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Basil and tomatoes not only taste great together, but growing them together can help fend off aphids.
Marigolds are terrific pest deterrents in the garden.
Q: I was reading some articles on companion planting recently. I think this is something that I really would like to try in my garden this spring. Is this something that you recommend and does it really work? Thank you for being a great resource!
A: I appreciate your kind comment, thank you. Yes, I am a believer in companion gardening. The definition according to Wikipedia is, “Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for any of a number of different reasons, including pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity.”
A particular plant may add needed nutrients to the soil (for example, legumes are known to add nitrogen) or perhaps they may distract pests and/or lure beneficial insects. Others may protect delicate plants from the sun and wind, such as cabbages planted with cucumbers. There are many advantages. Companion gardening has a long history and the ideas of how plants interact have not always been well understood, and that is still the case in many examples today.
The bottom line has always been that certain plants can help other plants. Does companion gardening have a scientific basis? While there has been some work done investigating this area, the majority of the information on this topic comes directly from the experience of gardeners themselves. It is this experience that has been spread by word of mouth for centuries that is the basis of companion gardening.
Companion gardening is very much an organic means of controlling pests as well as increasing the vigour of plants by planting other plants close by. Chemical controls are not used in this method of gardening.
What are the various types of companion gardening?
Trap cropping – Sometimes a neighbouring crop may be selected because it is more attractive to pests and serves to distract them from the main crop. For years, commercial farmers have been planting collard greens around cabbage crops as a means of luring away the diamondback moth. The moth is attracted to the collards, leaving the cabbages alone.
Another good example is using buttercrunch lettuce to lure white cabbage butterflies away from cabbages. In this method one plant is sacrificed for another.
Nitrogen fixation – Legumes — such as peas, beans, and clover — have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen for their own use and for the benefit of neighbouring plants. Forage legumes, for example, are commonly seeded with grasses to reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Likewise, beans are planted with corn.
Natural pest repellent – Some plants give off chemicals from roots or aerial parts that repel pests and protect neighbouring plants. The African marigold, for example, releases thiopene — a nematode repellent — making it a good companion for a number of garden crops as well as reputedly attracting hoverflies which prey upon aphids.
Spatial relationships – Tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total yields. A good example of these relationships is growing cabbages with some cucumber plants nearby. By the time you plant cucumber seeds the cabbages will have a good start. When hot days come, the cucumber vines can ‘hide’ from the hot, wilting sun under the cabbage leaves.
What are some of the common examples of companion planting?
Basil with tomatoes – Said to improve the flavour and growth of tomatoes. Bees love it, aphids and white flies hate it. The added benefit is that basil tastes great when mixed with tomatoes in a salad.
Beans with corn, cucumbers, beets and cabbages – Beans enrich the soil and corn, beets and cabbages are all heavy feeders.
Dill with lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers and onions – Said to improve the growth and flavour of cabbage. Lettuce grows well next to it but keep it away from carrots. The carrots will grow smaller.
Garlic with roses – Garlic can help repel aphids.
Marigolds – Marigolds have an excellent reputation as a pest deterrent, so plant them freely throughout the garden.
Mint with cabbage and tomatoes – Mint repels white cabbage moths, rodents, ants, flea beetles and aphids. It also improves the health of cabbage and tomatoes. Plant in containers, as this plant is invasive.
Nasturtiums – Plant nasturtiums as a barrier around cabbage, tomatoes, fruit trees and cucumbers. They’re good for trapping certain pests such as aphids, as well as deterring whiteflies and cucumber beetles.
Good luck, and happy gardening!
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