Two weeks ago, in a fit of spring fever, I started a couple dozen seedlings. Some kale. Basil. Two kinds of peppers. a couple paste tomatoes. And a half-dozen pots of nasturtium. Or, well, so I thought. Turns out I actually planted a dozen pots of nasturtium. I just also planted some of my tomatoes and peppers in those same pots.

nasturtium seedling planted with pepper seedling

Oops.

But, perhaps this is a happy accident. I’d been starting the nasturtium to plant as companions with my veggies. So, why not save myself some later effort and plant them together now? In fact, why don’t we gardeners do this more often? If certain plants are better together, why not start them together from the beginning? Did I just stumble on a time-saving way to add a splash of color to the vegetable garden?

Now, this won’t work with every companion pairing. Some seeds sprout faster, while others need longer before they can be set outside. And some can’t bear to be planted so close — the shade of a too-tall companion could potentially overwhelm a shorter growing companion that lacks the sprawling growth pattern that might allow it to escape into the sunlight. So, perhaps it wouldn’t work so well to start gem marigolds, with their compact habits, in the same pot as a pepper or tomato that would eventually tower over and around it.

But, nasturtiums started with those same tall plants? That should work just fine, because nasturtium sprawl and roam.

So, I’m choosing to be happy about this mishap. In fact, I may arrange for some more “accidental” companion plantings.

Here are a few combinations I’m considering:

  • nasturtium (especially the long, trailing varieties) with tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant — This heat-loving, fast-growing combo will keep pace with itself, with the nasturtium spreading wider as the tomato, pepper, or eggplant grows taller and casts more shade. Just expect to pot up the combo at least once before transplanting it to the garden, as nasturtium seedlings grow fast and will tangle if you don’t give them some space.
  • pansies with a clump of leeks or onions (grow several leeks or onions together) — both need a long start time before planting out to the garden, both can tolerate some chill, and both do just fine with part-shade growing conditions. If you’re in a hot-summer zone, your pansies may take a “rest” in the summer but will hopefully flower again once fall’s cooler temperatures arrive.
  • petunia with runner beans — This would be a two-part process, as the petunia need a much earlier start than the runner bean. I already have petunia started in small cells. I’ll pot them up about four weeks before the last expected frost date, and will plant a couple runner bean seeds in the larger pot at the same time. The bean-and-petunia combo will be ready for the garden once the danger of frost has passed. The petunia should cover the ground nicely while the bean climbs up up up whatever I give it for climbing upon.

I imagine there are many other possible combinations. The formula seems to be taller plant + sprawling plant with roughly equal transplant needs. Have you tried something like this in your garden? Would you? And, if so, what combinations would you (or did you) plant? Please share in the comments below.

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