The Secrets of Kale Companion Planting: Boost Your Garden’s Health & Harvest

Imagine your garden as a bustling dinner party for plants, where kale is the guest of honor. In this verdant gathering, every attendee—from the humble legume to the aromatic herb—plays a part in ensuring kale’s success.

It’s a world where companionship is measured in leafy greens and soil nutrients. Welcome to the art of kale companion planting, a technique not just for the green-thumbed but for anyone eager to see their kale not only survive but thrive.

Here, we’ll guide you through selecting the perfect circle of friends for your kale, those that will fend off pests, enrich the earth beneath, and ensure that your garden becomes the talk of the neighborhood.

Quick Glance: Companion Planting Chart for Kale

Good Companions Plants to Avoid
  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
Other Brassicas:
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
Other Plants:
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Sunflowers
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Peas
  • Beans
Other Veggies:
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Lettuce

Why Companion Planting Matters

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Companion planting is like assembling a superhero team for your garden, each member bringing unique powers that help your kale plants thrive. Here’s how this team-up can supercharge your kale:

Pest Defense and Insect Allies

Imagine plants like dill, cilantro, and mint as the garden’s bodyguards. Their potent scents throw pests off track, shielding your kale from the likes of aphids and cabbage worms.

Meanwhile, marigolds and nasturtiums are the garden’s welcome signs for insects like ladybugs and hoverflies, who munch on the bad guys, keeping your kale safe.

Soil Superchargers

Your kale loves hanging out with legumes—peas and beans, for example—because they have the cool ability to grab nitrogen from the air and stash it in the soil, making it a treasure trove of nutrients for your kale.

Other plant buddies send their roots deep down, breaking up tight soil and bringing hidden nutrients up top where kale can easily get them.

Space Savers

Companion planting is like a puzzle, fitting different plants together so every inch of your garden is used wisely. Squeeze in some radishes or lettuce between your kale, and you’ll get a weed-fighting, space-maximizing powerhouse that ensures your kale doesn’t have to compete for the spotlight—or sunlight.

Growth Boosters

Some plants are just good company for kale, making it tastier and healthier. Chamomile and dill might even spice up kale’s flavor, while alliums (think onions and garlic) guard the soil, packing it with goodies that help your kale grow strong and robust. Plus, this diverse crowd makes for a balanced garden, promoting good air flow and less disease.

Top Companion Plants for Kale

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Choosing the right companions for your kale is like picking the perfect team for a group project; each member brings their unique strengths to the table. Here’s a lineup of the top contenders:

1. Herbs

These are the garden’s multitaskers, providing a scent shield that confuses pests like aphids and cabbage worms, keeping them away from your kale. Dill and cilantro are the lead actors here, with their strong aromas.

Then you have mint, sage, thyme, and rosemary, not only warding off pests but possibly giving kale an extra dash of flavor.

2. Alliums

The allium family, featuring onions, garlic, and leeks, is like the garden’s security system. They emit strong scents that pests really dislike, while their shallow roots don’t hog the nutrients, ensuring kale gets its fair share.

Plus, they’re great at gathering nutrients, making them even better neighbors for kale.

3. Flowers

Flowers aren’t just pretty faces; marigolds and nasturtiums work hard to repel pests with their special compounds, while attracting the good bugs—ladybugs and hoverflies—to keep the pests in check. Sweet alyssum, with its dense blooms, lures in beneficial wasps and doubles as a living mulch, keeping the soil moist and weed-free.

4. Legumes

Peas and beans are the garden’s nitrogen fixers, hosting bacteria that transform air into plant-friendly nitrogen. This not only gives kale a nutrient boost but also diversifies your garden’s ecosystem and acts as a decoy for pests.

5. Other Veggies

Don’t forget about other vegetables like beets and radishes. These quick growers fill in the gaps, keeping weeds at bay and making full use of the space. Plus, they’re out of the ground before kale needs the room.

Celery and lettuce are also great matches, sharing space without a fight and helping keep the soil cool and moist.

The Right 4-Step Strategy

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To get the most out of companion planting with your kale, think of your garden as a busy, well-oiled machine where every part has a role that supports the others.

Here are four smart strategies to keep that machine humming smoothly:

1. Mix & Match with Intercropping

Intercropping is like organizing a potluck dinner—everyone brings something different to the table. Plant quick-winners like radishes or lettuce among your kale, and they’ll be ready to eat before your kale needs more elbow room.

You can also pair kale with taller plants like dill or cilantro. These can offer kale a bit of shade, creating a cooler spot that kale loves.

2. Timing is Everything

Just like you wouldn’t have dessert before the main course, planting schedules matter in your garden. Stagger the planting of kale and its companions so your garden doesn’t get crowded and you get a steady supply of veggies.

After fast-growers like radishes are done, plant another round of something else. This way, your garden keeps giving all season long.

3. Plan Your Garden Layout Wisely

Imagine planning a seating chart that makes everyone happy. Taller plants should hang out on the north side so they don’t throw shade on the shorter ones. Keep everyone comfortably spaced—kale likes about 12 to 18 inches of personal space. This helps make sure everyone gets their fair share of water, nutrients, and sunlight.

4. Use Decoy Plants

Some plants are the garden’s bodyguards, taking one for the team by attracting pests away from your kale. Nasturtiums are great at pulling aphids away, while a few collard greens can keep flea beetles and cabbage worms busy.

If these decoys get overrun by pests, you can remove them, pests and all, keeping your kale safe and sound.

What to Avoid Planting with Kale

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While your kale will enjoy the company of many garden friends, there are a few neighbors it’s better off without. Here’s who not to invite to the kale party:

Keep Other Brassicas at a Distance

Kale shares its family tree with veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. While they might seem like natural companions, they’re more like siblings competing for the same resources. They attract the same pesky bugs and diseases, making a close-knit planting a buffet for pests and a hotspot for illness.

It’s like inviting two feuding relatives to a dinner party and hoping for the best—it just doesn’t work. Rotate your crops instead to keep these issues at bay.

Not the Best Match: Strawberries, Tomatoes, Potatoes & Sunflowers

Each of these plants, while great in their own right, spells trouble for kale. Strawberries can be a bit selfish, hogging water and nutrients with their shallow roots, and might even stunt kale’s growth with their secret weapon: allelopathic chemicals that suppress the neighbors.

Tomatoes and potatoes, the greedy guests at the garden party, monopolize the buffet of soil nutrients, leaving little behind for kale. They also share some of kale’s pests and diseases, doubling down on potential problems.

And sunflowers, though they tower like sunny sentinels, can cast a shadow over kale, cutting off its sunlight supply and secreting substances that can hold back kale’s growth.

4 Tips & Best Practices

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To make your companion planting venture a success, especially with kale in the starring role, here are some expert tips to ensure your garden is not just surviving, but thriving:

1. Mind the Growth Patterns

Just as you wouldn’t plant a towering sunflower smack dab in front of a petite pansy, keep an eye on the size, speed, and style of your plants’ growth. Tall or fast-sprouters like dill might cast a shadow over your kale, while sprawling plants like squash could hog the ground, stifling airflow and inviting diseases.

Stick to companions that play nice, size-wise, with kale—like cozy, compact herbs such as thyme or oregano, which offer a pest control bonus without overcrowding.

2. Blend Beauty with Bounty

Your garden doesn’t have to choose between being a feast for the eyes and the table. Weave ornamental plants among your edibles to dial up the visual drama while drawing in beneficial insects. Pops of marigold or nasturtium not only jazz up the scene but also work hard to attract the good bugs.

A sprig of lavender or a bush of rosemary adds both aroma and appeal, creating a garden that’s a delight to both behold and harvest from.

3. Dare to Experiment

Gardening is as much art as it is science, so don’t shy away from mixing it up. Classic pairs like kale with onions or dill are a great starting point, but venturing beyond the basics can uncover winning combinations unique to your garden’s conditions.

Keep a journal to jot down what works and what doesn’t, turning your garden into a living lab where every season brings new lessons and victories.

4. Don’t Neglect the Basics

Even the best companion planting strategy can’t make up for lackluster care. Regular check-ups for water, sunlight, and nutrient needs, along with keeping an eye out for pests or disease, are non-negotiable for keeping your plants happy.

Healthy soil is the bedrock of a bountiful garden, so enrich it with compost, keep it mulched, and consider cover crops to keep it in top form.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Here’s a bit of guidance to steer you through some common curiosities and help you make the most of your garden space.

If my garden’s on the small side, can kale and its brassica relatives still be neighbors?

Ideally, kale likes its personal space away from its brassica cousins to dodge shared pests and diseases. But, if you’re working with a tighter plot, cohabitation isn’t off the table. Amp up your garden defense with strategies like row covers to block pests, and keep a keen eye out for any trouble signs on your plants.

Regular plant check-ups and good cleaning habits for your tools can also help keep peace in the family.

How can I tell if a companion plant is really kale’s buddy?

Seeing the benefits of companion planting can be a bit like watching grass grow—subtle and slow. Keep an eye on your kale’s growth and health compared to its solo days or times with different companions.

You might start to notice patterns, like fewer pests or happier plants, that hint at a successful partnership. Digging into each companion’s specific perks and watching for those effects can also give you clues.

How do I prevent kale and its companions from fighting over nutrients?

Choosing companions wisely can help everyone get along below the soil. Partners with different appetites and rooting depths, like shallow-rooted herbs or nitrogen-happy legumes, can share the space without bickering over food.

Thinking vertically can also help, allowing climbers to explore higher while kale sticks closer to the ground.

Keeping your soil rich with compost or organic matter ensures there’s plenty to go around, keeping your plant community well-fed and harmonious.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.