Companion Planting: A Reliable Option or Nonsense?

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Posted by @wildflowers on
So what about Companion Planting? Is it merely folk lore and old wives' tales without any scientific evidence to back it up? Or can you create a beautiful garden that flourishes in rhythm with the natural balance that mother earth has to offer (without the use of pesticides or other harmful chemicals) by using companion planting practices? Maybe some traditions and folklore were created for a reason.

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There's a growing number of organic gardeners today looking for natural ways to grow a successful garden without the use of pesticides or other chemicals that harm us and our environment.  Companion planting can be used to assist in developing a healthy ecosystem that works naturally and brings balance to your overall garden, while adding beauty and harmony to your surroundings.

Throughout the ages gardeners have noticed and spoken of the relationships of certain plants that seem to grow better when planted near another.  Gardeners have been practicing what has been coined as "companion planting" through specific experiences and traditions that have been passed down for generations. I love hearing the stories of days-gone-by and cherish any advise I can get; our ancestors really had a much closer connection to the earth, I think, and knew how to make things grow. 

There are various ways plants can be good companions in the garden.  It's not perfect, and I guess it's not science, but it will allow for a better balance to your garden and landscape. Whatever size garden, or whatever you are growing in your garden, companion planting can be used in a positive way. And if you are growing produce, you will be rewarded with an organic harvest that will likely grow better and taste better.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

There are plenty of pesky insects out there that want to attack, eat or destroy your garden plants.  There's also an army of other insects that are beneficial, either by preying on those pests or pollinating your flowers, fruits and vegetables. Adding perennials that provide nectar and pollen can attract beneficial insects, allowing you to do other things besides worry about the loss of your plants.  Beneficial insects will do all the work when you add the right plants and flowers to attract them.  Small flowering species are good choices as well as umbelliferous plants such as dill.  Yarrow is a good example of a good companion perennial that will attract many beneficials, including ladybirds, hoverflies, and predatory wasps. Yarrow is also known for its ability to improve vigor in neighboring plants.  Ladybugs, like the ladybird above, eat plenty of aphids, and their larvae eat even more!  Special thanks to Janet at BugLife for that wonderful photograph!  You can see lots more great pictures of beneficial insects at BugLife if you check out the daily pictures. 

List of Some Beneficial Insects: Big-eyed Bugs, Damsel Bugs, Hoverflies,  Tachinid Flies, Minute Pirate Bugs, Parasitic mini-wasps, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Ground-beetles.

I just think this is a cute picture of a bumble bee stradling this squash bloom.

Plants that attract bees:  bee balm & wild bergamot, lavender, borage, clover, flowering herbs & veggies

For a list of some companion plants click HERE

 
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CONFUSING AND REPELLING PESTS

There are plants that will keep pests away by confusing them either with their scent or by shapes and colors; such as strong smelling Tagetes that are good at repelling a number of pests, including aphids and whiteflies.  Chives and garlic are rich in volatile oils that also repel insects. Calendula is useful planted at the base of your vegetables because they will draw whiteflies away from the crops, possibly because their flowers are so bright.  Many insects recognize their favorite food plants by smell so growing some very

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aromatic herbs, including mints, sage, or onions nearby can confuse the pests, hindering them from finding their preferred plant. Lemon balm is an example of a strong smelling herb that can confuse or repel pests.

PROVIDING SHELTER, SHADE OR WINDBREAK

In some areas, like here in Texas, the summer heat can be hard on many plants, while others thrive.  Just as you would find in the wild, planting taller sun loving plants around the more vunerable ones can provide the shade they need to survive and thrive. In temperate gardens strong winds can kill off certain plants as they get chilled, especially in the early spring when young plants are beginning to grow.  Other plants such as hedges or trees are a great way to protect and shelter these more vunerable plants, without completely blocking them from sunshine.  This practice is often used in Permaculture when building Guilds. 

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PROVIDING NUTRIENTS

There are a number of plants that will enrich the soil with nutrients that nearby plants can benefit from.  Some of the hardest working plants are called 'green manure' or 'cover crops' that can build up the soil and make nutrients available, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds, help control pests and diseases.  A few really good cover crops are alfalfa, rye, field peas, beans, buckwheat and clover.  Most of these low maintenace plants not only fix the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, but also attract many bees and other beneficial insects.  There are also some deep rooting plants like comfrey that will provide extra nutrients like potassium, phosphorous and calcium for neighboring plants by drawing the nutrients up thru their root system.  Borage is another star with a long taproot that will add potassium, calcium and other nutrients into the soil.  Any plant will benefit growing near borage.

TRAP CROPPING

There are certain plants that can be selected to distract pests from your main crops.  Using these plants that are attractive to pests are considered sacrificial plants, or decoys used to lure pests away from your desirable plants.  Examples of trap cropping: Planting collards to draw the diamond backed moth away from your cabbage or planting dill and lovage to draw the tomato horn worms away from your tomatoes.  Getting to know the pests in your area will help in determining which ones are problems that might need trapping.  Monitor the plants regularly.

CLASSIC COMPANION PLANTING

Long ago, the natives of the Americas planted corn, pole beans and squash together, called 'The Three Sisters'.  The corn provided a living trellis for the pole beans, which the beans climbed.  In return, the beans fixed nitrogen into the soil to nourish the corn.  The squash provided a living mulch and shaded the ground beneath the corn and beans, thereby regulating the soil temperature and conserving soil moisture.  The squash also delivered another benefit by discouraging the mammals from entering into the garden, disliking the prickly spines of the squash vines.  They were all working together in harmony and each one thrived, producing a bountiful harvest.

SOME THINGS I'VE LEARNED ABOUT COMPANION PLANTING

~ Add a variety of flowers to your garden, and the pollinators and beneficial insects will come.

~When dill and carrots are planted next to each other, the carrots are stunted.  Dill and carrots are not good companions!

~Basil and tomatoes grow very well together in the garden; I'm not so surprised about that since they taste great together!

~Borage really attracts the bees and I believe it does deter the tomato hornworm.  This year I found just one single tomato hornworm on a tomato plant, and that was after my borage had died back!  Last year I was forever picking those worms off my tomatoes and peppers.

~It's not a good idea to plant several brassicas together because they will attract the same pests that will proceed to devour all of them!  Next year I will plant more nasturtiums and other companions with my brassicas to see if that helps.

~French marigolds are very compatible with hot peppers in a planter.  The peppers grew like crazy and no pests

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bothered them.

~Marigolds definitely seem to help keep pests away; yet the butterflies visit them often.

~Clover is helpful planted around peach trees, and the tree that had clovers beneath it produced four times the fruit as the one that didn't.

~Roses really do love garlic which effectively keeps black spot and aphids away.

~Herbs are great at attracting bees, butterflies, ladybirds, and other beneficial insects.

~Holy basil is good at masking the smell of other plants growing nearby.

~Flea beetles love eggplant so I need to find a good companion that will keep them away!

~Sage seems to be extra happy this year shaded by taller herbs in the garden.

SOME OLD WIVES TALES AND FOLKLORE

~Plant lavender at your front gate for good luck.

~If you blow a dandelion puff and all of the seeds blow away, your wish will come true.

~Plant squash in May, they run away. Plant squash in June, there will be plenty soon.

~Plant cucumbers on the 6th of July, you will have cucumbers wet or dry.

~Beat your tomato plants with a broom, they will produce best when they are stressed.

~Never plant anything on the 31st of any month.

~If marigolds are bedded among cabbages and other brassicas, whitefly will move to another garden.

~Before planting peas, line the trench with holly leaves to prevent field mice.

~Never plant when the moon is full, light nights bring light crops.

~Harvest all root crops when the moon is growing old and they will keep better and longer.

~Trees can be felled and plants picked more easily if done when the moon is on the wane.

~If you kill a spider indoors, it will bring rain.

~"Gold under thistle, silver under rushes, famine under heath."

~Never thank a person who gifts you with a cutting from a plant or the plant will die.

~If you can find a pregnant woman to plant your garden, everything will thrive.

 

I haven't tried most of these, but hey, if it was good for those before me, I may just give them a try!  I'm looking forward to trying beating my tomato plants to get them to produce more next year! 

 
Comments and discussion:
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Great article! by weeds May 20, 2019 11:10 AM 5
Mountain mint by Lance Jul 26, 2014 7:31 PM 4
Bravo! by chelle Aug 29, 2010 4:18 PM 2
Great article! by Patti1957 Aug 29, 2010 3:34 PM 7
Very encouraging! by JRsbugs Aug 29, 2010 10:36 AM 1



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