While the look of neat rows of perfectly spaced plants sorted by type is the garden image many of us grew up with, it turns out that this is not always an efficient or effective use of space or resources. Sometimes planting two or three vegetables, herbs or flowers together or planting families that get along well in close association is the better method for the plants and your garden yield. Whether you choose to container garden or cultivate a larger space this method will prove beneficial.
Use methods proven through their use in cultures throughout history. Native American people traditionally paired corn, beans and squash. The tall stalks provided an object for the bean vines to attach to and climb. Squash leaves shaded the soil, making the space beneath the plants less inviting to weeds and providing a small measure of cooling and moisture retention. Beans return nutrients to the soil. If you don't like beans, cucumbers can take their place in the trio.
Try trap cropping. This is accomplished by planting a decoy near your prize crop, one that will be just as attractive--if not more so--to a pest that feeds on both. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service uses the example of collards as a trap for moths which may damage cabbage.
Add some spice. Cornell University's Department of Horticulture suggests planting chives, dill, basil and parsley randomly in the garden. They can help attract beneficial insects while hiding your food crops from damaging insects by masking the scent of the pests' favorite food items. In particular, growing basil near tomatoes is believed to discourage hornworms.
Think of your dinner plate. Peas and carrots go well together, as do lettuces and tomatoes. Lettuce also does well with root crops, such as radish and carrots. Cabbages enjoy the company of herbs. Cabbages and onions and their relatives do well with each other and with celery. Use beans if you can't find a proper companion or need to fill a vacancy. Beans get along with almost all vegetables and garden herb varieties.
Know the troublemakers. Irish potatoes are one of the more difficult members of the vegetable community to pair. They do not do well with neighbors of cucumber, pumpkin, squash, turnip, tomato or sunflower. The potatoes do live in harmony with cabbages, corn and beans.
Incorporate flowers into the garden. Penn State Cooperative Extension Service recommends them for shading tender lettuces, choking out weeds and to lure in beneficial insects while stopping many destructive pests before they can get to your produce.