Cole crops are common residents in veggie gardens all over the world. They’re delicious, nutritious, and many of them are incredibly easy to grow (except for you, Brussels sprouts!). Finding the right companion plants to keep your brassicas happy can be tricky, though.
Some plants will harm your cole crops, while others will make them tastier, larger, and will even deter pests.
Here’s your comprehensive guide to picking the right companion plants for cole crops.
A Bit About Cole Crops
Cole crops, also known as brassicas, are plants that belong to the Brassica family. This includes cabbage, broccoli, kale, mustard, Brussels sprouts, collards, kohlrabi, turnips, and cauliflower.
All these vegetables are excellent for growing at home, but they also offer tremendous health benefits.
Brassicas are a widely varied Genus and they can cross-pollinate, so there are lots of unnamed or uncultivated varieties out there.
It’s estimated that cole crops have been cultivated since at least 400 BC when Greek scholars wrote descriptions of kale.
You can find cole crops worldwide, but obviously, your local climate determines which ones can be planted on your property.
Growing brassicas with other plants requires knowledge of the best companions. You don’t want to put two plants together that harm each other. The following section will give you everything you need for intercropping cole cops.
Choosing Cole Crop Companion Plants
Intercropping is a method of growing two or more plants together that benefit each other. You need to place the right plants near each other if you want optimal growth and a healthy harvest at the end of the growing season.
When you succeed with intercropping, it can benefit your land quality and harvest production. Plus, it can make it easier to maintain your crops.
So, what are the main things to look out for in companion plants? Beyond picking the right species, you might want to use a blend of old and new plants or plants of different sizes. This prevents your crops from fighting for the same light and nutrients.
Also, remember to avoid overcrowding and space the crops far enough apart for one another.
Getting confident with companion planting is about learning how to position and grow your crops.
Some plants have naturally tall, vertical shapes, which can be great if you have limited space and want to grow many crops. You can fit more crops into a tiny area without it crowding your homestead.
Taller crops are suitable for providing shade for smaller plants. You can use squash, cucumbers, or asparagus for shading shorter cool-weather brassicas that need protection during the hottest parts of the day.
Best Companion Plants for Brassicas
There are lots of great options for companion planting with brassicas. These plants benefit cole crops (and visa versa):
In India, it’s common to pair wheat and mustard (Brassica juncea) together as the climate is suitable for both of these crops.
From an economic perspective, this combination increases production and can provide more harvest for selling. But you don’t have to be selling your plants to enjoy these benefits. You can plant wheat at mustards together to encourage faster growth in your home garden, as well.
Remember that mustard grows quicker than wheat, so be careful not to plant the crops too close together to avoid overcrowding as the mustard matures.
Pairing Brassica and lentils are an excellent choice for your garden. These two crops are contrasting heights so they won’t compete for the same sunlight.
Additionally, scientists published a study in the Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science finding that planting lentils with mustard produced a larger harvest of both.
Sugarcane and brassicas make good companion plants. One study in Science Direct showed sugarcane had higher yields when planted with cabbage. Sugarcane also protected mustard from wind-borne fungal spores. These two plants are mutually beneficial.
Growing cole crops with chickpeas is better than separate planting. Studies show that when you combine Brassica and chickpeas, it can produce a larger harvest and improve the quality of the soil.
Broccoli planted with grew taller than broccoli grown alone, according to a study in the Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences.
Cabbage, cauliflower, and kale can be grown next to nasturtium. This gorgeous plant is the perfect companion for your cole crops. Nasturtium is ideal for attracting wildlife like butterflies which will keep pests like caterpillars away from Brassica.
Mint gives off a lovely fragrance that will act as a safety precaution to stop flea beetles from chewing away at your crops. Plus, you can harvest the mint for fresh tea and cooking in your kitchen!
A 2015 study found that brassicas planted with peas as companion plants had improved yields, so put these two cool-weather-loving pals together.
Growing brassicas with fava beans (Vicia faba) and grass peas (Lathyrus sativus) showed reduced damage from Psylliodes chrysocephala, Ceutorhynchus napi, and Brassicogethes aeneus beetles in one study.
Fennel helps reduce aphid populations in mustard according to one study.
Then again, another study in BioOne found no benefit in planting Indian mustard, fennel, dill, or buckwheat with kale to repel green peach aphids, so more research is needed.
In either case, it doesn’t hurt anything to put the two together, so why not go for it and see what happens in your garden?
When rapeseed was planted with potatoes in tests, both plants did better.
Garlic, chives, and onions all put off a strong smell that repels many of the pests that go for cole crops. In fact, many people plant garlic as pest control in the garden.
Turnips and kale planted together had higher yields, in one study at New Mexico State University.
Compared to monoculture, when a single plant is grown in one plot of land, polyculture is the opposite. Polyculture is when a variety of plants are grown in one area.
Adding a diverse range of flowers to your veggies increases the biodiversity of your garden and helps encourage pollinators and deter or trap pests.
Choose flowers that will attract beneficial pollinators to your brassica garden. Some excellent options include:
Plants to Avoid
For cole crops, you should never plant them near tomatoes, strawberries, or other cole crops. You should also avoid radishes. When radishes and cabbage were planted together, it actually reduced yields of both.
How To Grow Cole Crops for Success
Cole crops are mainly cool-season plants that thrive in colder climates. If the weather gets too hot, it can lead to bolting and ruin your harvest. That usually means Brassicas are planted in early spring or fall.
You can even grow cole crops all year round in some regions, especially if you choose hybrids or cultivars bred for cool weather.
Plant cole crops in rich, well-drained soil. Test the acidity before placing the seeds into the soil. Ideally, you want to have soil with a pH that’s between 6.5 to 7.0.
When it comes to watering, give your cole crops plenty of moisture, but avoid letting the soil get too soggy.
Use a high nitrogen fertilizer to increase the growth and feed your plant. Well-rotted manure can also be applied every month if you’re worried about the health of your crops.
Look out for aphids, cutworms, and cabbage root maggots. These insects are known for feeding on cole crops, so preventing them from infecting your plants is vital.