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Companion Planting

There are over 500,000 different kinds of plants in the world. Some sort of plant classification system is as old as history itself.

companion planting

We recommend using four main categories for classifying garden plants:

  • Botanical Plant Families
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Growth Habit
  • Pest / Beneficial insect attracting

Botanical Plant Families

Why this is important? 

Just like we might want to get to know our friends' family members, getting to know the genetic relations of our favorite garden plants can tell us a lot about the plants we love.

This 'salad bowl' garden in the Lotan EcoCampus has a variety of vegetables that have light nutritional requirements, and go well together in a salad too!

Botanical Plant Family classification is also the only universal system - the botanical community has agreed on scientific classifications for all plants. This means that all over the world, no matter what language is spoken, the same plant is referred to by the same scientific name.

Certain plant diseases "run in the family" as do certain predispositions to pest problems, special nutritional needs, and other factors affecting plant growth.

Nutritional Requirements

How does this work as a classification system?

As a general rule, the longer a plant is in the ground the more nutrition it will need from the soil. In other words, a plant that is only being grown for its leaves such as lettuce or spinach will require less nutrition than a plant that is expected to produce fruit such as tomatoes or squash.

Two exceptions

There are two main exceptions to this rule. The first is beans and other Legumes that "bring their own lunch". This group of plants is able to take nitrogen out of the air and "fix" it with the help of a symbiotic relationship with a particular soil bacteria which creates nodules on the host plant's roots. This means that Legumes do not require particularly fertile soil since they fertilize the soil that they are growing in as they grow.

Beans growing in Lotan's ecological garden.

The other exception is root crops. In general, plants which have the main part that we eat growing underground such as carrots, beets, and potatoes, require less nutrition than other crops which are in the ground for a similar amount of time.  Grouping plants together based on their nutritional requirements can help a gardener manage soil fertility.

Growth Habit

Some plants are bushy, some tall and spindly. Some plants are natural climbers while some tend to spread out over the soil. Some plants have long tap roots while some have shallow root systems. Gardeners can get the most out of their garden space if they take into consideration the manner in which a plant grows. Grouping plants based on their growth habit allows for endless complimentary combinations.   

companion Planting

Pest Repelling and Beneficial Insect Attracting

Garden pests will vary based on season, soil health, and region of the world. However, certain plants tend to be prone to the same pests year after year and certain plants tend to either repel pests or attract beneficial insects to the garden. Generally speaking strong smelling plants will do the trick - either repelling the bad guys or inviting the good ones. Try garlic, onions and chives to keep away your enemies (the bug kind at least) and mint, chamomile, tansy, and other fragrant herbs to attract your friends.   

Onions are a good plant to disperse among the garden because they repel pests.


  • Book: Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
  • Book: Great Garden Companions by Sally Cunningham
  • Website: (plangarden - wordpress blog)


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