The Best Corn Companion Plants – A Gardener’s Guide!

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Corn companion plants offer an ingenious solution to corn growers’ many challenges. Growing corn is simple, but pests like raccoons, deer, rabbits, and aphids can harm the harvest. Planting companion plants is a crucial strategy to protect your corn patch and ensure a successful yield. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of corn companion plants and offer advice for natural pest management. By understanding companion planting, you’ll find a sustainable and natural way to increase crop resilience and productivity.

Ripe shucked bright yellow cobs of corn.

For hundreds of years, corn companion plants have been integral to agricultural practices, most notably in the time-honored method known as Three Sisters planting. The Three Sisters planting method, deeply rooted in North American agricultural traditions, involves interplanting corn, beans, and squash, fostering a symbiotic relationship. Corn is a natural trellis for beans, while beans fix nitrogen for corn and squash. Squash vines serve as living mulch, suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture. While Three Sisters is the oldest and most renowned corn companion planting method, numerous other plants can also enhance corn growth and deter pests. Read on to find out more!

Table of Contents

    The Best Corn Companion Plants

    Choosing the right companions for your corn can greatly boost its growth and resilience in the field. In addition to the Three Sisters, this list offers a variety of corn companion plants that help improve soil health, deter pests, and support a thriving agricultural ecosystem.

    Cucubrits (Squash, Melons, Cucumbers)

    Pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons can all be used in place of winter squash in the three sisters method of companion planting.

    Squash, pumpkins, cucumber, and melons will all provide corn with an extensive leafy ground cover which will help keep soils moist and cool and help to prevent raccoons from getting to your precious sweet corn.

    Cucumbers will mature a bit earlier than your squash, melons, or pumpkins, which could be suitable for your corn crop. However, your corn will continue to grow long after the cucumbers have been harvested, giving your corn more space to grow until harvest.

    Tall stalks of dark green corn growing in the garden with squash and marigolds.

    Legumes (Beans and Peas)

    Pole beans, green beans, and peas emerge as top contenders for corn companionship due to their remarkable ability to fix nitrogen into the soil. This nitrogen infusion not only nourishes the corn plants but also fortifies the root system, ensuring robust growth and vitality. Moreover, the beans and peas ingeniously capitalize on the corn stalks, utilizing them as natural trellises for climbing.

    This dynamic interplay maximizes space utilization and fosters a balanced ecosystem where each plant thrives in tandem, embodying the timeless wisdom encapsulated in the Three Sisters planting method.

    A close up image of a corn stalk with beans wrapped and climbing up to the sun.  The image is intended to illustrate  beans as corn companion plants.


    Radishes serve as versatile allies in the battle against pests and soil challenges in your corn patch. Acting as a natural trap crop, they attract aphids and flea beetles, diverting them away from your precious corn while simultaneously aiding in the breakdown of heavy clay soils, improving overall soil structure.

    As these root vegetables mature and bolt, they release compounds that repel corn borers, safeguarding your corn crop from potential infestations. Integrating radishes into your Three Sisters planting strategy offers additional benefits, as they actively deter cucumber beetles and squash borers, creating a fortified ecosystem where each plant contributes to the collective resilience and health of the garden.


    Dill is an aromatic herb that attracts beneficial pollinating insects like honey bees and butterflies. Plantings of dill will also help attract beneficial insects like hoverflies and wasps, which will help keep insect pest populations down in your sweet corn patch.

    Dill plants also help repel aphids, cabbage loopers, and squash bugs, making it a great companion to add to your three sisters’ planting.


    Basil plants make great corn companions. The herb will help keep the maize weevil away from your corn crop. The weevil is known to eat your corn both in the garden and in storage.

    You can either plant basil around the edge of your corn bed or use chopped-up or ripped basil leaves and scattered them around your corn plants’ base. If you decide to use the basil mulch method, do so often, as the oils in the basil that help repel the weevil will wear down over time.


    Nasturtiums are valuable companions for your corn patch, acting as natural repellents for aphids when planted around the bed’s perimeter. This strategic placement lures aphids away from the corn stalks, keeping your crop safe and thriving.

    Nasturtiums also work well as a ground cover to help shade out weeds and keep the soil moist. Deer and rabbits generally do not like nasturtiums either; the scent is a deterrent.

    You can also grow nasturtiums as effective ground cover, shading out weeds and preserving soil moisture, while their distinct scent also deters deer and rabbits from venturing into your garden.


    Marigolds make wonderful corn companions – the strongly scented flowers of the french marigold deter several pests like aphids.

    They also attract predatory insects like hoverflies, ladybugs, and tachinid flies which will help keep down populations of harmful insects in your garden.

    If tilled under at the end of the season, marigolds (French marigolds only) will help control and destroy root-knot nematodes that reside in the soil and feed on growing roots.

    Rows and rows of young corn growing in a garden companion planted with marigolds around the edge of the bed.


    Borage is a versatile and visually striking addition to your vegetable garden, offering a multitude of benefits to your corn patch. Known for its ability to attract beneficial insects, borage serves as a beacon for wasps and bees, fostering a healthy ecosystem that aids in pollination and natural pest control.

    Borage also acts as a natural deterrent to tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. By repelling these pests, borage helps safeguard the integrity of your corn crop, ensuring its uninterrupted growth and development.

    Cosmos & Zinnias

    Annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias are often overlooked in a vegetable garden, but they make great companions. Growing these flowers for the vegetable garden will attract beneficial insects in droves! Helpful insects like parasitic wasps, tachinid flies, lacewings, and ladybugs, to name a few.

    Companion planting cosmos and zinnias into your corn patch will also attract pollinators to your garden, and we all need more!


    Mint plants make good corn companion plants. The pungent scent of mint helps by deterring rabbits and deer. Deer and rabbits love sweet corn, so anything you can do to deter them will help increase your final corn harvest.

    Unfortunately, most types of mint are highly invasive, so if you add it to your garden bed, add a barrier or plant the mint in a pot sunk into the ground. This will reduce its ability to spread.


    Thyme plants serve as a beneficial companion for corn due to its natural pest-repelling properties and ability to enhance soil health. It emits aromatic oils that help deter pests such as corn earworms, aphids, and even certain types of beetles, minimizing the risk of infestations in the corn patch. Additionally, thyme’s shallow root system helps prevent soil erosion and compaction, while also contributing organic matter as it decomposes, thereby enriching the soil and promoting overall plant health. Its low-growing habit also serves as a natural ground cover, suppressing weed growth and conserving soil moisture, creating a conducive environment for corn to thrive.

    Thyme does not require a lot of water, so avoid companion planting too deep into the corn bed. Instead, it’s best to plant thyme around the rim of the bed.

    A healthy corn seedling growing in black soil.

    Poor Corn Companion Plants

    Poor corn companion plants can compete for resources like sunlight, water, and nutrients, stunting corn growth and reducing yields. Additionally, some plants may attract pests or diseases that can harm corn, undermining its health and productivity. In this list, we’ll identify plants that may pose challenges to your corn crop and help you make informed decisions for your garden.

    Brassicas (Cabbage, Broccoli, etc)

    Brassicas, including cabbage, kale, turnip, broccoli, and cauliflower, are considered poor companions for corn due to several factors. Firstly, brassicas have similar nutrient requirements as corn, leading to intense competition for soil nutrients, which can result in reduced yields for both crops. Secondly, brassicas are susceptible to similar pests and diseases as corn, increasing the risk of infestations and spreading pathogens within the garden.

    Nightshades (Tomatoes, Potatoes, Peppers)

    Nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers make poor corn companion plants due to common pests. Tomato hornworms love tomatoes and corn, so planting tomatoes and corn together is just asking for trouble.

    Corn earworms will attack tomatoes and corn and can decimate the leaves of both plants and fruit very quickly. Plant corn as far from tomatoes as possible to prevent large infestations of the corn earworm and tomato hornworms.

    An image with tomatoes and a pile of cabbage family vegetables with notable X's through them.  The image is to illustrate poor corn companion plants.

    Expert Tips

    1. Companion Plant Selection: Choose companion plants based on their compatibility with corn, focusing on species that offer mutual benefits such as pest deterrence, nutrient fixation, and soil improvement.
    2. Spacing and Layout: Plan your garden layout to optimize space and sunlight exposure for both corn and companion plants. Consider interplanting rows of corn with companion plants in a structured manner to maximize efficiency.
    3. Diverse Plant Selection: Choose a diverse range of companion plants to attract various beneficial insects. This will promote a balanced ecosystem that naturally controls pests and enhances pollination.
    4. Companion Plant Rotation: Rotate companion plants annually to prevent the soil’s buildup of pests and diseases. To minimize the risk of soil depletion and pest infestations, avoid planting corn or its companions in the same location year after year.
    5. Observation and Adaptation: Regularly observe your corn and companion plants for signs of pests, diseases, or nutrient deficiencies. Adjust your planting strategies and management practices accordingly to address any issues and optimize plant health.

    Challenges of Companion Planting with Corn

    Companion planting with corn offers numerous benefits, but it also presents several challenges that gardeners should be aware of. Addressing these challenges effectively is crucial for maximizing the success of companion planting strategies. Here are some common challenges associated with companion planting with corn:

    1. Resource Competition: Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring ample sunlight, water, and nutrients to thrive. Intercropping with companion plants can lead to competition for these resources, potentially reducing corn yields if not managed carefully.
    2. Spacing Constraints: Corn requires spacing between plants for optimal growth and pollination. Intercropping with companion plants may limit available space, leading to overcrowding and reduced air circulation, increasing the risk of disease and pest infestations.
    3. Pest Attraction: While many companion plants help deter pests, some may inadvertently attract or serve as alternative hosts for corn pests. Companion planting could inadvertently exacerbate pest problems in the corn patch without proper pest management strategies.
    4. Cultural Practices: Corn has specific cultural requirements, such as soil pH, moisture levels, and fertility, that may differ from those of companion plants. Failure to align cultural practices for corn and companion plants can lead to imbalanced soil conditions and nutrient deficiencies.
    5. Companion Plant Selection: Choosing the right companion plants for corn requires careful consideration of factors such as plant compatibility, growth habits, and pest-repelling properties. Inappropriate companion choices may not provide the intended benefits and could hinder corn growth.
    6. Seasonal Considerations: Companion planting relies on timing and seasonal considerations to maximize effectiveness. Planting companion crops too early or too late about corn planting can result in uneven growth patterns and reduced yields.


    Can I plant any type of beans with corn, or are there specific varieties that work best as companions?

    While various bean varieties can complement corn, pole beans are particularly well-suited due to their ability to climb corn stalks, maximizing space and enhancing nutrient exchange.

    Won’t planting companion plants attract more pests to my corn patch?

    While some companion plants may initially attract pests, they often serve as trap crops, diverting pests away from corn. Additionally, the presence of beneficial insects attracted by companion plants helps maintain a natural balance and control pest populations.

    Are there specific companion plants that help deter common corn pests like corn earworms and aphids?

    Yes, plants such as nasturtiums, thyme, and borage are known for their pest-repelling properties and can help deter corn pests when planted nearby.

    Will companion planting affect the flavor or quality of my corn harvest?

    When properly selected and managed, companion plants can enhance soil fertility and nutrient availability, potentially improving the flavor and quality of corn harvests.

    How do I know which companion plants are suitable for my specific climate and growing conditions?

    Research local climate conditions and consult gardening resources or local agricultural extension services to identify companion plants that thrive in your area. Experimentation and observation will also help determine the best companions for your corn in your specific environment.

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    Final Thoughts

    Companion planting offers many benefits for cultivating healthy, resilient corn crops. From the time-honored tradition of the Three Sisters method to the strategic selection of companions such as marigolds, nasturtiums, and thyme, gardeners can harness the power of plant relationships to increase yields and promote sustainable gardening practices. By using these tried-and-true techniques and exploring the interactions of companion plants, we help build balanced ecosystems that benefit nature and our gardens.

    Join The Conversation

    Join the conversation on corn companion planting by sharing your experiences, asking questions, and collaborating with fellow gardeners and agricultural enthusiasts. Whether sharing tips, seeking advice, or documenting your journey, engaging with others in the community fosters learning and innovation in sustainable agriculture practices.

    Author: Laura Kennedy

    Writer & Owner of Little Yellow Wheelbarrow

    Laura is a highly skilled gardener and fervent flower enthusiast. Despite her playful battle with plant spacing guidelines, Laura’s work inspires gardeners to create thriving, beautiful spaces that reflect both creativity and sustainability.

    Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 6, 2022. It was updated on March 8, 2024 to include expert tips and FAQs.

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