A perennial plant with a preference for cool weather, rhubarb is both delicious and versatile and can be enjoyed in lots of different ways. Whether cooked in a pie, a crumble or made into rhubarb gin or juice concentrate – the flavour is a firm favourite for most.
Practising companion planting will ensure your rhubarb plants are happy and healthy and produce the best yield possible throughout their lifetime of up to 10 years. However, sometimes choosing the right companion plant can be tricky, because there can be good and bad plants to pair rhubarb with.
This is why I’ve done the hard work for you and provided lots of useful information to help you make the right companion plant choice for your rhubarb plants.
Companion Planting Explained
Companion planting is a traditional and proven method of growing crops in close proximity to benefit one or both plant varieties. This simple but effective growing technique dates back centuries and has a multitude of different benefits which is why it is so popular and used by so many today.
This gardening technique utilises growing space much more efficiently making it extremely cost-effective and perfect for those who are short on space, but still want to get the maximum harvest possible. It is also the perfect method for gardeners who are looking for an organic alternative to pesticides and is defined as polyculture.
There are many different benefits which can be achieved using the companion planting gardening technique, each of which is dependent on the plants used in each planting scenario.
One of the most historic and well-known companion planting techniques is called ‘The Three Sisters’ method which perfectly illustrates and explains the process.
This method dates back hundreds of years and was first used by Native Americans. Gardeners would use a combination of bean, sweetcorn and squash plants.
When planted together, the tall sweetcorn plants provide a sturdy and natural structure for climbing beans to cling to as they mature.
The squash plants create a canopy on the ground using their large leaves which provide shade, lowering the temperature of the soil. These leaves also act as a weed suppressant and keep the soil moist.
The bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil which the squash and sweetcorn plants take advantage of to encourage fast and healthy growth.
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There are so many positive benefits when planting different types of fruits and vegetables close to each other. Growing in this way can be advantageous to the grower – making great use of the garden space. It is also beneficial to the growing environment – improving and supporting surrounding nature and biodiversity.
Here are some specific ways in which companion planting can enhance gardening:
Attracts Beneficial Insects: Using Flowers and herbs as companion plants is a great way to add colour and fragrance to the garden. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, these plants also encourage pollinators and other beneficial predatory insects to the garden.
Planting brightly coloured and fragrant plants amongst fruits and vegetables attract pollinators to assist with pollination. The more flowers pollinated results in more food being produced.
Provides Support: Taking advantage of taller plants such as sunflowers or sweetcorn is a great use of companion planting. Climbing plants such as beans and squash can use these natural and sturdy structures to climb as they mature.
Saves Space: Companion planting makes great use of space and can benefit all growers regardless of how big or small their growing space is, but can be especially beneficial for those where space is at a premium.
Companion planting helps utilize the garden by making use of soil which would have otherwise been left unused. By improving space utilization, growers can benefit from increased plant diversity, more crops and a bigger harvest.
Not all plants are equal however and some planting combinations simply don’t work thanks to their size, growing conditions, nutrient requirements or ability to attract or repel insects and pests. In addition, not all gardeners have the same amount of space in which to grow, so you see, it’s important to provide some forethought before reaching for your trowel and seed trays.
A good example here is the behaviour and growth rate of the chosen companion plants. Mint is a very popular companion plant and is used alongside many food crops to deter pests thanks to its strong fragrance. However, this herb is very fast-growing and can become invasive if planted in garden beds or borders.
Mint can still be used as a companion, but gardeners should consider the best way to use the plant without it taking over. Growing it in pots rather than planting directly in garden beds will still allow its pest-controlling capabilities to be utilized, but will stop mint from running wild and becoming intrusive.
Another example could be planting large bushy perennials (which come back each year), such as sage or rosemary. These plants can use lots of space which can impact what options are available, limiting what crops can be grown.
Best Companion Plants for Rhubarb
Rhubarb enjoys plenty of sunlight but is a cool weather plant which needs to be kept in mind when choosing the plant’s final growing spot, especially for those growing in a hotter climate zone.
They are also very greedy feeders so companion plants which can assist with extra nutrients are always useful.
Additionally, rhubarb plants like to be kept moist, so it’s a good idea to pair them with plants that can shade the soil around their base or those which can act as a cover crop keeping the soil moist.
Here are some of the best companion plants for rhubarb:
Fruits and Vegetables
Beets: I find that beet really enhance the flavour of rhubarb and prevent the stalks from getting too woody. Low-growing beets also prevent the ground from becoming too compacted around rhubarb plants. In return, the large rhubarb leaves provide shade for beets in hot weather.
Beans: Thanks to their ability to absorb nitrogen from the air and release it into the soil, beans make a great companion plant for many edible crops. Rhubarb plants enjoy nutrient-rich soil and will always reap the rewards from these extra nutrients.
Garlic: Rhubarb is susceptible to lots of different pests which is why planting garlic as a companion is a good idea. The strong odour can help deter pests such as whitefly, aphids and even ants which can be troublesome for rhubarb. Garlic also contains sulphur which has antifungal properties to help protect against diseases.
Strawberries: This mutually beneficial relationship is a good plant combination to try. Strawberry plants work as a cover crop around the rhubarb plants, keeping the ground moist and providing weed-suppressing ground cover keeping competing plants at bay. Rhubarb leaves also provide shade to strawberry plants during hot spells.
Herbs and Flowers
Dill: This beautifully fragranced herb is a wonderful companion to many plants including rhubarb. This is down to the herb’s ability to deter unwanted pests like aphids and whitefly with its strong scent.
Dill also attracts predatory insects such as hoverflies and ladybugs, perfect for keeping pest populations down.
Marigolds: Not only perfect for adding colour and fragrance to the garden, but their brightly coloured flowers draw in extra pollinators which benefit all flowering plants in the nearby vicinity.
Marigolds can make rhubarb plants less susceptible to diseases and will also act as pest deterrents, keeping attacks from aphids to a minimum.
You may also be interested in 5 Best Fertilizers for Rhubarb | How and When to Use
Chamomile: Rhubarb thrives in moist, cooler conditions which is the perfect living environment for slugs and snails to nibble on rhubarb plants. Growing chamomile nearby can reduce these unwanted visitors and when used as a companion plant, will keep the greedy molluscs away.
Bad Companion Plants for Rhubarb
There are some plants which can have a negative impact if used as companions. Here are some examples of those which are best avoided when growing rhubarb:
Sunflowers: Sunflowers make great companions for many plants in the garden, providing shade and support for climbing plants. However, these beautiful flowers are not good companions to rhubarb. This is because both are prone to the same pest – ‘rhubarb curculio’. Growing them together will make both species susceptible to infestations.
Fennel: Fennel releases toxins into the soil which can hinder growth and be detrimental to the health of rhubarb plants. These toxins stunt the growth of plants and leave rhubarb more susceptible to pests and diseases and unlikely to recover.
Pumpkins: Pumpkins enjoy spreading their sprawling vines in all directions. These vines create a canopy of leaves which can starve rhubarb of light and enough airflow to allow healthy growth. Pumpkins are also heavy feeders which means they will work in direct competition with rhubarb for nutrients.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica – ‘Rheum rhabarbarum’
- Virginia State University College of Agriculture – ‘Polyculture’
- National Agricultural Library U.S. Department of Agriculture – ‘The Three Sisters’