Companion Planting for an Earth-friendly Garden
Your garden is barraged by a multitude of enemies every day: worms, beetles, caterpillars, and aphids to name but a few, and if you’re not careful, they can devastate your garden within days. Whether you have acres of garden or a small patio with a few containers, your plants will still be vulnerable to a range of harmful insects. If you are an organic gardener and don’t wish to use chemical repellents or pesticides, this can be a challenge.
One of the most efficient and earth-friendly ways to keep pests at bay is companion planting. This means planting specific flowers and herbs around your garden to attract beneficial insects while keeping the bad bugs away. Lots of plants and flowers produce chemicals in their roots, flowers and leaves that can repel bad bugs and attract helpful ones. Some may also help enhance the growth and flavor of other plants and vegetables.
The History of Companion Planting
Companion planting is by no means a new idea to the gardening world. Farmers used the same techniques we use today at least a thousand years ago. One example is the Three Sisters planting technique, which was practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. These early farmers domesticated beans, squash and maize, planting them together so that the cornstalks acted as a trellis for the beans and the beans fixed nitrogen, which helped the maize and squash to grow. Another example is the use of mosquito ferns as companion plants for rice in ancient China. The ferns host a type of bacteria which help fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and block plants that would compete with the rice.
Companion planting became a popular part of the organic gardening movement back in the 1970s, where it was encouraged so that different species should be planted together to provide mutual help. This practice ensures that your crops will not become dependent on herbicides and pesticides as is often the case with plants which are separated by species. In many situations companion planting may also help enhance the growth rate and flavor of other types of plants, and help them yield to their full potential. The following plants are well known for their qualities as friendly companion plants, many of them also add color to your garden and flavor to cooking.
Companion Plants and their Virtues
Although many of the recommendations for companion planting are based on old plant lore, oftentimes they work very well. Here are some companion plant matches you can use in your garden to attract beneficial insects and keep pests away, and help with growth.
Basil: This delicious herb that can be used to flavor soups, salads and pasta dishes. It will repel thrips, mosquitoes and black flies. It may also enhance the growth and volume production of tomatoes. Plat it around potatoes and it will deter potato beetles. If you allow some of your Basil to flower, it will also attract beneficial insects like bees and hoverflies.
Bee Balm: Also known as Wild Bergamot, this is colorful flower that can be planted as a companion to any vegetable and will attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, bees and butterflies. It is also edible and makes a great medicinal tea for upset stomachs and sore throats.
Beets: Because beets add minerals to the soil they are a good companion plant for bush beans, broccoli and peppers. Keep them away from pole beans and field mustard as they will stunt each other’s growth.
Borage: This herb makes a loyal companion for strawberries, squash, cabbage, and tomatoes. This is because it deters cabbage worms and hornworms. It also attracts bees and predator wasps. Borage tea is a refreshing drink that can help reduce inflammation.
Catnip: This versatile companion will repel Japanese beetles, flea beetles, weevils, and squash bugs. You can plant it among virtually all fruits and vegetables. Catnip tea is a soothing drink before bedtime as it helps aid restful sleep naturally.
Chives: Chives make great companions to apples, grapes, berries, tomatoes, peas and roses. They improve the growth and flavor of all their companions. They will also repel Japanese beetles and aphids. In the kitchen you can use them in soups and salad and blended with cream cheese.
Coriander: This is a great companion for potatoes because it repels potato beetle. It will also protect leafy vegetables from spider mites. Bring it into the kitchen and use it to flavor salsa, curry and soups.
Dill: Dill is the friend to most vegetables except carrots. It will repel spider mites, aphids and squash bugs and will attract beneficial hoverflies and predatory wasps. Dill will enhance any fish dish and will also ease digestive problems, help maintain insulin levels and alleviate insomnia.
Garlic: Plant garlic among your roses to repel aphids. It should be kept way from peas as it has a tendency to stunt their growth, but is a good companion to cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
Hyssop: Though Hyssop is a member of the mint family, it is not as invasive as peppermint or spearmint. It makes a great companion to cabbage, squash and cucumber where it will deter cabbage moths, flea beetles. This aromatic herb will attract bees and butterflies to your garden. It has been recommended to avoid planting hyssop near radishes, as this may detract from their flavor.
Lettuce: All types of lettuce are good companions to carrots, parsnips, beets, and strawberries. Lettuce will also tenderize radishes. You should keep them away from any vegetable in the cabbage family. Lettuce grows best in soil that stays moist. Adding rice hulls to your soil can help it hold moisture longer.
Marigolds: This vibrant, pungently scented flower has a host of benefits as a companion to your crops. One of its better known uses is as a deterrent for nematode worms which live in all types of soil and feast on plants’ root system. Marigolds will also repel whiteflies from tomatoes and Mexican beetles. The stronger scented marigolds, such as the French and African varieties, also help keep rabbits at bay.
Marjoram: This herb can be panted around any vegetable and it will promote growth. It’s also a good digestive aid and may help to control Type 2 diabetes.
Nasturtiums: This beautiful flower can be planted as a barrier border around cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, cabbage, and fruit bushes. It will repel whiteflies, wooly aphids, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. The leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are all edible.
Rosemary: Rosemary is a perennial herb with woody stems and pungent, needle-shaped leaves. Planted among beans, cabbage and carrots, it will repel carrot flies, cabbage moths and bean beetles. Rosemary also makes a delicious addition to beef and pork dishes and has many health benefits including boosting the immune system and improving digestion. If your rosemary is not thriving your soil may be too acidic. This will also be harmful to your other plants. Amend it by mixing in mushroom compost.
Rue: This herb can be used to protect berries and roses for Japanese beetles. It repels flies and can keep cats from your garden. Also known as the Herb-of-Grace, a mild Rue and water solution can be used to cleanse the skin and rinse the hair.
Sage: Sage is a good companion for cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. It keeps beetles, cabbage moths and black flea beetles at bay. Allowing it to flower will also draw many beneficial insects such as butterflies, bees, and hoverflies.
Turnips and Rutabagas: These are good companions for peas, but you should keep them away from mustard and knotweed, as these two plants will inhibit the growth of the vegetables. Heavy soil can damage these vegetables. You can fix this problem by adding garden hummus or nitro-hummus.
Though companion planting is often thought of as a small-scale organic gardening practice, it can be easily used on a larger-scale. Umbrella planting, in which low growing plants are protected from harsh winds and sunlight by the canopy of taller, leafy plants, is one example. Similarly, plants with shallow roots, interspersed with plants with a deeper rooting system will ensure that water and soil nutrients are more evenly dispersed. Companion planting can help you get the benefit of a full and healthy crop yield with the confidence that you are protecting the Earth.
Here at Kinney Nursery & Topsoil we love to help California gardeners get good results. We carry landscape mulch, bulk soil, top soil and amendments for all your landscaping needs big or small. If you’re uncertain about which amendments your soil need, we can help you work it out. We can also help you brighten up your garden with our wide selection of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses and keep them healthy with our organic fertilizers. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you, help your garden grow.