Companion planting is an age-old agricultural practice that makes a garden thrive when it’s used correctly. By incorporating companion plants into a garden, you provide a well-rounded system of plant life to boost the growth of the space overall. Some of the most interesting examples of these are sweet potato companion plants!
A sweet potato plant is prolific, fun, and easy to grow. You may be thrilled to know there are plenty of companion plants for sweet potatoes. Whether you’re planning your spring garden, or currently growing sweet potatoes, good companion plants will be of great assistance.
Some companions feed nutrients to help sweet potatoes grow, while others provide support for sweet potato’s resistance to insect pests. As you learn about these great companion plants, you further understand what sweet potatoes require to grow. Companion plants seem to have surprising benefits, don’t they?
What Is Companion Planting?
When I think of companion planting, I think of Three Sisters, a Native American regenerative agriculture practice that has been around for centuries. Beans, corn, and squash are planted together in a supportive system of growth. Corn provides a pole for beans to climb. Beans sequester nitrogen in the soil, helping squash and corn grow healthy roots. And squash covers the ground suppressing weeds and improving pest resistance. They all work together to improve the flavor of each.
The Three Sisters example is a simple view of a complex process. Vegetable gardens that have appropriate companion planting have a good harvest. Some companion plants lure pests into what’s called a trap crop leaving other plants to grow. Some pull in beneficial insects that control insect pest populations. Others help improve the flavor of nearby vegetables through the micronutrients they provide to the soil. Ground cover plants block out weeds and promote a steady stream of nutrients to other producers. Taller plants provide shade to part sun lovers, and fast-growing plants mark and border areas telling gardeners where to plant.
Many gardeners plant certain plants with others for any of these reasons. The result is higher yields, and plants that support others’ growth. So, why not include some companions in your sweet potato garden?
Good Sweet Potato Companion Plants
Sweet potatoes are prolific and fun in a garden. Couple them with these companion plants and you’ll not only have more plentiful and tasty sweet potatoes, but you’ll also have more variety in your garden. The sweet potatoes give back to their companion plants as well.
Herbs are great plants for sweet potatoes principally because they enjoy sandy soils. Warm soil-loving herbs are especially good companions for sweet potatoes. Among all aromatic herbs, summer savory is one of the best sweet potato companion plants for staving off the dreaded sweet potato weevil. Summer savory confuses the sweet potato weevil and prevents them from laying eggs within sweet potato tubers and feeding off the orange flesh therein. Savory improves the fertility of surrounding soil as well.
Thyme is another herb that is a great sweet potato companion because it attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies, which feed on aphids that suck sap and nutrients from the leaves of sweet potato vines. Sweet potatoes and thyme are lovely in a dish together too. Thyme is also a great perennial herb that goes well with many other flavors in cooking. If you plant a creeping variety, try to keep it contained so it doesn’t take up too much sweet potato space.
Dill is a great companion plant to many vegetables but it’s an especially good sweet potato companion plant because it repels insects. Not only does dill deter aphids, like thyme, it also keeps spider mites away. Spider mites can be devastating to almost any plant. As a side perk, dill is a host to swallowtail butterflies, which are beneficial pollinators you want in your garden.
Oregano is one of those insect repellant companion plants that also has the bonus of providing cover around your vine. Because it can be quite profuse, use it in borders around the space where you’re growing sweet potato, rather than in the same bed. Let the oregano suppress grass and weeds while your vine thrives.
Onions (green onions included) are an excellent companion plant for sweet potato vines. We can attribute this not only to their compact growth but also to their insect repellant capabilities. Sweet potato pests like the Colorado potato beetle stay away from the signature pungent aroma of onion leaves. Growing other plants in the allium family, like scallions, will provide the same protections.
Chives and spring onions are excellent companion plants for your sweet potato garden. They act as a border between vine patches and deter pests in the process. There aren’t any insects that enjoy munching on spicy allium leaves. Note that alliums will suppress the growth of legumes. So if legumes are another sweet potato companion you choose, plant them away from alliums.
Spinach and small lettuces make a great ground cover for your sweet potato crop. They are a great cover crop, too, staving off erosion in the garden soil. Truly, vegetable gardens are not complete with a healthy amount of greens. More greens means more sweet potatoes, as spinach pulls excess nutrients from the soil that could slow sweet potato vine growth. Lettuce has similar properties, and as a companion plant provides cover, suppressing weeds and building soil biomass.
Great sweet potato companion plants like pole beans are nitrogen-fixing plants. As the sweet potatoes begin to form, they pull nitrogen from the soil. Pole beans are good companion plants because they replace that nitrogen feeding the tubers as you grow sweet potatoes.
Peas do the same. You could plant pole beans and peas in a succession planting style, allowing them to mature and die away, and planting the sweet potato afterward. The mulch left behind by peas nourishes the soil and gives sweet potatoes the nitrogen they need to produce leaves for photosynthesis. Peas can also shield the hot sun from sweet potato leaves that require a little bit of shade to do well.
There are plenty of root vegetables that do well in conjunction with sweet potatoes. Parsnips fill in space around your garden and break up compacted soil. Make sure to grow sweet potatoes near parsnips but not in the same garden. Parsnips too close can inhibit tuber growth. Beets and radishes break up the soil too, and their shallow roots are less likely to disrupt vine and tuber growth. All of these root veggies keep away potato bugs.
Regular potatoes are good companions because they’re an excellent staple food that goes well in almost any dish. Although they do well in the same bed, it may be best to let these two plants grow in separate areas as they’re subject to similar diseases. This frees up space for regular and sweet tubers to thrive.
Horseradish plants are some of the best companion plants for sweet potatoes. They build disease resistance in nearby plants and keep away the potato beetles that eat the light orange flesh of sweet potatoes in infestations. They also have an intense hot flavor that is great in dips and pickles.
In general, flowers are great for attracting beneficial insects and trapping pests. Some even repel pests that can devastate a crop. Marigold is one such flower used extensively in companion planting because of its ability to repel pests. Plant it in borders around your vine with other flowers and herbs. You’ll not only keep away a host of pests (potato beetles, flea beetles, and nematodes), you’ll also add a splash of vibrant color to your garden. They’re great in salads as well.
Nasturtium is one of those good companion plants for sweet potatoes that is also edible. The flowers come in colors of yellow, orange, and pink, and have a nice zesty flavor. In spring, they bring color and pollinators to the garden. They also trap aphids and are good companion plants to many others, not just sweet potatoes. They could serve as a border between your sweet potatoes and regular potatoes.
Sweet alyssum is a good ground cover that attracts beneficial insects. This helper goes after aphids that make gardening difficult for many. So many growers swear by companion planting with alyssum, it’s often used in fruit tree guild designs. It’s a good ground cover plant for suppressing weeds and controlling pests.
Yarrow is a good companion plant for sweet potatoes and humans too! You can plant yarrow to attract lacewings which prey upon aphids, spider mites, and flea beetles. And then you can make tea from its flowers. Include yarrow flowers in arrangements at home, and bring its lovely chamomile-like flavor to cakes and sweet confections.
Corn crops grow tall and shade a sweet potato plant from the intense sun and warm weather that can singe leaves. Interplanting corn in a large bed of sweet potatoes helps provide the dappled shade that will help the vine do well. Another interesting and good companion plant for sweet potatoes is the banana tree. It gives sweet potatoes the shade it needs in higher temps when warm soil can become too hot. Sweet potatoes also act as a ground cover plant for banana trees.
What Not To Plant With Sweet Potatoes
Although sweet potatoes are pretty easy in companion planting practices, there are a few plants to exclude from your sweet potato garden. Sometimes the reason for this is purely structural, where roots tend to interfere with one another. Other times it has to do with biochemical interactions.
Any kind of squash are bad companion plants for sweet potatoes. Summer and winter squash as well as sweet potato vines are profuse and take up a lot of space. Even with one trellised and one trailing on the ground, they’ll compete with one another for nutrients. Sweet potatoes need as much ground as possible, and unless we’re talking about bordering with aromatic herbs, it’s best to stay away from other trailing vines.
Sunflowers aren’t great for sweet potatoes because they encourage potato blight. They also take a lot of root space where sweet potatoes could be growing that supple orange flesh you love so much. Instead of planting sunflowers, try the other flowers mentioned above.
Similar to sunflowers, tomatoes share the same diseases as sweet potatoes (like potato blight) and the two together have a bit of a toxic relationship. They encourage diseases in one another, suppressing growth and proliferation. If you want to grow tomatoes in the same season as sweet potatoes, put them on opposite sides of the garden, or grow one crop in-ground and one in a container away from each other.
Sweet potato plants don’t do well with plants that prefer similar conditions. Pole beans might be great companions for sweet potatoes, but bush beans are not. That’s because bush beans grow a lot like sweet potatoes. Bush beans and sweet potatoes will try to battle it out for space and nutrients, giving you a low yield on all fronts. So if you want to grow beans as companion plants for sweet potatoes, grow pole beans that vine up rather than sprawl out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you plant anything with sweet potatoes?
A: Not necessarily. Because sweet potatoes tend to take up a lot of space, other vining plants may not be suitable companion plants. Check the lists above to see which are best, and which to avoid.
Q: Can you plant tomatoes with sweet potatoes?
A: You can, but you probably don’t want to. Tomatoes can easily transfer disease to your sweet potato vine. Instead, place tomatoes elsewhere in your garden or grow them in a container away from sweet potatoes.