjoy similar growing conditions making them good companion plants without any garden drama.
Both kale and carrots are cool-season crops that can grow together without competition for water or nutrients. Both plants also enjoy similar soil environments, and both can manage a light frost and grow well as a pair.
- Learn More: Check out our guide to know when to harvest carrots at their peak of flavor and nutrition.
Pole Beans & Bush Beans
Both pole beans and bush beans make great companion plants for kale due to the extra nitrogen the beans extract from the air and put back into the soil. When nitrogen is readily available, leafy greens like kale grow exceptionally well!
Plant kale behind trellised beans to help protect the plants from direct sunlight to prevent bolting.
- Learn More: You can grow prolific bean plants in containers; we have the full guide.
Calendula is a predatory insect beacon and makes good companion plants for kale. The flower’s scent and color attract hoverflies, lacewing, and ladybugs that help combat aphids and thrips.
These long-blooming perennials can be planted everywhere and anywhere in the garden space to attract a range of beneficial insects.
Calendulas’ bright yellow-orange flowers make a perfect color companion for kale.
- Learn More: Calendula is one of the fastest-growing flowers from seed! See our full list of fast-growing flowers for your gardens.
Cucumbers are good kale companion plants when they can sprawl at ground level.
The leafy vines of the cucumber plants can create a living mulch around the kale plants and help to keep the soil cool and reduce evaporation. In addition, the cucumbers will provide shade for the kale plants if grown on a trellis.
Cucumbers also do not attract pests that can harm kale or compete for water or nutrients.
- Learn More: Learn how to grow cucumbers from seed to harvest with our guide. We also have a full guide on the best companion plants for cucumbers that you should check out before you plant!
These lovely late spring blooming perennials with white daisy-like flowers make wonderful kale companion plants.
Like marigolds, chamomile attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies, and parasitic wasps will help deal with aphid infestations.
Roman chamomile is self-seeding and can be hard to control. To prevent chamomile from spreading, use a pot or container to keep it self-contained within the garden bed, and remove spent flowers before seed heads can scatter.
Quick Tip: Chamomile makes a wonderful addition to a tea garden.
Cilantro is an aromatic herb that makes a great companion for kale for various reasons, such as drawing in pollinators and beneficial predators, repelling pests, and boosting the flavor of kale leaves. Cilantro is particularly effective in keeping aphids, a primary predator of kale, at bay by drawing hoverflies that feed on them.
In addition, cilantro and kale have comparable growth rates and don’t compete for moisture or nutrients, making them easy to plant and cultivate together.
- Learn More: See our guide on growing cilantro from seed and learn about the varieties of cilantro, so you grow the one that is right for you.
Nasturtium acts differently than most companion plants for kale. Instead of repelling pests, it attracts them as a decoy to divert pests. So, placing nasturtium a few feet away from your kale plants is best.
These attractive, edible flowers mature quickly, taking between 30-50 days, and can be started indoors alongside kale seeds or directly sown outside next to existing kale plants.
- Learn More: Want to know more about companion planting with Nasturtiums? Check out our full guide in this article.
The allium family includes plants such as chives, shallots, garlic, leeks, and onions. These plants can deter pests by releasing strong scents and oils that repel common pests of kale, like flea beetles, cabbage loopers, and aphids.
Garlic also helps protect the surrounding soil from fungal infestations by excreting sulfur into the ground.
In addition to pest control, alliums do not compete with kale for moisture or soil nutrients.
- See our companion planting guides for alliums for more detailed information:
Radishes are great companions for kale. Even though radishes do not protect kale plants, they can be planted together easily as they mature quickly and do not consume the same resources as kale.
You can harvest radishes in just three weeks, so they do not grow and overcrowd kale plants.
Plant those radish seeds around and among kale plants to utilize the extra open space around the kale plants.
Sweet alyssums are an ideal companion for a wide range of plants in the garden. Not only do they release a pleasant honey-like scent, but they also attract beneficial predators such as lace-winged insects, parasitic wasps, and essential insect pollinators.
The insects that the alyssum plant attracts can help control pests such as aphids. Ladybugs can consume up to 50 aphids daily as adults and even more as developing larvae.
Plant sweet alyssum alongside kale to spread and form a living ground cover that will help keep the soil cool and reduce moisture evaporation.
Avoid Planting these Companion Plants With Kale
Here are the plants that you must avoid planting near kale as they either compete for resources or share similar pests and diseases:
Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, make poor companion plants for kale. These plants are all members of the same family and are susceptible to many of the same pests and diseases. The build-up of pest populations can cause increased damage to both crops.
Additionally, brassicas and kale require similar growing conditions, such as cool weather and rich soil, which can lead to competition for water and nutrients.
You will want to avoid planting kale anywhere near any member of the brassica family.
- Learn More: There are so many wonderful companions for brassicas; although planting side by side with kale won’t work, there are many more you can choose from. See our companion planting guides for more information:
Zucchini is a heavy feeder and requires a lot of nitrogen and other nutrients to grow. If grown together, the zucchini may consume all the available nutrients, leaving the kale struggling to survive.
Additionally, zucchini has a longer growing season than kale and will be much larger at harvest time. Bushy full-grown plants can lead to competition for space and sunlight.
Zucchinis are also often affected by various pests, such as powdery mildew, which can spread to nearby plants like kale. For these reasons, it is best to avoid planting zucchini near kale.
- Learn More: See all the companion plants you can plant with zucchini!
Kale is a cool-season crop that prefers well-drained soil and consistent moisture. On the other hand, strawberries are a warm-season crop that prefers rich, well-drained soil and moderate moisture. When grown together, the strawberries may consume more water and nutrients than the kale, leaving the kale struggling to survive.
- Learn More About Strawberries:
Tomatoes are large plants that require more nutrients, water, and sunlight. Growing tomatoes near kale may mean reduced resources for the kale plants to thrive. Tall-growing tomatoes will also shade out the kale plants. Plant tomatoes away from your kale plant to avoid competition and reduced harvests.
- Learn More: Did you know you can grow robust cherry tomato plants in pots and containers? You can, and we have the full guide!
Sunflowers make poor kale companion plants; they can quickly outcompete kale for sunlight, water, and nutrients.
Although beautiful, sunflowers are, unfortunately, allelopathic. Allelopathic plants release toxins from all parts of the plant (roots, leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds). Those toxins can inhibit or kill other plants.
Sunflower companion plants like clover, pumpkins, squash, corn, lettuce, and tomatoes do very well when planted side by side.
- Learn More: See our posts on growing and using sunflowers in the garden
Kale Companion Planting: A Wrap-Up
There you have it – companion planting is an effective way to enhance the growth and health of your kale plants!
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