Whether grown for eating or for carving, pumpkins are a big commitment! Most varieties need to go in the ground as soon as the risk of frost has passed and aren’t ready to harvest until well into the fall.
Since your pumpkins are going to be in the garden for the entire growing season, you want to find ways to utilize the soil around them. This often means fitting other crops in the spaces between the vines. But not just any plant will thrive in such close proximity to a pumpkin.
In this article, I’ll share some of my favourite pumpkin companion plants and offer expert advice for gardeners trying interplanting for the first time.
Companion Planting Basics
Companion planting, also known as interplanting or intercropping, is a gardening technique that involves growing two or more types of plants together in the same space.
Here’s how it works: Every plant has its own needs — e.g., sunlight, water, and nutrients. Some also have beneficial qualities — e.g., shading the ground, attracting beneficial insects, or repelling pests. Companion plants are specifically chosen because these qualities complement each other.
Companion planting can also help you make the most of your space, particularly in small gardens. If one plant grows tall and another stays low to the ground, you can plant them together to use both vertical and horizontal space.
Finding plants that work well together is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Fortunately, we have hundreds of years of past gardening experience to help point us in the right direction!
Best Pumpkin Companion Plants
Pumpkins require lots of space, sunlight, and nutrient-rich soil. While pumpkins are categorized as winter squash, they need warm weather to germinate and flower.
Your pumpkin plants will do most of their growing when the weather is hottest. But you should also be prepared to water during dry periods.
You’ll need to familiarize yourself with common pumpkin pests and the best methods to control them. Things like vine borers and squash bugs can wreak havoc on a pumpkin harvest if left unchecked!
Intercropping with beneficial companions won’t solve all of your gourd-growing problems. It can, however, take some of the work out of raising healthy, beautiful pumpkins at home.
Vegetables and Fruit
Squash: One of the very best things to grow with pumpkin plants is other squash. Both winter and summer squash can be interplanted with pumpkins to attract pollinators like the squash bee (Peponapis spp.). Plus, non-pumpkin varieties of Cucurbita pepo will happily cross-pollinate with your pumpkins.
Zucchini: A surprising number of gardeners don’t know that zucchini is a type of summer squash! Zucchini belong to the same species as pumpkins and have very similar growing requirements. Their flowers are also capable of cross-pollinating.
Onions and Garlic: These pungent crops might repel common garden pests that could damage your pumpkins. There’s also (albeit limited) evidence that garlic increases the nutrient content of vegetables growing nearby.
Corn: Corn may act as a natural trellis for smaller pumpkin vines. Meanwhile, the sprawling pumpkin plants help suppress weeds and keep the soil moist and cool. This partnership has been used for centuries in ‘Three Sisters’ gardens.
Beans: Bush and pole beans can be direct-sown in the spring just before your pumpkins go in the ground. As bean plants grow, they pull nitrogen from the air and deposit it into the soil. This process — called nitrogen fixation — is extremely beneficial since pumpkins pull so much nitrogen from the soil.
Lettuce and Spinach: These leafy greens mature quickly in cool weather and can be harvested before the pumpkins require too much space. Lettuce and spinach are also relatively low-growing, so they won’t compete with young pumpkins for sunlight.
Cucumbers: If you have a big garden, cucumbers make great companion plants for pumpkins. They enjoy similar soil conditions and the large pumpkin leaves may even protect the cucumbers during hot weather. Though cucumbers and pumpkins both belong to the cucurbit family, they will not cross-pollinate.
Melons: The cucurbit family also includes watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and many other delicious melon varieties. All of these crops grow well with pumpkins, assuming that there is ample space, moisture, and nutrition to support them. Note that melons will not cross-pollinate with pumpkins.
Peas: Like beans, peas are legumes that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. According to McGill University, you can take advantage of this biological process by letting the pea plants decompose in the garden after harvesting the pods. This will release nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil for your pumpkins.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes and pumpkins make wonderful neighbours if you know how to balance their needs. I recommend leaving at least 2 feet of space between each plant since both vegetables have expansive (and hungry!) root systems. The pumpkins will sprawl around the base of the tomatoes, keeping the soil cool and weed-free.
Thyme: Thyme is a great ground cover that can suppress weeds around pumpkin plants and keep the soil cool. The flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects like parasitic wasps. Creeping thyme also provides valuable shelter for ground beetles that control pest populations.
Lavender: Lavender draws in pollinators from far and wide, which can increase the odds of your pumpkins fruiting. Its strong scent may also mask the smell of nearby pumpkins, making it harder for pests to locate them.
Mint: Mint works well as a companion plant because is a powerful attractant of generalist predatory insects that feed on aphids, vine borers, and other pumpkin pests. It can also provide shelter for beneficial insects like ground beetles. Just keep in mind that mint can become invasive if not carefully managed.
Dill: Dill is easily my favourite herb for bringing more helpful insects to the food garden. Its flowers are incredibly enticing for bees and other local pollinators but it also attracts damsel bugs, parasitic wasps, and hoverflies. These underappreciated bugs can make a big dent in pumpkin pest populations.
Chamomile: The health benefits of consuming chamomile are well-documented. This herb also releases biochemicals into the soil it’s grown in and is known to improve the health and flavour of nearby plants. Its small flowers attract damsel bugs and other beneficial insects.
Marjoram: Marjoram grows well with most other plants. Like chamomile, it supposedly boosts the flavour of crops growing nearby. Its flowers will ensure the local bees and butterflies stay fat and happy.
Oregano: This fragrant aromatic herb is an effective deterrent for cucumber beetles (which feed on pumpkins and their relatives). Whilst there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim, planting oregano with your pumpkins won’t do any harm.
Lovage: This relatively uncommon herb is a wonderful addition to any garden. It has a strong root system that handily breaks up compacted soil. Planting lovage with your pumpkins could improve the soil structure and fertility over time.
Cosmos: These tall, delicate flowers will attract a variety of pollinators to your pumpkin patch. They don’t require much care, just make sure to plant them in a sunny spot.
Marigolds: Marigolds are an excellent companion plant. The flowers attract beneficial insects and the roots suppress soil-borne nematodes. Plant them along the borders of your pumpkin patch or intersperse them among your pumpkins.
Sunflowers: Sunflowers can provide shade for pumpkins during hot and sunny weather. They attract a variety of insects, which can help with pollination. Sunflower seeds are a great food source for birds (that may also dine on garden pests).
Ornamental Kale: Companion plants are sometimes chosen strictly for their aesthetics. Ornamental kale won’t compete with pumpkin vines for space when added to the bed later in the year. It provides a nice range of colours and textures for the fall garden.
Nasturtiums: This is a lovely trailing plant with vibrant flowers that acts as a ‘trap crop’ for aphids and other pests. Nasturtium is an excellent ground cover and can easily be grown among your pumpkin plants.
Asters: Fall-blooming asters will draw in pollinators and other beneficial insects when most other plants have finished flowering. They offer a vital food source for wildlife toward the end of the growing season.
Worst Things to Grow with Pumpkins
As a general rule, you should avoid growing potatoes or sweet potatoes in the same bed as your pumpkins.
These crops are heavy feeders and will very likely compete with the pumpkins for key nutrients and water. Sweet potatoes also like sprawl out, which can cause problems if planted too close to another vining crop like pumpkin.
Growing brassicas like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts alongside your pumpkins can also lead to competition. It’s best to place these vigorous vegetables on opposite sides of the garden.
Very few plants like to grow alongside fennel, and pumpkins are no exception. This is because fennel has strong allelopathic properties that prevent nearby plants from thriving.
Nearly all parts of the fennel plant can exude allelopathic chemicals. Even the seeds are toxic to neighbouring plants!
Some gardeners advise against planting root crops like beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips too close to pumpkins. The concern is that harvesting these crops will damage the pumpkin’s root system while the squash is still developing.
Tips for Effective Companion Planting
Tip #1: Pay attention to plant families.
The real secret to growing an efficient vegetable garden is knowing which family each crop belongs to. For example, cabbage, kale, and broccoli all belong to the Brassica family. And pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons all belong to the cucurbit family.
Why is this so important? Because plants in a family tend to share the same general cultural requirements and are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.
It’s also a good idea to rotate your garden so that plants of a given family aren’t growing in the same soil as the year before. This can make a huge dent in the number of pests and diseases that affect your garden year after year!
Tip #2: Give your crops some breathing room.
Companion planting can be a great way to fit more into your garden. But it’s a mistake to think plants can be grown right on top of each other just because they’re otherwise good companions.
With that said, you can certainly fudge your plants’ space requirements by combining those that require a ton of space with those that need very little. I also like to mix and match crops that grow above ground versus below to maximize the available space.
Tip #3: Know your pests and insect helpers.
Pest control is by far one of the greatest benefits of effective companion planting. You can often reduce the number of pests in your garden just by increasing its biodiversity (that means growing a wider variety of plants!).
For more targeted control, I strongly recommend learning a bit about the bugs that typically pester your crops. Identifying the culprits will allow you to select companion plants that deter the pests and/or draw in their natural predators.
Tip #4: Experiment with succession planting.
Many gardeners assume that good companion plants must be sown and harvested at the same time. But you can actually take advantage of crops with different growing seasons to extend your vegetable garden by several weeks or even months.
Tip #5: Turn your companion plants into living mulch.
Some companion plants replenish the soil by adding nitrogen and other key nutrients. In most cases, you’ll see the greatest benefit by allowing those plants to die back and decompose into the topsoil. This simple practice can significantly improve soil fertility over several growing seasons.
- McGill University Companion planting with legumes
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.