Mixed culture: what is it all about?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:15 pm

Mixed culture focuses on the combination of different plants that have a positive influence on each other. Vegetable varieties, flowering plants, fruit varieties and herbs are planted next to each other, which support each other. If you have little space, but do not want to give up a colorful plate of vegetables from your own cultivation, this method will be particularly interesting for you; it is very space-saving, offers only advantages and can also be implemented in the tub.

Good neighborliness is worth its weight in gold – a look at nature

If we look at wild landscapes, we get the impression that plants also live better in good company: there we find a colorful mixture of flowers, grasses and other plants that grow and bloom luxuriantly in every season. Without anyone giving them fertilizer, pests eating them bare, or fungal diseases attacking them. But how do they do it?

Mixed culture: what is it all about?

Quite simply: plants can also stick together and support and protect each other, true to the motto “together we are strong”. Not all plants harmonize with each other, but nature has figured out quite well who helps each other and who does not. This is a really clever technique, because a field flower can’t just pack its seven things and change locations if its environment doesn’t suit it and, for example, cheeky aphids are constantly on its tail.

Advantages of mixed culture

For everything to work, there is a diverse balance: flowering plants attract pollinators, while others drive away uninvited guests with their scent. Every gap is filled and even in the smallest of spaces there is often an amazingly lush abundance of plants and animals. The best part of it all is that we can apply this principle directly to our vegetable patch, giving us a leg up on pests, diseases and other aches and pains.

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In practice, this means you need to fertilize and water much less. The soil stays loose for a long time and is not depleted. Your plants grow healthier, are more robust and produce more yields. In addition, a mixed culture is a real boon for our wildlife; it attracts a great many pollinators and beneficial insects, which in turn are food for birds, hedgehogs and other visitors. On the other hand – and this point is particularly interesting for us – they take away any room for potential pests or put an end to them. Hoverflies, for example, whose favorite food is aphids, are attracted to marigolds, herbs such as mint or lavender drive away pests with their essential oils and, as weak eaters, are popular neighbors. For this purpose, we will present particularly well-harmonizing pairs in separate articles in the coming period.

For centuries, gardeners and farmers have taken nature as their model and cultivated their crops in mixed cultures. This approach, by the way, is the direct opposite of monoculture, in which only one type of plant is grown and vast amounts of mineral fertilizers and pesticides are needed. In organic farming, however, mixed culture is still the method of choice today and it is hard to imagine our kitchen gardens without it.

Mixed culture: what is it all about?
Flowers also play an important role in mixed cropping, as they can keep pests and diseases away

Cleverly combined

Which plants are on the same wavelength, which prefer to stay out of each other’s way? This table should give you a rough overview.

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plant/speciesGood neighborsBad neighbors
EggplantLettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinachPea, Beetroot, Potato, Pepper
BasilChili, tomato, cucumber, garden cress, zucchiniLemon balm
BroccoliBeet, eggplant, potatoes, celery, pea, cauliflowerCabbage, onions
ChiliLemon balm, basilTomato, eggplant, potato
StrawberryChives, garlic, marigold, bean, marigoldsCabbage (attracts cabbage fly, which also likes to strawberries).
CucumberDill, cabbage, kohlrabi, onion, garlic, lettuce, bell bell pepperRadish, zucchini, pumpkin
RaspberryBean, pea, garlic, marigold, onion, mint, lamb’s lettuceEggplant, Strawberry
KohlrabiBean, pea, tomato, lettuce, potato, beetCabbage, fennel
Cabbage varieties in generalBean, pea, tomato, dill, cucumber, lettuce, bell pepper, mint, radishBroccoli, cauliflower, other cabbage, kohlrabi, garlic, onions
LettuceEggplant, Bean, Pea, Dill, Strawberry, Cucumber, Kohlrabi, Carrot, Cabbage, Radish, Spinach, Tomato, OnionCelery
PumpkinBean, Pea, Onion, CornCucumber, zucchini
Lemon balmChili, thyme, sage, chivesDill, basil
MintTomato, cabbage, zucchini, strawberry, pumpkin, carrot, radish, cucumberSage
PaprikaTomato, carrot, cabbage, cucumberEggplant, potato, pea, chili
ParsleyTomato, strawberry, radishLettuce
ChivesStrawberry, carrot, cucumber, cabbageOnion, beet, bean
TomatoCabbage, kohlrabi, (head) lettuce, bell bell pepper, mint, parsley, onion, garlicCucumber, potato
ZucchiniBean, onion, pea, beet, cornCucumber, pumpkin
OnionDill, strawberry, cucumber, carrot, lettuce, garlic, tomatoBean, Cabbage

Mixed culture: what is it all about?
Good neighbors: strawberries and leeks

Successful mixed culture – the more colorful, the better!

How the whole thing is now implemented, we describe soon in a detailed article. However, we would like to take a look at the most important principles now: the key to a successful mixed culture lies in planting as varied as possible.

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Family members are taboo

The number one rule, as with crop rotation and crop rotation, is plants from the same family should not be grown next to each other, nor one after the other in the same spot. They compete for space, nutrients and sunlight, and also attract pests that can grow comfortably among them. As an end result, on top of that, you’d have depleted soil after a short time.

The appetite and the stature

The level of nutrient requirements is also an important factor: strong eaters (e.g. eggplant, tomato, cucumber) should be combined with weak or medium eaters (lettuce, herbs), not with other strong eaters. Here you can find a nice article about “weak, medium and strong eaters”. In order to use the space optimally, the growth forms and heights are also an important point: Make sure that spreading plants do not shade others too much, combine slender and tall growing plants with rather low and bushy plants. Climbing varieties can also be super combined with tall plants – corn (as a “climbing aid”) and pole beans are a popular variant.

Mixed culture: what is it all about?
Corn and runner beans grow together here, and there is also a pumpkin

The growth period

The duration of growth and vegetation is another factor that should be included in the planning: Some varieties are perennial (for example, berry bushes, herbs, and strawberries) and are called “permanent crops” – they don’t change places. Annuals, on the other hand, vary greatly in how long they take to grow; lettuces and radishes, for example, are ready to harvest after a few weeks and make room in the bed fairly quickly. Pumpkins and tomatoes, on the other hand, take much longer – which also means their space stays occupied longer.

With these principles, you already have an idea of how to plant and design a bed in mixed culture. This may sound complicated at first, but with careful planning it is child’s play and you will succeed better and better every year.


  • 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.