Ever so often, you come across a gardening concept that teaches you how to make the best out of the limited space you have available. Since organic gardening has grown a lot in popularity over the past decade, people find the idea of planting their own greens a lot more appealing.
The entire concept of companion planting is about transferring the benefits amongst different types of plants, while also taking advantage of whatever free garden corner you have. Companion planting may just be one of the most efficient ways to grow your own stuff. While it may seem complicated at first, there are actually a few ground rules that you need to get a grasp of, and then you’ll learn most of it as you go along.
What Is Companion Planting?
In short, companion planting is all about gardening in an efficient way, by conserving water and space through grouping plants. The ecosystem often gives us great examples of companion planting, especially if you consider natural prairie examples. But when it comes to home gardening, companion planting can take a little bit of thought and planning.
Companion planting is a great idea for people who have limited gardening space, or for those who don’t want to take up too much garden space, but still want to enjoy having beautiful flowers, plants, and herbs that grow harmoniously when grouped together.
Sometimes, companion planting is all about transferring the benefits of growing one particular plant to the other ones around it.
For example, beans are often planted together with carrots or beets, because they produce nitrogen that is useful in growing other legumes. On the other hand, garlic acts as a natural insect repellent, so many people use it in companion planting to keep their other greens protected.
Basil is a natural mosquito repellent, but also a plant that gives flavor to other vegetables.
Pairing Ideas for Companion Planting
Naturally, there are many different combinations that you can try for companion planting. In fact, a lot of farmers and gardening enthusiasts are still experimenting with pairing crops together to see if they can maximise the benefit rendered by each crop individually.
- Cabbage is often threatened by moth larvae, which are known for chewing through the plant’s leaves. Because of that, cabbage can be planted together with tomatoes, which can repel diamondback moth larvae and keep the cabbages safe.
- Flea-beetles can damage collards, so in order to prevent that from happening, you can experiment with planting catnip. According to studies, not only does catnip prevent flea-beetle damage, but it also acts as a natural mosquito repellent.
- One of the major threats for spinach is the leaf miner. Radishes can solve that problem, because their leaves can attract leaf miners away from spinach. Even if they damage radish leaves, the radishes can still be consumed.
- Corn and beans also make a great pair. That’s because there are a lot of small predators that destroy corn crops, and beans can attract beneficial insects that can stop those corn-critters.
- Mint goes great with cabbages as well, because it can repel ants and moths.
- Cauliflower and zinnias go great together. Zinnias will attract ladybugs, which can kill cabbage flies that damage cauliflower crops.
- Tomatoes go great together with dill and basil. The latter two can protect tomato crops from hornworms.
- Roses and garlic is another match made in Heaven, because garlic is a natural bug repellent which can chase away the bugs that destroy rose petals.
- If you want to keep weed growth to a minimum, consider planting a row of lettuce between rows of carrots.
- Calendula makes a great pair for broccoli. Calendula can protect against aphids, because it eliminates a sticky substance that traps them.
DOs & DON’Ts for Companion Planting
The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about a companion planting project is to take maximum advantage of the proximity between plants up to a point where you can fully enjoy the benefits of the process.
Since one of the main goals of companion planting is pest control, it gives organic gardeners a head start. Taking advantage of the relationships between plants is something to look forward to when considering this type of gardening.
There is a huge number of combinations that gardeners have tried over the past years, and we know that this list can be overwhelming, particularly for someone who is just tacking with the idea of starting such a project. That’s why the following list of tips may prove beneficial if you’re not entirely sure where to start:
- Avoid monocultures, so that you can pair plants that provide benefits to one another.
- Mexican marigold is really efficient in keeping pests away, so make sure you plant some here and there in order to keep critters at a distance.
- Those of you that want to plant sun-loving green in the garden should make sure that the taller ones are on the northern side, while the shorter ones are on the southern side. This will keep short plants in the light, and taller ones won’t soak up all the sun.
- Beans should be kept away from chives, onions, or garlic, just like carrots should be planted as further away from dill as possible.
- If you have plants that tolerate shade, you can plant them beneath taller ones.
Companion Planting Techniques
Since companion planting is all about transferring benefits from one plant to the others around it, there are different areas and techniques that you can apply in order to successfully meet your gardening goals.
#1: Pest control
Different plants have a natural property of repelling insects, while others can draw pests to them and keep more important plants safe. For example, when you have onions or garlic in your garden, flying insects will be repelled by the smell, keeping others plant around them insect-free.
But there are other pest control combat methods which, counter intuitively, involve attracting critters. For instance, you can crease a habitat for beneficial insects. Otherwise put, you can attract predatory insects that prey on other bugs which will damage your crops.
Flowers from the Compositae family will naturally attract ladybugs, which prey on crop-harming insects. With this approach, you can provide a bloom sequence that keeps damaging critters away from your garden throughout the entire year.
The other method implies planting a crop that insects are more attracted to, so that they will steer clear of more important plants. In order for this technique to be efficient, you have to make sure that the “trapping” crop surrounds the garden entirely.
#2: Weed control
Insects aren’t the only harmful things that can damage your crops, so watching out for weeds is equally as important in companion planting. In order to do so, it’s best to turn to dense planting, so you won’t give weeds even the least bit of free space for them to spontaneously pop out of the ground. Two techniques are usually applied for weed control:
- Intercropping – which involves planting two crops in the same place at the same time.
- Sequential cropping – which involves planting crops in a sequence, as not to leave any room for weeds to grow.
#3: Disease control
The third and final technique for successful companion planting is making sure you’ve taken the necessary measures to avoid leaving your plants vulnerable to disease. To let you in on a little secret: monocultures are more likely to attract pests, and they are also more vulnerable to crop disease.
Companion Planting Nutrients
Soil is really important when growing pretty much any kind of crop, because plants need their nutrients to thrive and survive. It’s very important for plant to receive nitrogen in order to stay healthy. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are a limited number of plants that can take nitrogen from the air rather than soil (such as clovers, beans, or peas).
But in order to do so, they still need specific soil bacteria, which then shares nitrogen with the legumes. Clovers and vetches are often used as cover crops, mostly because they can give nitrogen to the other plants around them. This opens up a world of possibilities in terms of companion planting.
You can experiment with planting peas and beans in different areas of your garden to make sure that you give other plants better access to nitrogen. Intercropping is a technique that will help you a lot at this point, because the secondary crops can take advantage of the nitrogen supply.
While there’s a lot to be learned about companion planting, there is also a lot of experimenting to be done in this area. When you understand how some plants grow and what type of properties the crops have, you can successfully tweak your garden in order to make sure that all your plants stay healthy.