Kale companion planting: the best plants to grow with kale

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Planting kale companions, or specific plants that, when grown alongside kale, enhance its growth and are a powerful way to deter pests and achieve better harvests.

Kale is a favorite among gardeners and allotment owners. It is prized for its ability to harvest through the winter and for its beautiful, large leaves that add structure and interest to any garden bed.

Companion planting is all about deterring pests, attracting predators for your pests, and choosing plants that won’t negatively impact your plant’s growth by out-competing them or creating unhealthy conditions.

Once you know how to grow kale, you can experiment with the many varieties available.

Learning which plants grow well together might seem like a bit of a hassle, but planting kale companions is actually quite simple, and you’ll be amazed at the results if you consider them as part of your vegetable garden ideas.

Kale Companion Planting

companion planting of kale with edible flowers

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When thinking about planting kale companions, it’s important to first consider the problems you might encounter when growing kale. The main pests of kale are caterpillars, flea beetles, whiteflies, aphids and, in the United States, harlequin beetles.

There are several types of kale companion plants to grow:

  • Traps: Plants that provide a tasty alternative to kale pests, keeping them away from your plants.
  • Attractants: Plants that attract predator and parasite species that will help control kale pest populations.
  • Repellents: Plants that deter pests with strong odors, or visual confusion.
  • Sociable: Plants that benefit your kale crop in other ways, such as providing shade, ground cover, or simply not getting in the way or competing for nutrients.
  • Nitrogen Fixers: Some plants harbor bacteria in their roots that can help “fix” nitrogen in the soil and put it in a form readily available to kale plants.

“I like to plant ‘trap plants’ around my kale; they are companions that keep pests away from your crop,” says Sally Morgan, author of The Healthy Vegetable Garden.

“Early in the season, sow a row of radishes or green mustard to keep flea beetles away from your young kale plants,” she says.

kale outside in winter how to grow kale

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What grows well next to kale?

There is a good range of plants, including flowers, herbs and other vegetables, that grow well with kale.

Below, we list the best kale companion plants from these three groups.

Side planting of kale – with vegetables

how to plan a vegetable garden with flowers and vegetables together in a raised bed

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There are many popular crops that are good companions for kale that you can include when planning when to plant vegetables.

ONIONS, including spring onions or shallots are ideal for planting kale companions. Onion leaves have a strong odor that will help mask the smell of kale from butterflies, flea beetles and aphids. Butterflies, like white cabbage, lay eggs on kale leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars can eat a kale plant within days. So find out how to grow onions to improve the chances of your kale harvest.

GARLIC is similar to onions, in that it will help deter pests, such as cabbage white moths and cabbage loopers with its strong smell. Perhaps not as potent as onions, growing garlic as a companion plant to kale is always a good choice. As tall, narrow plants, they won’t interfere with the growth of your kale either.

LEEKS are another strong smelling crop for companion planting of kale and will deter butterflies, flea beetles and aphids. Leeks will also be in the ground for the entire growing season. Beware, however, of planting leeks too close to kale, as the latter can grow into very tall plants and crowd out your leeks.

Seedlings of peas

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PEAS are nitrogen fixers, so growing peas for kale companion planting can help provide more nitrogen in the soil. Polka dots also have the added benefit of deterring kale butterflies when allowed to roam amongst them because they create visual confusion, making it less easy for butterflies to identify potential egg-laying sites.

RADISH will act as a trap, keeping flea beetles away from your kale early in the season. A fast growing crop, radishes can be ready to harvest in as little as 6 weeks after planting, so they also work well as an early season crop. They also have the dual benefit of attracting beneficial insects, such as hoverflies, once they have flowered. They will develop a profusion of white flowers appreciated by many beneficial insects including pollinators for your other crops.

Side planting of kale – with herbs

how to grow lemongrass GettyImages-520797269

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If you include herb garden ideas among your vegetable garden plans, consider adding herbs that are useful companion plants for kale.

CITRONELLA will help mask the smell of kale from potential pests and also create a visual distraction with its long leaves. Once you know how to grow lemongrass, you’ll find that it’s also relatively light and won’t compete with your kale for nutrients.

CHIVE are easy to grow, hardy and tasty. They are another strong-smelling herb that will help deter pests from your kale. Chives are also very lightweight and will grow in a wide variety of conditions, so planting chives as a companion plant to kale will give you a good harvest of both.

Anethum graveolens Dill)

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DILL is one of the wonderful aromatic herbs that will add fragrance as well as companion planting benefits.

“Cabbage white moths can be a problem with kale later in the year, so plant fennel or dill nearby as the parasitic wasps love the flowers. You can’t get enough of these predators because they lay their eggs inside the caterpillars,” says Sally Morgan.

Dill also attracts hoverflies, ladybugs and lacewings which precede aphids and whiteflies. Growing dill near your kale will give it a great chance of resisting pest attacks.

Kale companion planting – with flowers

Kale growing next to marigolds in the vegetable patch

(Image credit: Becky Searle)

The flowers not only look lovely sprinkled among your vegetable crops, but they can also be excellent for planting kale companions.

CAPUCINES are a very attractive flower and it is easy to get acquainted with growing nasturtiums. The leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible and add a peppery and colorful touch to a salad. Caterpillars, aphids and flea beetles are all attracted to nasturtiums and often choose to feed on them before feeding on your kale crops, reducing damage. Nasturtiums are also very fast growing and therefore usually able to withstand strong pest attacks.

Worry are another strong-smelling plant that can help deter moths. With their beautiful yellow, orange or red flowers, they are a pleasure to look at and also good for pollinators. Find out when to plant marigolds from seed at home and enjoy the results as they attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies which precede aphids.

SWEET ALYSIS is a low-growing white flower that is ideal for ground cover, which can help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. It has low nutrient requirements, so it’s a good kale companion plant because it won’t compete with your kale. Sweet alyssum is also great for attracting hoverflies that precede aphids.

Harvest of purple sporuting broccoli in a wicker basket

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

What can’t you plant with kale?

There are a number of crops and plants that you should not plant with kale because they compete for soil nutrients or attract unwanted pests, or the kale will inhibit the growth of the other crop. Try to consider both crops when planting kale companions, to maximize yields in your vegetable garden.

Other cauliflowers, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kohlrabi, should not be planted next to kale because they can make it easier for pests to pass from plant to plant. ‘other. This is particularly the case with pests such as caterpillars which are not able to travel long distances; by planting lots of crucifers close to each other, you can just make it easier for them to find food once they have eaten from a plant.

Some varieties of lettuce may actually promote the growth of kale, but many crucifers, including kale, secrete a chemical from their roots that will suppress lettuce sprouting.

Can kale be planted near tomatoes?

Tomatoes are not an undesirable neighbor to plant next to kale, but on the other hand, kale is not good for planting tomato companions. Both are pretty heavy feeders and great plants too. Many gardeners report that their tomatoes don’t like growing with any member of the brassica family.

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