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  • Heather Shannon

Basil and Tomatoes: A Perfect Pair in the Garden

Updated: Mar 23

Freshly harvested tomatoes and basil.
Fresh basil and tomatoes.

Many gardeners find it challenging to resist the temptation to start their seedlings too early. Here in North Idaho (zones 5-6), where our outdoor gardening season is still a ways off, it's important to exercise patience. While early March is a good time to start slow-growing herbs indoors (like rosemary, lavender, and thyme), planting faster-growing herbs this early can lead to overcrowding. Nonetheless, I'm eagerly anticipating the taste of freshly picked tomatoes and basil, and am debating which varieties to grow this year. Basil and tomatoes complement each other in flavor and thrive together in the garden. While we wait for spring to arrive, let's explore the benefits of cultivating basil alongside tomatoes and learn how to create a thriving garden with this pair.

Complementary Growth Habits

Basil and tomatoes have similar growing requirements, making them ideal companions in the garden. Both prefer full sun and well-drained soil with regular watering. Additionally, basil's fragrant leaves can help repel pests that affect tomatoes, such as aphids and whiteflies. By interplanting basil with your tomato plants, you can naturally reduce the risk of pest infestations and promote overall garden health.

Enhanced Flavor

One of the most delightful aspects of pairing basil and tomatoes together is the flavor synergy they create. Many gardeners believe that basil improves tomato fruit production and flavor. The sweet, tangy taste of ripe tomatoes pairs perfectly with the peppery, aromatic notes of fresh basil. Whether making Caprese salad, marinara sauce, or bruschetta, growing basil and tomatoes ensures a burst of flavor in every dish.

Companion Planting Tips

To maximize the benefits of growing basil with tomatoes, consider the following companion planting tips:

  1. Interplanting: When planting your tomato seedlings, tuck basil plants between them, spacing them about 12-18 inches apart. If planted in containers, basil can be planted directly in the same container, or a separate one directly nearby. The proximity will allow the aromatic compounds released by the basil to deter pests from attacking the tomatoes.

  2. Variety Selection: Choose tomato varieties well-suited for companion planting with basil. Indeterminate varieties, such as cherry tomatoes or heirloom varieties, tend to have longer growing seasons and benefit the most from the pest-repelling properties of basil throughout the summer.

  3. Successive Planting: For a continuous harvest of basil and tomatoes, consider successive planting throughout the growing season. This ensures a steady supply of fresh herbs and veggies for culinary delights to be enjoyed all summer.

  4. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, around your basil and tomato plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and maintain soil temperature. Mulching also creates a protective barrier that enhances soil health and encourages beneficial soil organisms.

  5. Planting: If growing from seed, start tomatoes inside 6-7 weeks before warm weather. Whether you're starting tomatoes from seed or purchasing seedlings from a nursery, be sure to harden them off before transplanting outdoors. This slow acclimation will help prevent breakage, sun and wind burn, and shock from sudden weather changes. Basil grows fast and can be started indoors 2-3 weeks before transplanting outdoors, or sown directly into the garden when the soil is warm and dangers of frost have passed.

As you plan your tomato and basil varieties, pair them according to their growing requirements and how you plan to use them.

Beefsteak, roma, and cherry tomatoes are grown for different uses and flavors.
Beefsteak, Roma, and cherry tomatoes.

Determinant tomato varieties are usually a good choice for patio containers, set their fruit early on, and are great for short growing seasons. Indeterminant tomato varieties require sturdy supports, can grow many feet tall, and are a better fit for the garden or greenhouse. Will you be making sauce, elevating a sandwich, or having a salad? Grow what you will most enjoy!

Sweet basil, lemon balis, and thai basil.
Basil: sweet, lemon, and Thai varieties.

There are numerous varieties and uses of basil, so consider them before planting. Growing basil near your tomatoes will help control unwanted pests and each variety will provide different flavors so choose accordingly!

Happy planting and harvesting!


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