When winter’s biting cold has faded into memory, but home-garden headliners like tomatoes still seem far off, early crops can be a much-appreciated moral boost. As far as these first-on-the-scene producers are concerned, few can compare with freshly ripe, home-grown strawberries. And while a perfectly manicured bed filled exclusively with eager little strawberry plants has a certain storybook appeal, you may be surprised to discover what many strawberry farmers already know: interspersing the patch with a strategically selected — and sometimes smelly — companion can make springtime even better.
Companion planting is the time-honored technique of pairing beneficial plants together and is a natural, chemical-free way to improve the overall health of your garden. While some of these symbiotic combinations are well-known (such as the traditional “three sisters garden” featuring corn, beans and squash, or the classic companionship between marigolds and summer vegetables like tomatoes and peppers) almost all plants can benefit from proximity to appropriate neighbors.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
There’s a reason colleges have students fill out lengthy informational surveys before showing up at the dorm; making good roommate matches is tricky business! And while strawberries and onions might both look friendly at first glance, they don’t always make great neighbors with other plants. For example, the antibacterial secretions from onions adversely affects the nitrogen-fixing bacterial action associated with beans and peas. Similarly, all members of the cabbage family, including broccoli and Brussels sprouts, suffer when planted too close to strawberries, while tomatoes and peppers are notorious for spreading pathogens such as verticillium wilt with strawberries.
The chart below outlines companion planting best-bets when it comes to strawberries and onions:
Companion Planting — Strawberries and Onions*
CompanionsEnemiesAlliesStrawberriesbean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thymecabbageborage, thymeOnionsbeet, cabbage family, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomatobean, peachamomile, summer savory, pigweed, sow thistle
Same Soil. Same Schedule.
Thankfully, strawberries and onions have no adverse effect on each other. They also have similar soil requirements, both benefitting from well-drained soil located in full sun. In addition, similar planting schedules make it possible to prepare the bed all at once. Onion starts and new strawberry plants can both be set out in early spring, or, depending on the climate, put out in the fall for an easy way to make sure you’ve already hit the ground running when spring arrives.
The most important way strawberries and onions help each other is when it comes to pest protection. Even relatively small spring onions are often odorous enough to mask the sweet smells associated with ripe strawberries, helping protect them from critters looking for a juicy treat. Depending on placement, the onion stalks may also help block the otherwise easy-to-spot ripe berries from view.
Lest this look like an entirely one-sided arrangement, strawberry plants can also provide a service to their ally from the allium family. The crisp, fresh flavor characteristic of spring onion greens is best cultivated under relatively cool conditions.
When planted close together, healthy strawberry plants can actually be large enough to help filter the sunlight near tender onion plants, keeping the temperatures a little lower for a little longer without completely cutting them off from needed sunlight.
There are a number of ways to take advantage of spring gardening’s greatest odd-couple. One option is to plant strawberries and onions in alternating rows. Assuming adequate soil drainage, onions can even be planted in the slightly more packed soil between raised strawberry mounds. Another possibility, especially for smaller strawberry patches, is to form an onion perimeter around the edges of the plot. Finally, there’s no reason onions and strawberries can’t be directly interplanted with each other in the same rows for a true patchwork of springtime favorites.
Flavorful spring onions sprinkled on a side salad and thick slices of shortcake dripping with ripe strawberries are springtime rituals. Companion planting the two crops together is an easy way to help both plants thrive and guarantee a great start to the growing season.