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

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Growing corn is easy, but keeping all the pests, from insects to mammals, away from the corn before harvest can sometimes be quite the challenge. Raccoons, deer, rabbits, corn earworms, aphids, you name it, they all love sweet corn and will try their best to ravage your corn patch before the end of the season. So our trick to help curb all the pests and harvest corn at the end of the year is to plant some companion plants to protect the crop!

What are the best companion plants for corn?

The best companion plants for corn are winter squash, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, pole beans, peas, radishes, dill, mint, basil, thyme, marigolds, nasturtiums, borage, cosmos, and zinnias. These companions all grow well side by side with corn and help with growth, health, and pest control!

Ripe shucked bright yellow cobs of corn against a bright white background.
Table of Contents

    The Three Sisters Method of Companion Planting

    A classic example of companion plantings is the Three Sisters group—corn, pole beans, and winter squash.

    The corn stalks support vining pole beans, while the beans fix nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of the corn. Corn requires a significant amount of nitrogen in the ground to grow strong and tall.

    Squash vines grown around the base of the corn stalks help to provide a living mulch blanket to help shade out weeds and keep the soil cool and moist. The squash vines also help keep out critters like raccoons that do not like to walk on the hairy leaves of the squash plants.

    a companion planting infographic showing the three sisters method of planting corn, squash and beans together.

    The Many Benefits of Companion Planting

    Companion planting offers many benefits for the home gardener. Companion planting in your gardens can help with the following: 

    Attracting beneficial pollinators: Growing flowers around the garden will help encourage pollinators to visit your plants.

    Attract beneficial insects:  Flowers and herbs will also attract beneficial insects such as wasps, ladybugs, hoverflies, ground beetles, spiders, and lacewings.

    Deter Pests: Plants like chives, garlic, and onions will repel common insect pests, such as aphids, beetles, flea beetles, and mites.

    Companions can help keep weeds at bay: Densely planting greens like spinach or flowers like nasturtiums can create a living mulch blanket that will help shade out weeds. 

    Companion planting can help control diseases in your garden:  Diseases can be spread quickly through gardens in extensive mass plantings.

    An infographic about the benefits of companion planting.  The image shows a man and woman gardening with images of butterflies, bees and plants.
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    The Best Corn Companion Plants

    There are so many wonderful companions you can plant with your corn stalks:

    Winter Squash, Pumpkins, Cucumbers, and Melons

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

    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

    Learn More: 

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

    Pole Beans, Green Beans & Peas

    Pole beans, green beans, and peas are among the best companions to grow with sweet corn because they fix nitrogen into the soil. The nitrogen will feed the corn plants and keep the root growing strong.

    The beans and peas can use the corn stalks as a living trellis to climb.

    • Learn More: Did you know you can grow beans in containers? Even if you have a small space for cultivating, you can still grow a robust harvest of beans. Check out our guide to growing beans in containers to get started today.
    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

    Radishes work as a trap crop for aphids and flea beetles. They will also help break up heavy clay soils.

    When allowed to bolt, these root vegetables can help keep corn borers away from your corn.

    Plant them alongside your Three Sisters as they help to deter cucumber beetles and squash borers.

    Dill

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

    Learn More: Growing dill is easy if you have all the correct information for planting, caring, and harvesting. Check out our complete growing dill guide to get started.

    Basil

    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 sweet 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.

    Learn More About Basil: 

    Nasturtiums

    Nasturtiums can work as a trap crop to keep aphids away from your corn. Plant the nasturtiums around the edge of the bed away from the corn stalks. The aphids should be attracted to the nasturtiums, leaving your corn alone.

    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.

    Marigolds

    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

    Borage is a flower that attracts beneficial insects and can deter pest worms from your corn.

    The borage plants repel tomato hornworms and cabbage worms; borage also attracts beneficial insects such as wasps and bees. It also has the added benefit of looking stunning in the vegetable garden when in bloom.

    Cosmos & Zinnias

    Annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias are often overlooked in a vegetable garden, but they make great companions. These flowers 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!

    • Learn More: Cosmos are SUCH pretty flowers, and they grow quickly and easily from seed. Check out the complete guide on growing cosmos in and around your garden. 

    Mint

    Mint plants make good corn companion plants. The pungent scent of mint is a deterrent for several pests, including deer and rabbits. Deers and rabbits love sweet corn, so anything you can do to deter them will help increase your final corn harvest.

    Unfortunately, mint is highly invasive, so if you add it to your garden bed, add a barrier or plant the whole pot.

    Thyme

    Plantings of thyme make good corn companion plants in your corn bed due to their ability to repel corn earworms.

    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.

    • Learn More: Learn how to grow thyme with our easy-follow guide!

    What to Avoid Planting Near Sweet Corn

    There are a few companions that will cause issues when planted with your corn: 

    Members of the Brassica Family

    Avoid planting cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or kale.

    Brassicas are challenging to grow independently and have many pests and diseases. I find it easier to keep the Brassica family together in their little area, away from anything else, and often under row covers.

    Tomatoes

    Tomatoes 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 reasonably quickly.

    Plant corn as far from tomatoes as possible to prevent large infestations of the corn earworm and tomato hornworms.

    Other plants make far better companions.

    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.

    A Quick Growing Guide for Corn Plants

    Start with fresh corn seeds every year for the best results.

    It is best to direct sow your corn seeds. Corn transplants generally do not do as well as seeds directly sowed.

    Do not sow outdoors until the ground temperature is at least 70F. Planting sweet corn seeds in cold soil will stall germination.

    Plant sweet corn seeds approximately 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

    Cover the bases with soil and water well. 

    Corn plants are heavy feeders, so be sure to fertilize every two weeks during the growing season.

    Corn cannot compete with weeds, so ensure you keep your patch weeded or plant companion plants like pumpkins, squash, or melons around the edge of the beds to keep the ground shaded.

    A healthy corn seedling growing in black soil.

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