The Rules They Don’t Teach You

Companion Planting

Every skill or discipline has a set of “hidden rules.”  The rules that aren’t taught in the text books.

Despite that, these rules provide crucial insights.  Inside information that can radically improve your chances of success.

For example, in food and herb gardening, there’s a hidden rule set called companion planting.   Companion plants are simply plant combinations that complement each other.

For example.  I’ve been foodscaping my home’s yard.  It’s coming along nicely.  I’ve got lots of vegetables, a small orchard, terraces, trellises, and more.

To improve my chances of success growing tomatoes this year, I’ve been using the rules of thumb on companion plants.  To help them along, I’ve planted red onions and leeks around them, and the results have been great.  I’ve also avoided planting tomatoes near my heirloom corn and potatoes, since they are antagonistic. 

As you can guess, there are lots of useful plant combinations available.

In fact, nearly everyone who has been gardening for a while and paying attention to what is going on, have found useful combinations.   The problem is that these rules are still being learned and relearned.  Unfortunately, most of what we knew about companion planting, we lost when we decided to farm and garden industrially, in neat rows.

Fortunately, companion planting is being revived.  But although the knowledge is scattered, there are some handy materials available.

To get you started on learning these rules, here’s a chart that I found that lists companions.  It looks pretty solid.


Try it out.  Let me know if it works for you.

If you already have rules that you follow and know work from personal experience, please share them in the comments area below.



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  • Federico Mena Quintero
  • Vicki


    In the past month I started my raised garden bed and it has already shown me so much. I think I’ll keep a garden journal to remind myself what does and doesn’t work in zone 10 during each of our (two!) seasons, lol.

    For now, living with rain every single day I find that the watermelon plants are rejoicing and living life abundantly while my basil gave up and blacked out (literally). Today I pulled out all my zucchini plants which looked as though they’d been to war and back. I don’t even see a caterpillar or bug, just destruction. Is that what the little brown rabbits do? I catch them scuttling away every time I walk toward the garden.

    Tomatoes are doing great (is it because they’re rimmed with marigolds?) and my loofah plant has grown to heights I hadn’t planned for. It’s climbing on everything and I’m looking forward to meeting my future bath partners. :)

    I enjoy your website and posts and even if we never need to be this resilient, the city girl inside me is feeling pretty good about her little green/brown thumb. Thank you for your dedication to educating the masses. We’re listening.

    • John Robb

      Thanks for the update Vicki! JR

  • Adrian

    Do you know if there have been rigorous, peer-reviewed studies into these effects? I find it’s always hard, with things like gardening where practices are heavily based in intuition and hand-me-down information, to separate real effects from artifacts. Inexact specification is also an issue; there are, for example, four different kinds of caterpillar called “cabbage worm”. Which ones might be affected by a given companion plant? Would other caterpillar types be affected? It’s hard to imagine a mechanism that would be specific to the four (completely unrelated) types cabbage worms, including all the species which those kinds contain, without affecting any other caterpillar that might be more closely related to one kind than the kinds are to one another. Without some basic scientific justification for the advice, it’s impossible to tell what is actually worth trying.

    • John Robb


      Not enough. This kind of chart is more rule of thumb than hard and fast rule set.

      Further, it’s not going to get much better than that in the near future. The problem is that there are way too many variables at play to support the development of a hard and fast rule set that will apply in all circumstances. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much academic interest in topics like this.

      As with most life sciences that study complex systems, knowledge is often based on observation. This means that proof is often more statistical inference than a controlled laboratory experiment (contrary to popular opinion, the requirements for scientific proof vary, depending on the discipline and its traditions). As a result, we often see reversals (supplements are great example: take calcium every day, don’t take calcium every day).

      Despite all of the above, we can move the ball forward through an open development process. Tinkerers and innovators working on new methods and technologies can and do routinely push the boundaries of what’s possible before science can catch up. This is going to be an example of that.


  • Andy S

    Be wary of relying too much on any one chart or source on companion planting. For example, the chart you uploaded warns not to plant peppers next to beans. However, other sources are all over the map; some agree, some indicate no problem with that combination, and others limit the warning to hot peppers/beans (as opposed to bell/sweet peppers). For an alternate list, see:

    Great post to get people thinking though. For my own companion planting, I’ve had good luck using basil behind tomatoes (the part-shade helps keep the basil from bolting), and this year I have nasturtiums next to my tomatoes too.

    • John Robb


      Agree. This is definitely a rule of thumb, pending personal experimentation.


  • Andrew

    With out evidence this seems like woo to me.

    • John Robb

      How do you get through the day? Most of what we do in daily life isn’t “proven” yet…. JR

  • Jaromil

    Here another chart you might be interested, it visualizes “consociations” between plant families to help planning dense permaculture gardens its downloadable as A3 and A4 format and freely printable (creative commons) ciao

  • John

    Hi John,

    I like your global guerrillas website, it’s pretty good.

    I highly recommend checking out the following, it is a good intro to some important concepts:

    In the US now you have the worst drought ever and also the worst floods

    This is because:

    1) water runs off bare soil extremely rapidly, and

    2) with so little carbon in the soil it holds hardly any water anyway.

    PS this would have been more relevant posted under your wildfire article but this was at the top of the list so here you go.


  • Phil

    I needed more garden space for cucumbers and strawberries so I dug one foot square sods from the lawn(I don’t use weed killer) and flipped them upside down till I had the necessary size.I then put a stone border around it and added a few bags of compost.

    My strawberry plant is thriving and the cucs are starting to spread out.

    It took an hour to make an instant garden.

    • John Robb

      Phil. Exactly!


  • Fides

    Thank You …its great to revive that knowledge

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