Can You Grow Tomatoes and Peppers Together?
Companion planting is always tricky. There are many plants that compliment each other well when grown together. But there are also plants that will cause problems for other plants grown nearby, if planted too close together. So what about Tomatoes and Peppers? Can you grow them next to one another in a successful garden? Organic Gardening expert Logan Hailey examines if planting these two veggies next to one another is a good idea or not.
Thinking of planting and growing some tomatoes together with some peppers in your garden? If so, there are some important things to consider before diving in. Companion planting adds all sorts of symbiotic benefits to garden plants, but it can also cause problems when done incorrectly.
Read on to learn about the pros and cons of planting tomatoes and peppers in the same space. We’ll dig into the details of companion planting and specific crop needs to figure out whether or not these two veggies make good neighbors in the garden.
What is Companion Planting?
Based on the principles of biodiversity and agro-ecology, planting two symbiotic plants together is a practice that has been used for thousands of years. It is also called interplanting. Interplanting has become very popular in organic farming and gardening because it maximizes the diversity and yield of plants in a given space.
The principle is based on natural ecology: you don’t often see a monoculture of just one type of plant growing wild. You see plants growing together and likely helping each other thrive. Certain plants improve each other’s growth when planted together.
Companion planting means less disease and pest pressure for your crops because insects have a harder time finding plants to prey on. More diversity also means more resilience in the garden ecosystem because different plants are attracting different species of beneficial organisms both above and below ground.
Types of Companion Planting
Companion planting is sort of like symbiosis; it’s two organisms working together for the benefit of both, rather than competing for resources. There are a few different types of planting to achieve different goals:
Many flowers like white alyssum are interplanted with garden veggies to attract beneficial insects that prey on pests. These flowers create habitat and food sources for syrphid flies, parasitic wasps, and other “good guy” predators.
If your veggies require pollinators to fruit (most open-pollinated tomatoes, squash, and melons do), you may consider interplanting pollinator-attracting flowers like borage or phacelia.
Maximizing Space and Light
Other symbiotic plantings are based on maximizing space and light. For example, lettuce enjoys a partially shaded environment during peak summer, so you can use the space below tomato plants to grow lettuce that won’t bolt in the summer heat. Lettuce is low-growing and tomatoes are tall, so they make perfect companions without competing for space or nutrients.
This type of interplanting primarily pays attention to the structure of plants. Another example is corn and squash. Corn is tall and lanky, while squash vines close to the ground and tolerates some shade thanks to the broad leaves. These two plants complement each other because of their different dimensions of growth.
Interplanting to Repel Pests
Some herbs like basil and parsley are interplanted with tomatoes to repel pests with their fragrance. Onions and allium-family crops (leeks, shallots, scallions) are also great at repelling pests from garden plants like peppers, beets, brassicas, and lettuce.
Interplanting for Similar Crop Needs
When plants have similar nutrients, water, or growing needs, sometimes it’s just easiest to plant them together. Then you can maintain an entire area of the garden in the same way.
This is where tomato and pepper interplanting comes into play. Both of these crops are nightshades that require lots of nutrients, plenty of water, and full sunlight and heat. This could make them competitors, however, with proper steps, they can also work together.
About the Nightshade Family: Solanaceae
Solanaceae is the nightshade family that consists of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and wild nightshades. These crops are known for loving the heat and hating the cold. Solanaceous crops are typically planted after the last frost when days are reliably above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer 75 to 90 degrees for the flowering and fruiting stages.
They are long-season crops that require many days to mature. Peppers, in particular, take a long time to fully ripen and need care all summer long.
Tomatoes can reliably yield for the full season and typically only need one planting to provide your garden with ripe deliciousness all summer long. But most importantly, these nightshades have very similar soil, pH, nutrient, light, water, and pollinator needs.
In general, when two plants have similar needs or they complement each other’s growing habits, they could be great companion plants. The main benefits of planting peppers and tomatoes together are maximizing yields from a small space, optimizing soil conditions, concentrating water and nutrient needs, and attracting the same pollinators.
Both of these veggies can both be trellised to maximize their yields. In terms of soil, they both like a pH of around 6 or 7 and plenty of fertility. They require a steady supply of water and prefer not to have water on the leaves (drip irrigation or soaker hoses are best).
Their flowers are similar and they both need plenty of pollinators to set fruit. They also work together to create a canopy of leaves that protects fruits from sun-scald.
Where interplanting goes wrong is when plants start to overgrow or compete with each other. For example, if two crops are planted too close together they will both end up unhappy and potentially more susceptible to disease because they don’t have the space, water, and nutrients they need.
It is important to provide enough space for companion plants to thrive. Airflow is also a major factor in success. With plants in the nightshade family, blights, tobacco mosaic virus, fungal diseases, and mildews can take hold in the moist parts of the season. As mentioned above, you should avoid overhead watering because it can encourage pathogens to grow on the leaf surfaces.
For the best success, plant these plants at least 1-2 feet apart and keep up on your pruning. Pruning lower leaves and proper trellising ensure that tomatoes have plenty of airflow. Their pepper companions should be far enough away from the tomato plant to ensure aeration through the leaves.
You may also want to choose disease-resistant seed varieties to ensure that this interplanting does not end up harboring pathogens. Rotate peppers and tomatoes to a different part of the garden each year to keep disease risk at bay.
Should You Companion Plant Peppers and Tomatoes?
Taking the pros and cons into account, planting tomatoes and peppers together is totally fine as long as you take the steps outlined above. In a smaller garden or container garden, even just a few tomato and pepper plants could yield prolifically if they get enough space, water, and nutrients. Here are a few more quick tips for getting the most out of interplanting.
Tips for Growing Peppers and Tomatoes Together
- Provide plenty of space: 12-24 inches between plants and 2-3 feet between rows (for containers, plants can be closer together but they will not grow as large).
- Stake and trellis: don’t let your plants fall over! Use tomato cages, posts, twine, or string trellises.
- Pruning: as the tomatoes grow, remove lower tomato leaves for airflow.
- Fertility: be sure both crops get enough nutrients to thrive, preferably with a diluted liquid fish or kelp amendment every 2 weeks through the main growing season.
- Add other companions: herbs like parsley or low-growing crops like lettuce can be great companions beneath the canopy of both plants.
- Avoid overhead watering: use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to prevent disease from taking hold on leaf surfaces.
Common Mistakes and Easy Fixes
There are a few common mistakes you may encounter when interplanting. But luckily, there are also some pretty easy fixes you can put into place to correct them.
Planting Too Close Together
Nobody wants to be crowded in a small space. Plants will suffer if they don’t have enough space to stretch out their roots and leaves. While seedlings may look small at the time of transplanting, consider how large they will be at full size. When in doubt, space the plants farther apart rather than too close together.
Forgetting to Trellis or Stake
Peppers and tomatoes are both prone to falling over once they are heavy with fruits in late summer. This means it is important to stake or trellis these plants so they don’t end up in a big messy pile. Don’t forget to trellis! Otherwise, you may regret planting these two veggies near each other.
If you avoid pruning, your interplanting can go downhill pretty quickly. Pruning is the process of removing lower stems and leaves for airflow.
Suckering is also very important for tomatoes. Suckers are the tomato side shoots that come out of the “elbows” of the main stalk and side leaves. For maximum yields and minimum disease issues, you should remove suckers throughout the season so that you keep only one or two main “leader” shoots that grow upward and out.
Not Enough Nutrients
Both plants are prolific heavy-feeding plants. You need to amend your soil with high-quality compost and a few doses of organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion throughout the growing season. Peppers can use fertilizers that are similar in balance to tomatoes, which is another reason why these two veggies can grow well together.
If early or late blights begin to take hold on your companion plants, it is best to remove infected leaves right away. Use a diluted neem solution to organically prevent and treat fungal pathogens throughout the season. Remember to keep plenty of airflow between plants with pruning.
Unfortunately, nightshade crops are not immune to pests. The most common is the tomato hornworm (sometimes called the tobacco hornworm) which can harm both of these plants. These are very large caterpillars that are easy to remove if you stay on top of scouting. They can eat entire leaves and fruits in a single day, so it is best to stay on top of them.
When your plants are small, you can cover peppers and tomatoes with a light row cover in the early season to keep the hornworm moths out of your garden and provide additional warmth to the growing seedlings.
Both of these veggies make great companions in the garden and a delicious pair in the kitchen. While there are many veggies that may not make the best companion plants, these two will get along just fine in most gardens. Happy planting!