By Sarah Giles
Adding the best companion plants for kale to your veg plot could have more benefits than you might realize. By diversifying and growing a variety of crops in the same space, you can actually improve the yield and flavor of your vegetables.
The majority of veg patches and allotment plots these days have neat, serried rows of single crops, and beds entirely devoted to one crop or another. But although science doesn’t yet have all the answers, research is increasingly beginning to show that by creating ‘monocultures’ in this way, we are simply asking for trouble. After all, if pests find a large quantity of their favorite plant in one place and there’s nothing to distract them from the sight or smell of it, logic says that they are bound to home in on it and do their worst.
So a much better plan is to follow nature’s lead and instead create polycultures, with different, mutually beneficial plants growing together on our plots. Known as companion planting, these symbiotic relationships and the resulting increase in biodiversity give lots of positive results – among the most important of these being increased pest control and bigger yields.
Why should you use companion plants for kale?
Kale is known as a ‘superfood’ because it’s packed so full of nutrients. And as it tastes so much better when it’s freshly picked than it does when it’s been sitting on a supermarket shelf for days, it makes sense to grow it at home.
It’s a relatively easy to learn how to grow kale – except that it can easily fall prey to caterpillars that can strip all the foliage overnight. So here’s where companion planting for kale really comes into its own – choose your kale’s neighbors carefully and they will help to protect your precious crop from those pesky caterpillars.
Best herb companion plants for kale
Add these tasty herb garden options to your veg patch and you'll deter pests from attacking your prized kale crops.
As well as being a delicious herb to grow and use in the kitchen, cilantro (also known as coriander) makes an excellent bedfellow for kale so long as you’re happy to allow some of it to flower. That’s because cilantro flowers bring in predatory hoverflies which will help to get rid of eggs laid on the underside of the kale foliage by other insects.
There’s another benefit to learning how to grow cilantro and letting some of your plants go to flower too, of course – the seeds that will subsequently form are just as useful in cooking as the tasty leaves are.
One of the benefits of learning how to grow dill is that wasps and hoverflies will soon cover a patch of dill that has started flowering because they’re attracted to yellow (and white) flowers more than any other color.
Just as with cilantro, these are the kind of insects you want to bring onto your veg patch or allotment plot in large numbers – their larva will quickly make short work of any other insects that have targeted your prized kale as an egg-laying site.
Dill flowers are beautiful too – so lovely, in fact, that some gardeners include them in their flowerbed ideas purely for their visual appeal.
Best flower companion plants for kale
These plants won't simply add a splash of color to your kitchen garden ideas, their strong scent will also help to protect your kale crops from a wide range of pests.
If you’ve already followed our advice on how to grow marigolds and have brushed past a clump of them in high summer, you’ll know what a strong scent they give off. And it’s not just humans who notice the scent – plenty of beneficial insects do too.
A great option for companion planting for kale is to add a row of marigolds either side of your kale as soon as it germinates. It means you’re far more likely to have a successful harvest from it, unmolested by caterpillars, a few months later.
Weeds are the enemy of almost every edible crop because of the nutrients and moisture they draw from the soil. So the more you can do to suppress and get rid of weeds, the better.
Low-growing nasturtiums will do this job very efficiently, while at the same time providing you with a ready source of leaves and pretty, colorful flowers to pick for summer salads.
Nasturtiums will attract predatory and parasitical insects too, including hoverflies which will help keep aphid attacks to a minimum.
There's plenty more tips on how to get rid of aphids in our dedicated feature, too.
3. Sweet alyssum
Another low-growing and attractive plant to have in your raised garden beds, especially if nasturtium’s sprawling habit is not to your liking.
Ideal planted between rows of kale, sweet alyssum forms neat mounds of foliage covered in dainty white flowers in late spring and early summer. It will smother weeds well but it does self-seed freely, so be prepared to control it if it starts to take over.
Best vegetable companion plants for kale
If you want to include a wide variety of vegetables alongside your kale, add these beneficial companion plants for kale to your planting list.
1. Sweet peppers
If you are going to grow other veg alongside kale, it needs to be a crop that doesn’t compete for nutrients, whether that’s because it takes something out of the soil that kale doesn’t need, or because it only feeds lightly itself and so won't compete with the kale.
Peppers fall into the latter category and can be planted with kale in alternating rows. The umbrella term ‘peppers’ covers all the many different sweet pepper varieties, as well as chilli peppers.
You'll find plenty more companion plants for peppers in our guide, too.
When we talk of alliums, many of us immediately think of the ornamental kind that add great vertical accents to the flower border in early summer. But alliums are also onions, leeks, chives, garlic and shallots – and all of these make excellent companion plants for kale as the strong scent and the oils they produce deter many common pests, including flea beetle and aphids.
If you're learning how to grow garlic, it's worth knowing that it's a particularly good neighbor for kale because it grows though the winter, as does kale (which becomes sweeter tasting after frost).
Beans process nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen in the soil, making it readily available for other plants around it. That means that beans of all kinds make very good companion plants for kale, helping to ensure you get a good supply of large, tasty leaves.
If you’re growing climbing beans, just be sure they are positioned so that they don’t shade the kale too much. Peas are also in the same ‘legume’ family as beans and fix nitrogen in the soil too.
Not sure what type of beans to grow in your plot? Our guides on how to grow runner beans, how to grow French beans and how to grow broad beans will help you decide on the best variety for your veg patch.
What not to plant with broccoli
Although there are plenty of good companion plants for kale, there are some crops that you should avoid planting alongside it. These are called ‘allelopaths’ and produce chemicals that will adversely affect the kale crop. Here are a few allelopaths to avoid growing with it:
- Sunflowers A study in Australia has shown that certain chemicals in sunflower leaves prevent seeds planted near it from germinating by disrupting cellular metabolism, so if learning how to grow sunflowers is on your wishlist then make sure you keep sunflower plants well away from your kale.
- Strawberries Learning how to grow strawberries? They drastically slow down the growth of brassicas, including kale and cabbage, so strawberry plants should be planted at least a meter away from a kale crop.
- Tomatoes They’re sometimes recommended as good companions for kale but they require a lot of nutrients, so may compete too much. Not only that, but many tomato varieties grow quite tall and can shade kale plants too much. You'll find advice on the best companion plants for tomatoes in our guide.
- Other brassicas Kale is part of the brassica family, and it’s best to avoid planting it alongside other veg in the same family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and pak choi. This is for the simple reason that they all attract the same pests and suffer from the same diseases, so by planting a lot of brassicas together you are providing a perfect breeding ground for both. The idea of companion planting is to mix things up so much that pests are confused and diseases are less likely to take hold.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and is lucky to be able to write about her two main passions: gardening and food. Ten years ago she moved from a house with a tiny town garden to a much bigger space in the country and since then she's slowly been putting into practice all the garden design ideas she's been mulling over for years. Trouble is, as soon as she's got the garden looking how she thinks she wants it, she decides to start on a new project so it's a constant 'work in progress'. She took on an allotment last year too, and is really loving growing all her own fruit and veg then bringing it home to try out in new recipes for her food and gardening blog, A Cook's Plot.
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