Companion Plants for Beans | Good and The Bad

Gardeners really are spoilt for choice when it comes to growing their own beans. The hardest thing about growing beans can be trying to decide which type of bean to grow to begin with.

Bean plants will provide a constant supply of products that can be enjoyed throughout the growing season. 

However, production can be improved dramatically by using the gardening technique known as companion planting. 

This simple but effective approach is easy and in this article, I’ll be providing you with the help and advice needed to put this method into practice so you can maximise your bean harvest.

What is Companion Planting All About?

Companion planting is a method of gardening which involves planting one or more species of plant in close proximity to one another to benefit one or both crops. This is a popular growing technique which has been used by gardeners for generations. 

With a multitude of benefits, this approach to gardening ensures plants are happy and healthy meaning they will produce the maximum yield possible.

Companion planting is a great way for gardeners who want to utilise their growing area more efficiently as it allows the grower to intercrop many different plant varieties in the same space.

A great example of companion planting has been in use by rice growers in Asia for hundreds of years. Gardeners in China take advantage of the flooded growing conditions surrounding rice plants by actively encouraging an aquatic mosquito fern called Azolla to grow which is then used as a companion plant for rice crops. 

These small ferns multiply rapidly creating a weed-suppressing blanket around the rice plants. The Azolla plants keep harmful bacteria at bay and release nitrogen into the water which encourages faster and healthier rice plant growth, making them the perfect companion.

Companion planting flowers and vegetables
Companion planting flowers and vegetables

Benefits

Companion planting utilises each individual plant’s attributes in a completely organic and natural way, positively influencing growth and health, and encouraging pollinators and other beneficial insects too.

Some additional benefits of companion planting are:

Improved Soil Health: The key to growing strong and successful crops is having nutrient-rich healthy soil. Fortunately, with the right planting combination companion planting can achieve this. 

Bean plants are perfect for this and are very popular amongst gardeners. Plants from the legumes family absorb nitrogen from the air which is then converted by the plants and released into the soil. This then benefits neighbouring plants encouraging healthy growth.

Saves Space: Companion planting is a great option for those who are limited in space. With a little planning and with the right plant choices any sized garden can be utilised fully and used to grow lots of different plant varieties. 

Space can be saved and used more productively by planting quick-growing plants such as salad crops between other plant varieties which are slower to mature. Packing in lots of crops in this way will make use of otherwise unused growing space which increases harvest.

Manage Pests: More gardeners are seeking less harmful alternatives when it comes to using chemicals and pesticides in order to limit pest attacks. 

The damage these chemicals can have on our health and the natural balance of biodiversity which surrounds us is immense which is why companion planting is a great organic alternative. 

Companion plants in this scenario are used to divert and confuse pests rather than eradicate them – with aromatic plants such as onions and herbs used to mask the scent of the main crops, luring unwanted visitors away. 

Selecting Companion Plants

It is also worth noting that although companion planting is a tried and tested growing method, there does always need to be some consideration when selecting which plants to use.

A big consideration is how large the final matured plants will be. Spacing is key because cramped growing conditions can have a negative impact on plants.

For example – Good planting partnerships are strawberry plants and the beautiful star-flowered plant borage. Borage plants complement strawberries by improving the flavour of the fruit. 

However, strawberry plants are low-growing and relatively small in comparison with a fully mature borage plant which can be 3ft x 3ft. This mismatch in height will have a detrimental effect on the amount of sun received by the strawberry plants if grown too closely.

Some companion plants are grown for the sole purpose to help improve the health or yield of other plants. 

However, these sacrificial plants can work in direct competition for moisture in the soil with the main crops when water is scarce during dry spells or in hotter climate zones. This competition can be exacerbated for main crop varieties with shallow roots. 

This can be avoided by implementing a regular watering routine.  

growth rate of beans

Best Companion Plants for Beans

Beans are a staple vegetable grown everywhere not only for their taste but also for their supreme companion planting capabilities. This is due to their ability to release nitrogen in the soil which neighbouring plants utilise to grow faster and more healthily.

Although beans are considered to be one of the best all-around companion plants for most fruits and vegetables, beans themselves are not infallible and can be susceptible to pests, and diseases and have a preference for temperate growing conditions. 

Sometimes a little extra help and support are necessary to aid beans in one or more of these requirements by way of companion planting.

Here I have provided a selection of good examples of just such plants which can be used as companions to improve the health and growth rate of beans

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Lettuce: Bean plants thrive in temperatures around 65 and 85 degrees, any hotter than this and they will stop flowering resulting in no bean production. 

Lettuce plants can be used to help shade the roots of the bean plants keeping the soil cooler. Loose leaf lettuce varieties are quick to mature which makes them a great crop to grow to use space more efficiently amongst bean plants.

  • Sweetcorn: Tall sweetcorn plants provide the perfect natural structure for pole and bush beans to cling to as plants mature. Growing plants in close proximity also minimises wasted growing space. 

The big advantage of growing beans and sweetcorn together is there is little competition for water or nutrients in the soil as each plant produces roots at very different soil depths. 

Bean plants also provide the sweetcorn with extra nitrogen which is released into the soil encouraging healthy growth and better yields.

  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers make great companions for beans thanks to the canopy of leaves they produce which create much-needed base shade for climbing plants when temperatures increase. 

The large leaves are also beneficial to bean plants as they act as a weed suppressant keeping other competing plants to a minimum. 

  • Potatoes: Potatoes make a great partnership when used as companions for beans. As with lots of other plants, potatoes will happily make use of the extra nitrogen the beans provide, improving the potato plant’s health and yield. 

In return, the potato plants will help deter pests such as the Mexican bean beetle away from the bean plants.

Herbs and Flowers

  • Marigolds: Marigolds are a firm favourite amongst gardeners thanks to their ability to attract pollinators to a growing space. 

They also deter unwanted pests at the same time making them a great choice as a companion plant. Their strong fragrance helps the bean plants by deterring pests such as the Mexican bean beetle and aphids thus protecting the bean plants.

  • Nasturtiums: Beans are prone to aphid attacks which weaken the health of the plant and will affect overall yield. 

These beautifully scented and colourful flowers are like a magnet for aphids meaning they can be used as sacrificial plants attracting aphids away from the main bean crop and onto the flowers and foliage of the nasturtiums instead.

  • Catnip: The delicate blue flowers of this beautifully fragrant herb will not only add a splash of colour to the garden but will also attract pollinators too. 

Catnip also acts as a great pest repellent keeping harmful insects such as beetles and aphids away from bean plants.

Bad Companion Plants for Beans

Not all plants can be grown successfully next to one another with some planting combinations best being avoided altogether. 

Here are some examples which can impact the health of bean plants and should be steered clear of:

  • Sunflowers: Sunflowers look to be the perfect companion to climbing beans thanks to their tall sturdy structure. However, sunflower plants produce a chemical compound which has a counterproductive effect on the growth of bean plants which means they are a very bad companion
Sunflowers
Sunflowers are a poor companion for beans
  • Fennel: Fennel does not make a good companion for many plants in the garden with beans being no exception to this. It is best to avoid growing fennel next to beans as it is known to stunt the growth of plants which will impact bean harvests.
  • Onions and other alliums: Much like sunflowers – planting beans close to any alliums will have a negative impact on the growth and health of the beans thanks to the chemical alliums produce. This chemical halts the process of any beneficial nitrogen the beans are able to fix in the soil by killing beneficial bacteria on the roots of the beans.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.