Companion planting is the equivalent of planning a dinner where feuding relatives have to sit at the same table. One can sit here, but not too close to this one or prepare for a fight that would rival what you’d see on “reality” tv (though there’s no hair pulling in the plant world). Companion planting is confusing, frustrating and oh how I wish I’d thought of it! That’s because it’s also genius. It’s an inexpensive and easy way of using nature to ward off pests, improve soil conditions and help your crops thrive. And while one can’t be expected to remember every single combination, there are a few that stand out.
Garlic, onions and roses
There’s something ironic about the combination of stinky (but yummy) garlic and sweet smelling roses that makes the two a perfect pair. Last fall I planted some garlic and onions amongst two rose bushes to test the theory. Wow! While all my other roses had aphids galore, these were pretty much aphid free. Japanese beetles also neglected to makes themselves at home. I ended up with lovely healthy roses without the help of pesticides or fertilizers, as well as a harvest of garlic and onions. Win-win.
The three sisters
Corn, beans and squash (usually pumpkins) aren’t just a great combination for your Thanksgiving table. Together they make up what’s known as “the three sisters.” According to Iroquois legend, the three balance and aid each other in production. Modern scientific evidence supports this theory. The beans put nitrogen into the soil via their roots, which helps the corn. The beans also climb the corn stalks, stabilizing them from harsh weather. The squash below acts like a natural mulch, helping keep the soil moist and keeping predators from getting to the corn or beans. Renee’s Garden (www.reneesgarden.com) even sells a seed packet with all three, appropriately named
. Native American Three Sisters Garden
Of mints and marigolds
Catnip is a popular member of the mint family that is said to repel flea beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants and weevils. While it can get invasive it will also drive away mice, if the cats it attracts do not get to them first. Marigolds (French and Mexican varieties) are supposedly supposed to ward off bad nematodes (worms). They also help control squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, tomato worms and whiteflies. Nasturtiums help deter many cabbage family and tomato pests. Nasturtium leaves and flowers are also edible and taste great in salads. Another win-win. Common annuals like pansies and petunias, as well as perennials like lavender or geranium can help keep pests in check too.
B.F.F.s and Frenemies in the garden
Sometimes even the vegetable garden is like a high school campus. Some plants will be a carrot’s B.F.F. (best friend forever) and others will act like a frenemie (I don’t make up these words; ask your 12 year old what it means). For example, lettuce and cabbage are not friends. They may look alike, act alike, etc. but they don’t grow well together. Supposedly cabbage influences flavor and inhibits growth. The same goes for corn and tomatoes. The same worm can easily take out both plants, but I’ll confess I planted them together this summer (oops). I just took extra precautions and sprinkled cornmeal around the plants (tomato, corn worms eat this and well…. explode. I know,.. gross.)
Beans don’t get along with onions and garlic. Carrots don’t get along with dill. And don’t get me started on potatoes and tomatoes, which are so particular about who they hang out with I’ve labeled them the divas of the backyard garden. Don’t plant squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, parsnip, sunflowers, raspberries, or turnips near potatoes. And keep dill, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, potatoes and walnut trees away from tomatoes. Good grief. See what I mean?
Anyway, there you have it, a sneak peak into the world of companion planting. While you may experience different results or find certain companions are more fool proof than others, it’s worth a try.