It’s currently springtime and we’re looking at planting companions around our old grapevine in the backyard. While I’m familiar with a few companions for grapes, I wanted to find out more. So, I did some more digging. Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for grapevines are cover crops, berries, oak trees, and hyssop. In the wild, grapes were often found growing around the trunks of trees, using them as a living trellis and thriving in their partial shade. In vineyards, interplanting with cover crops can reduce or eliminate nutrient depletion.
So, while these are some good companion plants for grapevines, what makes them good companions, and what are some other examples? Let’s take a closer look.
Companion Planting Pro Tips (Before You Start)
Companion planting is selecting specific plants to place together for benefits such as increasing pollination or controlling pests. Sometimes these benefits are one-sided, while others are mutual.
A famous example is The Three Sisters—planting corn, beans, and squash together. The corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb, the squash provides a ground cover, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Plus, all of them provide food!
Here’s how to get the most from companion planting:
- Find your USDA hardiness zone
- Select plants that do well in your zone
- Choose the plants that fit each niche or layer in the graphic above (canopy, understory, herb layer, etc.)
- Plant support species first to establish a microclimate and build the soil. For example, before planting fruit trees, grow nitrogen-fixing trees, shrubs, and flowers. Plant one nitrogen fixer for each productive plant (such as fruit trees or berry bushes).
Now, let’s take a look at the best companion plants, their benefits, and other tips to place them in your garden.
1. Cover Crops
Many legumes (along with some grasses such as annual ryegrass) are also called cover crops as they are fantastic pioneer plants for depleted soils. And since vineyards are often correlated with poor soils, cover crops are a vital companion plant.
For example, Grgich Hills Estate (a vineyard in Napa Valley), says they plant a cover crop in their vineyard each year.
Every year a cover crop is planted in our best vineyards in Napa. A cover crop is comprised of many different plants that are strong in different micro-nutrients that grapevines might need and that the soil might be deprived of after the previous growing season.Grgich Hills Estate
Some examples of cover crops in the legume family are:
- Other beans
On the other hand, some grassy cover crops include annual ryegrass and cereal grasses.
More specifically, other benefits of cover crops include improving soil health by slowing erosion, retaining water, preventing weeds, and controlling pests and diseases. They’ve even been shown to increase crop yields.
For example, in the drought of 2012, corn and soybean farmers reported a 9.6-11.6% yield increase when they used cover crops, likely due in part to the cover crop’s ability to add 50-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.Source
Cover crops (especially the legume varieties) fix nitrogen in the soil by promoting beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil as nitrates for other plants to use (source).
Like comfrey, you can mulch cover crops after growing them for even more nitrogen and other nutrients (as well as reduce evaporation), as many cover crops provide a great source of biomass and food for plants. You can mulch them by mowing or using the chop-and-drop method.
With cover crops such as clover, you can even grow them in-between the grapevines and run livestock through the alleys. Your livestock gets free food, and your grapevines get an amazing fertilizer in the form of manure.
For more about cover crops, check out this resource by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
Mulberries are deciduous fruiting trees that typically grow 30 to 50 feet tall. They prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0 and USDA hardiness zones 4-8 (source). Like most fruiting trees, they can take 2-10 years to fruit (depending on if they’re grown from seed or grafted).
When interplanted with grapes, mulberry trees can provide a living trellis and partial shade for the grapes in the warmer seasons. Their flowers also attract pollinators for grapevines.
While most grapevines are self-pollinating, they still benefit from cross-pollination. This greatly increases their flower and fruit production.
Everbearing mulberries are moderately drought-tolerant and self-fertile. Its fruiting season is typically from June to September. A trick that many gardeners use when mulberries start fruiting is to place a sheet under the tree to catch the berries as they fall.
You can also interplant mulberries with alliums, marigolds, and nasturtium.
3. Berry Bushes
Berry bushes make great companions for grapes as many of them provide bramble to keep away browsing herbivores like deer. Most berries also provide a good understory as part of a food forest (more on this in the next section).
Each type of berry has different characteristics, so keep these in mind when planting.
- Strawberries – makes a great ground cover
- Blueberries – makes a great understory
- Blackberries – makes a good understory and bramble
- Raspberries – makes a good understory and bramble
Strawberries are the only berry on this list that works as a ground cover (as opposed to a bush or bramble). Ground covers are fantastic at reducing evaporation and helping the beneficial soil life thrive. You can think of ground covers as a living mulch.
Remember that blackberries and raspberries are similar in needs and size, so they tend to compete for the same nutrients and water. For this reason, avoid interplanting blackberries and raspberries together.
4. Oak Trees
While oaks can take a while to grow, they’re an amazing choice to use as an overstory companion plant. Not only do they provide partial shade for grapevines (and their soil), but their fallen leaves make a valuable mulch and their roots hold plenty of groundwater.
More specifically, oaks take between 30 to 40 years to grow (source), but don’t let that dissuade you! Oaks are super valuable and their acorns are even used to fatten up pasture-raised pigs.
Since oaks and grapevines both do well in temperate climates, they make a great pairing.
For example, using the above graphic, here’s how a temperate companion plant group could look with grapevines:
- Oak (overstory)
- Elderberry/Mulberry (midstory)
- Blueberry (understory)
- Strawberry (ground cover)
- Grapes (vine)
- Comfrey (in swale)
Along with oak, pine trees are another great choice.
Hyssop is an evergreen flowering shrub that is often used in herbal remedies. This shrub is fairly hardy to most climates, growing in USDA hardiness zones 3-11 (source), which is a nice overlap with the climate for grapes.
Many gardeners mention that hyssop is a great companion plant for grapes as it improves yields in vineyards.
Since hyssop is in the mint family, mint should also make a good companion plant for grapes.
Alongside grapes, interplant hyssop with fruit trees and alliums.
6. Alliums (Garlic, Onions, Chives)
Garlic, chives, and onions are all part of the same family (allium) and, no surprise—they’re more potent-smelling than most plants. More specifically, this is likely due to their naturally occurring sulfur, which is great at repelling pests as well as its use as a natural anti-bacterial and fungicide.
In fact, these plants’ scents are so effective that some deterrents are even made from garlic.
Regarding pests, planting garlic, chives, and onions near your grapevines will help repel aphids, mites, maggots, as well as rabbits and deer (source). This is because their pungent sulfur smell and taste are not appealing to these pests’ strong senses.
It’s believed that the sulfur from these plants also helps prevent some plant diseases to some extent. For example, a common companion plant pairing is interplanting chives near apple trees to prevent scab (source).
However, if fungal or bacterial diseases do take hold, garlic cloves can also be mixed into organic sprays along with neem oil and applied as a treatment.
Garlic, chives, and onion plants also have shallow roots that typically don’t exceed 12-18″, making them a good companion to plant near (or even under) grapevines.
These three plants all do well in both full sun and partial sun. However, if you’re in a warmer climate, consider planting them on the perimeter or underneath your grapevines so they can get a couple hours of relief from the hot sun.
Overall, you can plant any of these onion-family plants with just about any other plant, except for legumes.
Tansy is a perennial flowering herb that’s native to Europe and parts of Asia. This temperate plant grows in slightly acidic soils ranging from 4.8 to 7.5. Since grapevines prefer a soil pH of 5.6 to 7.0, they have quite a bit of overlap in acidic soil.
Like most flowering plants, tansies are great at attracting pollinators, which can increase the fruit yield of grapes and its other companions, as well as minimize fruit drop.
Along with grapevines, interplant tansy with legumes, brassicas, cucumbers, squash, corn, and roses.
When planting, be aware that tansy can become invasive, so consider growing it in pots to discourage it from rapidly spreading in the garden.
Like tansy, yarrow is another temperate flowering perennial, so it grows in similar climates to grapevines. This plant grows up to three feet tall, has plenty of home remedies, and attracts pollinators.
Many gardeners who grow yarrow say that this plant is relatively easy to grow and is generally carefree. While yarrow flowers can grow in partial shade, they can get a bit twiggy. For best results, grow them in full sun and well-draining soil.
Interplant yarrow with grapevines, and other prairie plants such as butterfly milkweed, purple coneflower, and native grasses.
Geraniums are a family of flowering plants that contains over 280 different species. Most geranium varieties are temperate and die down in the winter. However, the species Pelargonium are evergreens native to warmer and tropical climates. These warmer species are fairly heat and drought tolerant.
Most geranium flowers are red, orange, or white. However, there are some variations (such as the pink geranium in the photo above).
These plants have numerous benefits in the garden including repelling pests (and trapping others). For example, geraniums have been known to repel white cabbage butterflies and trap beetles—keeping them away from other plants such as veggies.
Interplant geraniums with crops that are more sensitive to pests like roses, corn, cabbage, and of course—grapes. However, avoid planting grapevines and cabbages together as they can compete.
Many geraniums also have many home uses including potpourri, soaps, and baking (source).
Geraniums are also easily propagated—simply take a branch or cutting and place it in water. Over a short period, it will begin growing roots and can be replanted.
Asparagus is an interesting vegetable as it’s actually a perennial, meaning that one plant can continue living and provide asparagus shoots for 20 years or more. They’re great to plant alongside your grapevines and they thrive in full sun.
Like most plants, asparagus prefers a slightly acidic soil ph between 6.5-6.8.
Strawberries are another companion plant for asparagus, and this duo is well-known and effective in the garden, with popular farmers and homesteaders including Justin Rhodes and Mark Shepard using these two plants together.
The main benefits asparagus provides is it amends soil and of course, provides food. In return, strawberry plants and grapevines provide asparagus with ground cover—reducing evaporation and promoting healthy soil.
Keep in mind that asparagus plants can grow 5-6 feet in diameter and 10-15 feet deep (yes, that’s feet and not inches. Source). When planting asparagus, plant 18 inches apart and in rows 5 feet apart.
Aside from interplanting with strawberries and grapevines, you can also plant asparagus with comfrey and nasturtiums. However, avoid planting asparagus with broccoli and onions.
Which Plants Do Not Grow Well With Grapes?
Generally, avoid planting grapes with other vining plants such as cucumbers. Because they grow similarly, they often compete for water and nutrients and can become tangled.
Additionally, you may want to avoid planting grapevines near black walnut trees as many believe the juglone (a chemical from the roots) may inhibit the grapevine’s growth. However, I’ve heard some gardeners say their grapevines grow around trunks of black walnut trees and do just fine.
If you are concerned about planting black walnut and grapevines together, consider planting mulberry in-between as a neutral plant barrier. It’s said that mulberry trees help filter the juglone in the soil.
Additionally, avoid planting grapevines near radish and cabbage as they can compete.