Have A Healthy Garden Through Mixed Culture

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm

Mixed culture is the spatial coexistence of different plants on a bed; and those that positively influence each other. This idea was copied from nature by clever gardeners. Because there, as a rule, there are no monocultures where only one plant is grown. Natural plant growth always strives to cover any habitat with a wide variety of species. This colorful mix encourages beneficial insects and keeps diseases at bay. In contrast, monocultures are a land of milk and honey for diseases and pests.

Mixed cropping can be used for a variety of goals: to increase yields, improve flavor, or ward off pests and diseases. The helpful active ingredients can reach the neighboring plant in a variety of ways: through root exudates, via the air through scent molecules from leaves and flowers, or by being washed off the leaves by rain and entering the soil.

Who helps whom in mixed cultivation?

Have A Healthy Garden Through Mixed Culture

Many of the cultivated plants that are in our gardens have lost their resistance through breeding in favor of high yields. Wild plants have many more secondary plant substances with which they can defend themselves against pests and diseases. These substances include, for example, mustard oils or essential oils. Since wild plants and medicinal herbs are very well equipped with secondary plant substances, they are used in mixed culture as helper plants for the vegetables in need of protection. So, as a rule, savory helps the bean (aphids), chives help the carrot (carrot fly) and thyme helps the cabbage (cabbage whitefly) and not vice versa!

The dream team in rows and rows: Create mixed culture optimally

Mixed cultures are usually laid out as a row culture, because the helper plants can only develop their effect effectively if they are relatively close to the plants in need of help (20-40 cm). For example, one plants a bed with alternating rows of cabbage and dill to keep the cabbage white butterfly away. Or you mix rows of strawberries and garlic to help the strawberries against gray mold. The same goes for tomatoes and onions. Sometimes it’s enough to place scattered helper herbs within a bed or row. For example, chamomile in a row of carrots improves their yield, and cress sown among radishes enhances their flavor. Or mix some dill among the seeds of difficult sprouts such as carrots or parsnips, because dill promotes the germination of neighboring seeds.

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It is also possible to place the mixed culture plants at the edge of the bed or as a bed border. This is especially recommended for perennial herbs, which are otherwise difficult to combine with annuals.

Getting to know each other before moving in together also applies to plants

Living together can be difficult. That’s why there are a few things to keep in mind to make the “living communities” work on the bed. It’s not enough if two plants have a positive influence on each other in terms of pest control, but have completely different needs in terms of nutrient requirements, pH, water balance, and heat and light. For example, thyme and sage do not really belong next to cabbage as a mixed crop, even though both irritate the cabbage white butterfly and prevent it from laying eggs. This is because cabbage is an absolute heavy feeder, requiring a nutrient-rich bed. In this nitrogen-rich soil, the weakly nutritious aromatic herbs can develop their flavors only poorly and become susceptible to disease themselves. But in this case, after all, the main thing is to protect the cabbage, thyme and sage serve only as short-lived pest police.

In the same way, the light and water requirements of the partner plants must match. For example, the popular mixed-culture partners carrot and onion have very different water requirements. The carrot needs a deep, moist soil for its development; the onion, on the other hand, tends to require a dry location so that it can mature well and also remain storable for a long time. In this case, chives or leeks would be better partners for the carrot.

Nice neighbors help each other in mixed cultivation

Especially in the case of medicinal herbs, there are very many helper plants that can be effectively used as mixed culture plants. For example, the medicinal herbs nettle, chamomile and yarrow are very beneficial to the health of garden plants and garden soil. These three plants play an important role in Demeter agriculture as compost preparations. Comfrey and dost also have a growth-promoting and health-maintaining effect as mixed-crop plants. Similarly, wild garlic, onion, garlic and lavender have a positive effect on the general health of neighboring plants, because they contain compounds that are harmful to fungi. Plants that are susceptible to powdery mildew, gray mold and rust fungi feel comfortable in their neighborhood.

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Mixed crops with nitrogen gatherers (legumes), such as peas and beans, or green manure plants like clover and alfalfa are particularly popular. Highly nutritious plants such as cabbage or celery benefit from this in particular. Nutrient-demanding medicinal herbs such as valerian or angelica also feel at home next to legumes. A mixed crop with soybeans gave valerian a 40 percent yield increase.

Plants become even more medicinal with mixed cultivation

Mixed cropping can even increase the constituents of neighboring plants: The green manure plant mustard, for example, increases the carotene content of peas. As a mixed crop, stinging nettle improves the essential oil content of aromatic herbs by astonishing percentages: up to 20 percent for valerian, over 10 percent for sage, peppermint and marjoram, and as much as 80 percent for angelica! Similar observations were made with lavender as a mixed culture partner. In Bulgaria, garlic is often planted among roses to increase the amount of precious rose oil. An effect that was already used in Provence in the 16th century.

But there are also unfriendly neighbors in the mixed culture

However, there are also neighborhoods that hinder each other’s development or even crowd each other out. Particularly unfriendly neighbors are, for example, boar’s rue, lovage, tansy and wormwood. In their “haze” neighboring plants are displaced, so they should be given a place to themselves. The distance from neighboring plants should be at least 80 cm instead of the usual 30-40 cm. Particularly “difficult” is considered to be wormwood. In cultivation experiments, it was found that fennel plants reached their normal growth height of 40 cm only at a distance of 130 cm. Nevertheless, there are plants that are hardly impressed by its vapors, such as currants, leeks, sage or yarrow. In addition, wormwood is a good “aphid catcher”.

Also cress is not desired by all plants as a neighbor. For example, the lettuce near her does not form proper heads and begins to shoot early. Cucumbers also do not like to be near cress. Parsley and lettuce are also anything but a dream couple. Likewise, tomatoes and beet and beans and leeks are at war with each other (see table)!

Examples of positive mixed cultures with herbs and medicinal plants

EffectHelper plants (in parentheses are plants that particularly benefit from the positive effect of herbs).
health-maintaining, yield-increasing, growth-promotingbasil, comfrey, dost, chamomile, mallow, yarrow, thyme
Aroma enhancing, growth promotingBasil (tomatoes, cucumbers), dill (cucumbers), chervil (lettuce), cress (radish), garlic (strawberries), caraway (potatoes), parsley (tomatoes)
promotes germinationDill, Speedwell
against fungal diseasesWild garlic, garlic (strawberries), onion, basil (cucumbers) horseradish (potatoes), sage (potatoes), deadnettle (potatoes), wormwood (currants), leek, parsley (tomatoes)
increases production of essential oils in medicinal herbsNettle, lavender, garlic
repels cabbage white butterflyBorage, dill, rue, lavender, peppermint, rosemary, sage, thyme, tomatoes, hyssop
repels threadworms (nematodes)Marigold, coneflower, marigolds
repels aphidsSavory (beans, lettuce), chervil (lettuce), nasturtium (attracts aphids), lavender (rose), tulsi basil, wormwood (attracts aphids).
repels carrot flyChives, onion, leek
Irritates potato beetleTagetes, Phacelia

Herbal tea instead of mixed culture

Not all mixed cultures make sense. We already had above the example of cabbage and thyme, which by their needs do not fit on a common bed, but would be good for each other in their mutual effects. Or who wants to create a mixed culture with nettles, even if they improve the essential oil content of neighboring lemon balm?

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For all these cases there is a good solution: we use the ingredients of the helper plants in the form of tea sprays. Accordingly, the cabbage is sprayed with thyme or sage tea to keep away the cabbage white butterfly. And by spraying the melissa with nettle tea, they develop a particularly strong aroma.

Tea spraying as a substitute for mixed culture.

Tea spraying is an almost unknown application: Here, almost all the positive effects of mixed culture can be used. Regular spraying thus replaces mixed culture with this plant. For this purpose, 30 g of dried helper herbs (or 100 g of fresh) are brewed with 10 liters of hot water. The tea is cooled and sprayed undiluted over the crops (pump sprayer).

Also, perennial herbs, which stand for many years in the same place, are suitable for mixed cultures only to a limited extent. But in the form of tea spraying, you can still use their effect indirectly.

  • Examples of negative mixed culture combinations
  • beans with peas or leeks or onions
  • Peas with onions
  • Cucumbers with cress or radish or tomatoes
  • Potatoes with onions
  • Lettuce with cress or parsley or celery
  • Beet with carrots or tomatoes


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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