Companion Plants for Grapes | Good and The Bad

With lots of different varieties to choose from – grape plants (Vitis vinifera) are a perfect choice thanks to their sweet-tasting fruits and their ability to climb and cover a trellis or arbor creating a talking point in any garden. 

Whether grown to make wine, juice, jelly or to just enjoy fruits picked straight from the vine; grape vines can reward the grower with sweet treats for up to 40 years. 

However, to really improve the chances of healthy plants and an abundant crop it’s a good idea to try companion planting. 

Choosing the right companion plants can be a little tricky which is why I’ve simplified the whole companion planting process to ensure you choose the right planting partnership for your grape plants.

Companion Planting Explained

Companion planting is the process of growing different plants next to each other with the goal of enhancing the growth of one or both plants. This method of growing is a popular gardening technique with a multitude of benefits. When practiced correctly it can boost plant health which ultimately increases the yield each plant produces.

As a completely organic way of gardening, companion planting uses nature to the gardeners’ advantage. By using the correct companion plant combination it can greatly improve growing conditions for many different plants. 

In addition, it can improve all aspects of biodiversity by attracting lots of beneficial pollinators and natural predators to keep pest populations to a minimum naturally, eradicating the need for pesticides. 

One of the most well-known examples of companion planting is known as The Three Sisters method. This technique is thought to have been developed and used by Native American tribes originally. It has been widely adopted and used the world over ever since. 

To ensure successful growth and high yield amounts, growers using The Three Sisters method combine sweetcorn, beans, and squash plants, and when planted together, work as follows:

  • Sweetcorn plants provide natural support for climbing beans.
  • Beans fix nitrogen in the soil which benefits both the squash and sweetcorn plants. 
  • Squash plants use their large leaves to shade the soil which retains moisture and acts as a weed suppressant. 

As you can see, each plant has an important role to play in benefitting the others and they all grow harmoniously without competing for nutrients or space.  

The Benefits of Companion Planting

This tried and tested gardening technique can be practiced successfully without the need for chemical pesticides so it’s perfect for organic growing. It helps to prevent disease, encourages healthy growth, and deters pests. 

Here are the most specific ways that companion planting can help growers:

Weed Suppressant: Large-leaved or ground-cover plants make a great weed suppressant to keep competing plants in check. Probably the best example of this is squash plants in the Three Sisters method. Their canopy of leaves not only shades the soil but also stifles and blocks any competing weeds from emerging.

When growing companion plants for this purpose, choose crops that won’t compete for moisture and nutrients. 

Improved Soil Health: We all know that happy healthy crops need nutrient-rich soil to thrive. These conditions can be achieved by using crops that naturally fix nitrogen in the soil. Plants from the Fabaceae family – such as beans, peas, or legumes are perfect for this. The nitrogen-enhanced soil can then be utilized by neighboring plants to naturally encourage faster and healthier growth.

Pest Management: Encouraging and supporting the natural ecosystem in our gardens is a priority for many of us, which is why companion planting is becoming more appealing. By using this method, growers can help to sustain biodiversity and keep pest populations to a minimum without the use of pesticides. 

For example, using plant partners which have a strong scent such as onions or garlic can help hide main crops in plain sight by masking their fragrance. Herbs can also be used for the same purpose with the added advantage of attracting pollinators and beneficial predators such as ladybugs and hoverflies. In turn, these insects will prey on pests such as aphids and whitefly.

Selecting The Best Companion Plants

While there are lots of advantages to this popular growing method, it’s not just a case of planting whatever you like wherever you like. You do need to give some consideration to what will make the best planting partnership. This means understanding each plant’s moisture, space, and nutrient requirements, plus what pests may be attracted to them. 

Some companion plants are beneficial because of their ability to control pests. These are known as ‘trap crops’ and are essentially used as sacrificial plants that attract pests to them and away from other crops. 

This method becomes a problem if you plant two or more ‘trap crops’ together or in the same vicinity. For example, aphids are attracted to sunflowers, nasturtiums, strawberries, and cucumbers. Planting any combination of these together would be a feast for the aphids and a totally devastated crop for you as the grower.  

For this reason, always avoid grouping crops that are susceptible to the same pests; it can make all plants vulnerable to said pest which increases the chances of an attack on both plant partners.

Another factor to consider is how much sunlight your companion plants need. If one plant thrives in full sun and the other needs partial shade or cooler conditions, then this partnership will only be successful if one is an under-story plant and can offer shade to the others’ roots.

You also need to think about the size of the growing space being used. Consider how much space the potential plant partnerships will need to grow successfully and provide their maximum yield. 

The best partnerships are when the growing conditions suit both plants to allow them to flourish and a great example of this is celery and mustard greens. Both can be planted at the same time but mustard greens will be ready for harvest long before the celery plants have matured.

Best Companion Plants for Grapes

Grapes can be a little tricky to grow as they have very specific light and moisture needs and are susceptible to a wide range of pests and diseases. With this in mind, some of the best companion plants for grapes are those which can ward off pests, provide shade, protect against disease, and also help retain water in the soil.

Happy and healthy grape plants are prolific producers of fruit which can be improved even more when companion plants are used to support and encourage growth. All plants benefit from added nutrients in the soil with grapes being no exception. 

When it comes to successful growing partners for grapes, beans come top of the class and are known for providing grape plants with extra vigor and faster growth. They are known as ‘cover crops’ whereby they help to improve depleted growing conditions by slowing soil erosion, retaining water, and suppressing weeds. 

Other really useful cover crops for grapes include chickpeas, peas, clover, and soybeans.

Some other great companion plants for grapes are fragrant or very strong-smelling plants that assist in the avoidance of pest attacks. Using companions in this way ensures grape plants are better protected. A pest-free grapevine means that energy is used to produce healthy vines and fruit rather than recovering from pest attacks. 

It is also possible to enhance the flavor of grapes by using some suitable companions. Grapes are prone to powdery mildew which reduces their size and sugar content. Growing plants such as the beautiful flowering perennial Tansy amongst grapes can help to actively reduce mildew which protects and improves the flavor of the fruit.

Let’s now explore these potential partnerships and learn how they can support a better grape harvest.

Fruits and Vegetables

Strawberries: Much like beans, strawberry plants work well as cover crops. Strawberries are shallow-rooted and will create an excellent ground cover for grapes suppressing weeds and retaining moisture in the soil.

Strawberries

Blackberries: Blackberries and grapevines both thrive in well-drained soil and full sun. However, be sure to maintain plenty of space between the two, as blackberries can be vigorous growers and may hog resources like water and soil nutrition.

Raspberries: Raspberries are another fruit that you can grow alongside grapes. Planting a few raspberry bushes can attract pollinating insects, birds, and other types of wildlife to the garden. 

As with blackberries, ensure there is enough space between your raspberries and grapevines to prevent overcrowding and competing for resources. Also, note that this plant needs regular pruning for good health.

Asparagus: This is a perennial plant that can stay in the ground for up to 20 years growing happily at the base of grape plants. Asparagus plants break up the soil with their deep roots which stops the ground from becoming compacted around the grapes.

Beans: Beans double up as cover crops keeping grape roots cool, moist, and free from weeds. Bean plants also fix nitrogen in the soil which the grape plant utilizes to assist with faster, healthier growth.

Onions: These strong-smelling plants can be used as companions thanks to their ability to deter pests such as aphids and mites. Onions have very shallow roots which means they will not be in direct competition for moisture and nutrients. 

Herbs

Basil: Interplanting basil amongst grape plants will help divert unwanted visitors away such as aphids and whitefly thanks to their strong aromatic fragrance. When multiple plants are used as companions, they can also help provide protection and shade.

Basil

Oregano: Oregano has the same pest-repelling properties as basil with the added advantage of promoting healthy grape plant growth thanks to the increased nitrogen levels the herb introduces to the soil.  

Hyssop: This fragrant herb is highly regarded for its ability to attract pollinating insects from far and wide. Some also believe that planting hyssop alongside grapes will improve the latter’s flavor as well as enhance the growth rate.

Since hyssop is a prairie plant, it requires few resources to thrive and is unlikely to compete with nearby grapevines. It can grow quite tall, though, so plan your vineyard accordingly to prevent shading out the grapes.

Chives: Chives provide multiple benefits when planted near grapes. They deter pests such as aphids and Japanese beetles with their strong scent. At the same time, their purple blooms attract beneficial insects. 

Note that other alliums — e.g., onions and garlic — may compete with grapevines for resources. However, I don’t find this to be the case with chives.

Lavender: The seemingly pleasant aroma of this perennial repels pest like rabbits and deer. As a result, growing lavender may protect your grapevines from wildlife activity. 

Its striking purple flowers also attract pollinators, enhancing overall biodiversity. Lavender’s drought-tolerant nature makes it a low-maintenance companion for grapes.

Yarrow: The red, orange, or yellow perennial flowers of Yarrow attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which feed on pests that can harm grapevines. Its deep roots help improve soil structure and nutrient availability for neighboring plants. Yarrow is also drought-tolerant and adapts well to various soil types.

Flowers

Marigolds: Many gardeners claim that marigolds repel soil-borne nematodes and other pests. Either way, marigolds are easy to grow and require minimal care, so planting them isn’t much of a chore even if their benefits are up for debate. 

Additionally, marigolds may also act as a trap crop for earwigs. Earwigs are predatory insects that feed on common grape pests but they can also damage the fruit if left unchecked.

Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are perhaps the most popular trap crop of all. In many gardens, they are grown exclusively as a sacrificial plant for pests like aphids to feed on instead of nearby crops. They also attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and both the leaves and flowers are edible.

Roses: I recommend combining rose bushes and grapevines because the two enjoy very similar growing conditions. Plus, the roses will attract plenty of pollinators to the area while adding tons of aesthetic appeal.

Roses can also serve as an early warning system for fungal diseases like black spot disease, giving you time to treat the infection before it moves over to the grapevines. Just note that this strategy can easily backfire if the plants start passing diseases back and forth to each other.

Geraniums: Geraniums are excellent companions for grapevines due to their pest-repelling properties. They deter pests like leafhoppers and Japanese beetles, which commonly damage grapevines.

Geraniums are very low-maintenance and adaptable but won’t survive winter in climates where grapevines grow.

Sunflowers: According to the University of Minnesota, sunburn is a relatively common problem in grapes. A few well-placed sunflowers will shade your grapevines during hot weather, especially during the peak of summer. 

Best Groundcover Companions for Grapes 

Sweet Woodruff: Sweet Woodruff is a shade-tolerant ground cover that helps retain soil moisture and suppress weeds around grapevines. Its fragrant, white flowers attract pollinators and add a charming aesthetic to the garden.

This mat-forming perennial is both deer- and rabbit-resistant and may deter these animals from grazing on your grapevines as well. However, keep in mind that sweet woodruff can become invasive if allowed to spread outside of the garden.

Blue Star Creeper: Blue star creeper is a fast-growing groundcover that provides excellent weed suppression and erosion control. Its small flowers attract pollinators and create a visually appealing carpet beneath grapevines and other plants.

Blue star creeper is surprisingly tolerant of various growing conditions but does prefer full sun. So I do recommend double-checking the area’s available light before planting this ground cover yourself.

Clover: Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which benefits grapevines and other nearby plants by increasing nutrient availability. It also acts as a living mulch, retaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds. 

In addition, clover attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects, further promoting a healthy garden ecosystem. If you’re looking for an alternative to turfgrass for your backyard vineyard, I highly recommend planting some clover instead.

Alyssum: Alyssum’s sweet fragrance and delicate flowers attract beneficial insects, such as hoverflies, which prey on aphids. This low-growing ground cover helps suppress weeds beneath grapevines while also being quite beautiful on its own.

Bad Companion Plants For Grapes

There are of course lots of bad companion plants that shouldn’t be grown near grape vines. Those listed below can have a detrimental effect on the growth rate, crop yield, and overall health of the vine.

For example, I don’t recommend growing vegetables like lettuce, onions, collard greens, or cabbage close to your grapevines. These crops tend to have high nutritional requirements that create direct competition. They also have different environmental needs than grapes overall. 

Lettuce and cabbage are both cool-season crops, whereas grapevines thrive in warmer temperatures. While lettuce and cabbage require consistent moisture, grapevines prefer well-drained soil and may suffer from diseases such as root rot or fungal infections if the soil is too damp.

Growing garlic in close proximity to grape vines can stunt fruit and plant growth. This is due to a chemical that garlic emits (allium) coupled with their competition for the same nutrients in the soil. 

Using Trees as Grapevine Trellises

Culture en hautain, which translates to “high culture” or “high training,” is a classic technique of using trees as natural trellises for grapes and other climbing plants. This practice began centuries ago in the Mediterranean but failed to catch on in many other regions. However, with the rise of home food gardening, I think it’s worth giving a try.

The main idea behind culture en hautain is to maximize limited space in vineyards, orchards, and gardens. Training grapevines to climb trees (bonus points if the trees produce edible fruit) allows for a bountiful harvest in a compact area.

There’s no definitive list of trees that I (or anyone else that I know of) recommend for this type of viticulture. I’ve heard of fellow gardeners growing grapes up citrus and maple trees but these are just a couple of examples.

It’s most important to choose a tree with similar environmental needs as grapevines. And don’t forget to consider the tree’s size and stability — after all, you don’t want your grapes hanging 20+ feet off the ground or damaging the tree!

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.