Did you know plants have families? We didn’t either when we first started gardening. We won’t get into the science too deeply because it really does go on and on…and on. But knowing your plants and who is in what family makes it easier to lay out your garden beds.
Generally speaking you want to plant like minded plants together. Now don’t confuse this with companion planting. While they have some similarities, plant families are more about which plants are related and not just about growing well together.
There are five basic plant families.
While scientifically speaking there are many more than this, we are only going to focus on these plant families to keep it simple. You’ve got your fruit bearing plants, root vegetables, leafy greens, gourds, and legumes. If you read our post on crop rotation you already know a little bit about these groupings.
Let’s talk about the Nightshade family first.
While not many people know them by this name, tomatoes fall into the nightshade family. The plants in this plant family are similar in shape, size and have seed groupings that are similar to one another. Here’s a more scientific rundown if you’re interested. Other plants that fall into the nightshade family are potatoes (both white and sweet), eggplant, and peppers (hot, sweet and bell). Even tobacco falls under the nightshade family, but we haven’t grown that in years! 😉
Next up are the Root Vegetables.
Now this is a very broad plant family. Even within the root vegetables there are a couple of plant families. But for simplicity sake, we are grouping them all together. These plants are primarily your carrots, parsnips, onions, garlic, ginger and celery. Root vegetables grow down in the dirt. While the plant grows above ground the edible part is below the ground. Some might classify potatoes as a root vegetable since they grow in the dirt, but technically because of their biological make-up they are in the nightshade family.
Leafy Greens, also known as Brassicas, contain a host of plants.
Pretty much anything that’s green and edible falls into these plant families. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Chard, Lettuce, Spinach, Collards, Bok Choi are all examples. Again, scientifically speaking lettuce and spinach has its own specific families, but we have grouped them together to keep it simple. Any leafy green is going to be planted together in a bed in your garden. The main difference is the time of year you plant them. Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage are typically a fall/winter crop. Lettuces and spinach are typically a spring crop.
The Gourd plant family contains many of our favorites!
While these are a fruit bearing plant, the vegetables in this plant family are all similar in size, internal structure and seed. Included in this plant family are pumpkins, squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, and watermelons. You’ll notice the one thing these all have in common is that they grow from vines. If you’ve ever had a pumpkin patch in your garden, you know they spread like crazy, so be sure you have plenty of room if you’re growing gourds!
Lastly, Legumes or Beans fall into the same plant family.
These plant families are plants in which we eat the seed. Whether we hull it from the shell or eat it in the pod, that’s what groups these plants together. Common legumes are green beans, butter beans, black eyed peas, pinto beans, and kidney beans. I’m sure you’re starting to get the picture. This plant family is a group that takes little from the soil and gives back to the soil as it grows.
Now that you know more about plant families and how they are linked together, you should understand the dynamics of your garden a bit better. Hopefully, this will help you set up your garden beds and understand why certain plants are planted together and rotated as a grouping. Like we mentioned earlier, this group in no way is extensive, but it’ll get you started!
~Until Next Time,
Question: Which plant families will you be planting this year?