Getting help in the garden from companion plants

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 04:55 PM

Need a few friends to help you harvest more fruits, vegetables and flowers in the garden as well as help with pest control? Want more lovely butterflies and birds to keep you company in the yard? Companion planting is the answer!

 Companion planting is the design of growing two or more plants close together, or in succession, so they provide some form of benefit to each other. These benefits include repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, providing nutrients, and/or supplying shade or support. Every plant - vegetables, herbs, flowers, grasses, and trees - can be a beneficial companion to another plant. Nature naturally works as a polyculture (many different plants growing together), not as a monoculture (one type of plant growing in a group or row) and when we can replicate nature’s methods in our gardens, we don’t need to rely on chemical solutions to manage our plant’s needs and challenges.

 How does companion planting work for pest control and better yields?

Insects looks for particular colors, leaf patterns, odors or tastes to find their bed and board. We make that easy for them when we have large groupings of one type of plant or we plant the same plant in the same place year after year. By adding the right combination of companion plants, in addition to practicing crop rotation, we can hide or mask a crop from pests. By the same token, if we are trying to lure beneficial insects, we can chose plants that attract pollinating and predatory insects to the garden.  Butterflies and birds are also attracted to certain plant combinations.

 Companion planting also includes planting certain crops in one season to benefit crops in following seasons. For instance, at Windcrest Farm we plant a winter cover crop combination of crimson clover and winter rye to help build the soil for next summer’s crop. The crimson clover fixes nitrogen and the winter rye’s deep roots break up the soil, bring minerals to the surface, inhibit weeds and gives us biomass to build the water-holding capacity of the soil. In the summer, we plant buckwheat to attract predators and pollinators to the garden as well as prepare the soil for fall crops.

Native Americans practiced companion planting in the garden long before the arrival of Europeans. Using a technique called “The Three Sisters” that is still used today, corn is planted with beans and squash. The cornstalks serve as a trellis for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the squash spreads along the ground to block sunlight and suppress weeds.

 In our edible gardens, there are helpful companions, and not-so-friendly neighbors, for every type of vegetable. Visit www.WindcrestOrganics.com/CompanionPlants.html for a list of plant combinations for better yields, pest control, and attracting specific beneficial insects, bees and birds.

 Herbs make great companion plants. Consider adding these annual (one season only) and perennial (lives through the winter) herb plants to your garden and landscape border this year:

 

Basil: A must for any garden, border or container planting! Bail is an annual herb that repels aphids, mites, and mosquitoes. Basil also acts as a fungicide, can slow the growth of milkweed bugs, and improves the flavor and growth of tomatoes and lettuce. Basil flowers attract beneficial insects and butterflies. There are many varieties of basil in addition to the traditional sweet Italian. With choices of lemon, lime, cinnamon, Thai, green, purple, variegated and miniature leaf varieties, there is sure to be a basil that fits not only your garden plan, but your culinary plan also.

 

Marigolds: Marigolds flowers deter aphids and attracting hoverflies (a predator of aphids). Both French and Mexican marigolds produce a pesticide-like chemical from their roots (exudates) that is so strong it lasts years after the marigold is gone. However, don’t plant too near herbs as marigolds can inhibit their growth.

Borage: Planted near squash, strawberries and tomatoes, borage repels tomato worms and improves the flavor and growth of its companions. Borage is a striking silver plant producing beautiful blue, edible flowers that make a nice addition to salads. Borage is a self-seeding annual.SNbS

Rosemary: Rosemary is a perennial herb that can be grown as an individual plant or as a hedge around the garden. Rosemary repels bean beetles, cabbage moths, and carrot flies.

Sage: Another perennial herb, sage has beautiful silver leaves and lavender/pink flowers in the spring. Sage invigorates tomato plants and deters cabbage moths and carrot flies.

Thyme: A low-growing perennial herb, thyme loves to be near all garden crops and deters cabbage moths.

Mary Roberts and Ray Tarlton are owners and managers of  Windcrest Farm, a USDA Certified Organic farm and greenhouse in Monroe, NC . Visit www.WindcrestOrganics.com for more information about plants, produce and classes. All photos taken at Windcrest Farm unless otherwise noted.