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Kale Companion Plants: Friends For Your Greens

Kale has gained notoriety as a superfood, packed full of nutrients and healthy benefits. Kale can be fun and easy to grow, ranging in size from tall lacinato kale to loosely bunched frizzy varieties. It can be grown in extremely hot and extremely cold environments, making it a universally good plant to grow. Let’s talk more about kale companion planting that will help it grow well.

Companion plants for kale are any plants that grow well near kale. They can provide many benefits, including attracting beneficial pollinators and insects, repelling pests, adding certain nutrients to the soil, encouraging better taste, and providing groundcover and shade. You should strategically choose kale companion plants to provide benefits.

Kale is easygoing and will get along with most plants that are grown near it. Let’s talk more about which plants you should select or avoid placing near your kale!

What Is Companion Planting?

Kale companion plants
Flowers, herbs, and a whole lot of vegetables make good kale companion plants. Source: rocor

Companion planting is more than just old wisdom. Combined with modern science, companion planting can help you strategically place plants in your garden to achieve the most useful results. For example, strongly scented plants like herbs can attract beneficial pollinators or repel harmful pests. Some companion plants release chemicals into the soil that make their neighbors taste better. 

Other plants can be used as companions by serving a purpose, like a groundcover. Plants with a sprawling habit can be used as a groundcover to conserve soil moisture, regulate temperatures, and suppress weeds from germinating. This also allows the vegetables full access to soil nutrients, rather than fighting with weeds. Other taller plants can be used to provide shade for tender plants or to act as a trellis for vining varieties. 

Finally, companion plants can be used as row markers for slower-growing varieties. If you have a slow to germinate corn, you could plant squash in the area to remind yourself that you already planted that bed, so that you don’t accidentally replant it. 

Good Kale Companion Plants

Now let’s talk about which plants make good companion plants for kale!

First, there are herbs that can improve the flavor of kale and protect it from pests. Cilantro is a great kale companion plant because it attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies. Hoverflies prey on pests like aphids, which will eat your kale if left unchecked.  If aphids are a problem on your kale plants, you can also grow sweet alyssum, which is a flower that will grow well and attract hoverflies that will feed on aphids.

Dill and catnip are also excellent kale companion plants because they attract pollinators that increase growth. Dill and catnip will attract beneficial insects that prey on kale pests. Strongly scented herbs like lemongrass can deter pests like tobacco cutworms that will attack kale. Mint, rosemary, and sage are also aromatic herbs that can repel pests when planted near kale. 

Flowers can also be planted as companion plants for kale to provide numerous benefits, and are some of the best companion plants to have in your vegetable garden. Marigolds attract hoverflies and help them find the aphids they feed on, which will keep their populations under control. If cabbage loopers won’t stop eating your kale, grow nasturtium nearby. Nasturtium is a common “trap crop” that many pests find attractive, and its leaves and blooms can be sacrificed instead of your vegetable crops. Hyssop is an excellent pollinator attractor and can attract beneficial insects which will aid in kale’s growth. Strongly scented flowers can also deter pests, which makes them some of the best companion plants to grow in the garden.  

Lacinato kale
Lacinato kale grows large and can help provide shade to other greens. Source: bklynphoto2020

Alliums are some of the best companion plants to grow near kale. The allium family includes plants like garlic, chives, shallots, leeks, and onions. Members of the allium family can deter common pests with their strong scent and the oils they produce, repelling kale pests like flea beetles, cabbage loopers, and aphids. Garlic has many uses in the garden, as well as a variety of health benefits. Garlic will grow well in climates with a cool dormant period, and since kale can become sweeter tasting after frost, pairs well as a kale companion plant. You could also try growing onions near kale, either from seeds or starts. 

Members of the legume family are highly beneficial to grow near kale. This includes pole beans and bush beans. Beans can process nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen in the soil that is readily available to promote growth, including the green leaves that kale is prized for. Since kale is a leafy green and heavy nitrogen feeder, bush and pole beans are an excellent kale companion planting choice. With pole beans, be sure to trellis them in a direction that doesn’t shade your kale. For bush beans, consider the mature height and spacing when placing it near your kale.  Other legumes such as peas and lentils can also fix nitrogen and are beneficial when grown near kale. With peas, keep the same considerations as pole beans in mind, and plan to trellis them in a direction that allows your kale to receive full sun.

Root crops also pair well with kale, since root crops are plants that grow underground, and kale is a leafy green that grows mainly above ground. For example, beets will pair nicely with kale, maximizing your growing space. Radishes can also be grown around kale for a quick and easy harvest that maximizes space and doesn’t crowd the kale plants. 

You might also want to plant companion plants that can provide ground cover near kale, which will prevent weeds from growing, conserve soil moisture, and help regulate the soil temperature from extremes. If you want to plant cover crops near kale, consider buckwheat, which seals in soil moisture, smothers weeds, attracts beneficial insects, and adds nitrogen to the soil. Cucumbers are another excellent groundcover. When left to sprawl across your garden, they will cool the soil and suppress weeds. Other excellent kale companion plants include a variety of tasty vegetables. You can safely plant other leafy greens like lettuce, celery, spinach, or swiss chard, which are all in different families, so they won’t attract the same pests as kale, which is in the Brassicaceae family. 

Peppers won’t compete for nitrogen with kale, so they can make a good companion. Be sure to allow room for the pepper plants to reach full size, and remember that they can become perennials in warmer climates. Potatoes, also members of the nightshade family with peppers, can be good companions for kale, but might not be the best choice overall. You should be careful to make sure that they don’t crowd out kale or strip the soil of its fertility. If you take care of your soil health by adding lots of organic matter, including well aged compost, you should be able to grow these nightshade companions safely near kale. 

Now let’s talk about which plants should be avoided for kale companion planting, and why they could slow the growth or otherwise stunt your kale. 

What Not To Plant With Kale

Curly kale
The ruffled leaves of curly kale grow well with lots of plants. Source: kusine

Avoid planting strawberries near kale or any other member of the brassica family. Strawberries will impede the growth of brassicas, including kale and cabbage. To give your kale the best chance at growing, you will want to keep strawberries several feet away at a minimum. 

Tomatoes are sometimes listed as good companions for kale because they are part of the nightshade family, which are considered suitable companions to kale. Tomatoes grow much larger than other members of the nightshade family, and require significantly more nutrients. Tomatoes can grow to be over 4 feet tall and several feet wide depending on the variety, so they might shade out kale plants in the vegetable garden or severely deplete the soil nutrition. If you want to be safe, you should plant tomatoes further away from kale so they don’t compete for nutrients in the soil, growing space, or even sunlight. 

You should also avoid planting kale near other members of the brassica family. Keep vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and collards away from kale. Brassica plants that grow together encourage pests that attack one plant species to attack the other brassicas as well. These plants won’t harm each other when grown nearby, but try to space them out in the garden to reduce the likelihood of a major pest invasion destroying all of them at once. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you plant kale and broccoli together?

A: Yes, but you should space them as far apart as possible, since they are both members of the brassica family and will attract the same pests. The closer they are to each other, the more you risk a pest infestation hitting more than one vegetable type.

Q: Can lettuce and kale be planted together?

A: Yes! Lettuce are great companion plants for kale that will not compete for nutrients. Kale can even be grown to shade more delicate varieties of lettuce in hotter weather.