The best and worst strawberry companion plants, according to common sense, practical matters, and current scientific studies. Although this topic can be plagued by myth and folklore, there is compelling data on companion planting and how it can benefit your strawberries and vegetable garden.
Strawberry Companion Plants — What to Grow With Your Strawberries
Strawberries are a delicious perennial that requires full sun and prefers slightly acidic soils. They are a low-growing plant that requires some maintenance in the pruning of suckers which can quickly overtake a bed. After 3-5 years, you need to have a plan in place to rejuvenate your strawberries as production will decrease and then stop.
The best companion plants for a strawberry patch are ones that will increase your food production potential, protect the soil, keep weed pressure down, nourish the soil, attract pollinators, and don't compete with your hungry strawberries for nutrients — and the best way to get all of these benefits is with multiple plants in a polyculture.
When choosing companion plants for strawberries, consider edible crops like bush beans and perennial asparagus to maximize growing space and your garden's food production. Common kitchen herbs allowed to go to flower, and certain other flower species (borage) are also great choices.
These practical choices will beautify your garden while attracting bees and other beneficial pollinators, which studies have shown can significantly increase the quantity and size of your strawberries.
In my own garden, I have two strawberry patches; one is interplanted with asparagus, and both include common kitchen herbs and flowers. Like the rest of my garden, I mulch my strawberry beds to maintain soil health.
By looking to permaculture principles like polycultures, which encourage mutually beneficial plant relationships by a mixed variety of plantings, you can increase the health of your garden and keep weeds and pests checked.
Unchecked weed growth can quickly reduce strawberry yields, so effective weed suppression should be a key part of your companion planting strategy.
Asparagus is one of the best strawberry companion plants. They like the same growing conditions and need similar watering. Planting strawberries alongside asparagus helps shade the soil and control weeds. Consider adding an organic mulch to your mixed bed, and you'll have an easy-to-care-for and productive food plot that keeps giving for years with minimal input from you.
With this planting, keep in mind that your strawberries will be coming into fruit while the asparagus ferns are vigorously growing and bushing out — plan your asparagus bed carefully so that you can access the strawberry fruits easily.
Planting bush beans alongside strawberries is a smart move for gardeners. Beans offer a tasty food crop without being heavy feeders that will compete with strawberries. Bush beans are a short and productive plant, and while they don't fix nitrogen (that is a myth), they will not hog it either.
I recommend bush beans everywhere that you can sneak a few of these plants. And you can freely and closely interplant them with strawberries with no ill effect. Remember that they need full sun — although dappled sun for a few hours will not harm them either.
"Strawberry plants placed directly adjacent to borage plants produced on average 35% more fruits and 32% increased yield by weight, when compared to plants placed a distance of three meters away, suggesting the control strawberries experienced a pollination deficit in the absence of the borage plant." (Study Link)
Planting borage flowers in your garden can be a delicious and effective way to boost the health and yield of your strawberries. Borage flowers are lovely to look at and edible too, but they also attract pollinators such as bees, which help improve your garden plants' overall health.
Be warned that borage will self-seed and spread easily.
White clover is a type of living mulch that is excellent at suppressing perennial weed growth. Once mowed or cut back, it comes back up quickly, and the mowed clover also decomposes very quickly and provides essential nutrients back to the soil. This nourishes the strawberry plants over time. According to several studies, white clover is one of the best companion plants for strawberries when used as a living mulch.
You must plant the clover between strawberry rows instead of interplanting it around the strawberry plants. The results of interplanting showed considerably less favorable outcomes (small, stunted plants and fruits) due to increased competition between the clover and the strawberries.
This is likely not the best choice for a home garden, but for a market gardener or farmer with a large strawberry field, it might be a great organic alternative to plastic.
Oats make another fantastic living mulch for strawberries and should be planted similarly to white clover, where only the rows between strawberries are planted.
Planting oats in late summer or even early fall means that the first frost will kill the oat plants. Next spring, the oat stems can be flattened down and used as a great mulch for strawberries, much in the way that straw is used.
Oat stems are straw.
Again, perhaps not the best choice for the home vegetable garden or homestead, but if you're a no-till gardener — or just any kind of gardener who wants to start a market garden or u-pick — living mulches might be a great solution to your weed problems.
Alfalfa to Lure Lygus Bugs
Planting alfalfa near your garden can be a smart, natural strategy to safeguard your crops from pests, especially if you're growing strawberries. Here's why: alfalfa is like a magnet for Lygus Bugs, a common pest that often targets fruits and vegetables. Having a small alfalfa patch nearby can lure these bugs away from your main crops.
Studies have shown that Lygus Bugs are more attracted to alfalfa than strawberries when given the choice. This method offers an eco-friendly alternative to using chemicals, helping you manage pests in a way that's better for the environment and your garden.
Adding herbs to your strawberry patch is a very practical move. These herbs bring two main benefits: they enhance your cooking and naturally suppress weeds in your garden. But when you also allow some of these herbs to flower, they attract beneficial bees, which will help pollinate your entire garden and aid with your strawberries too. Flowering herbs help to create a healthier, more productive garden with minimal effort.
Consider herbs like rosemary, basil, thyme, and whatever else you love to cook with.
Edamame are immature harvested soybeans. Soy is a nitrogen-fixing powerhouse and makes an excellent companion plant for strawberries. This legume enhances soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, benefiting the nitrogen-demanding strawberries. With approximately 120-180 pounds of nitrogen fixed per acre, edamame promotes a thriving and symbiotic relationship in the garden.
Fava beans are known to be excellent nitrogen fixers and make great companions for nitrogen-hungry strawberries. They can fix around 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre, which helps to enrich the soil and create optimal conditions for vibrant strawberry growth. This dynamic pairing creates a mutually beneficial alliance in the garden.
Black Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas, are known for their ability to fix nitrogen, making them the ideal companion for nitrogen-hungry strawberries. With the ability to fix around 40-80 pounds of nitrogen per acre, these legumes enhance soil fertility and promote robust growth in strawberries. Pairing black-eyed beans with strawberries creates a harmonious and mutually beneficial environment in the garden.
Like bush beans, radish is another one of those crops that makes a great companion plant for just about everything. They will be ready to harvest about 30 days after direct sowing, long before most other crops are established or leafing out.
Their quick turnaround means you can harvest them and make room for other crops sooner, maximizing your overall growing potential. Radishes give you a speedy and efficient way to get the most out of your planting area.
Never Plant These Next To Strawberries
When planting strawberries, it’s important to avoid certain plants that can negatively impact their growth and health. You also never want o plant anything nearby which will shade-out the sun-loving strawberries.
First, the cabbage family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, should be avoided. These plants have extensive root systems that compete for nutrients, potentially stunting the growth of strawberries.
Potatoes are also not ideal companions for strawberries. They are prone to blight, a fungal disease that can easily spread to strawberry plants.
Fennel should be avoided as well. It releases substances that inhibit the growth of nearby plants, including strawberries.
Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, which are part of the nightshade family, are not recommended companions for strawberries. They can transmit Verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus, to the strawberries.
Lastly, melons and cucumbers might spread fungal diseases like powdery mildew to strawberries.
Avoiding these plants in your strawberry garden can help maintain healthy growth and optimal fruit production.
Strategically choosing the strawberry companion plants can significantly enhance your garden's productivity and health. By integrating plants like bush beans, asparagus, and various herbs and flowers, you not only maximize space and yield but also attract beneficial pollinators and suppress weeds naturally.
Remember to consider the specific needs and growth habits of these companions to ensure they coexist harmoniously with your strawberries. At the same time, it's essential to avoid plants that compete for resources, are prone to shared diseases, or cast excessive shade. Don't overthink it either — start small.
Sources & Further Reading
- Battling weeds in strawberry fields with living mulch - what we've learned: Link.
- Google Book Preview: Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden.
- Companion planting to attract pollinators increases the yield and quality of strawberry fruit in gardens and allotments: Link.
- Alfalfa management affects infestations of Lygus rugulipennis (Heteroptera: Miridae) on strawberries in northwestern Italy: Link.
- Dynamics of Predation on Lygus hesperus (Hemiptera: Miridae) in Alfalfa Trap-Cropped Organic Strawberry: Link.