COMPANION PLANTING:The best way to describe COMPANION PLANTING is that it is based around the concept that certain plants will benefit other plants when planted close to them. The idea being that they provide a form of pest control without the use of sprays.
Companion planting is more beneficial when practiced on a relatively small scale in the home garden.
Large plantings of a single crop over a very large area (known as monoculture) is a virtual paradise for pests and diseases because they have so many plants to feast on. Whereas in an average size home garden by planting a variety of crops and interspersing some companion planting it creates a diversity of different plants which attract a diversity of pests, some good and some bad.
The secret is to attract more of the good pests so they eat the bad ones and to confuse and mask the smell of some vegetables so they do not attract those pests that normally are attracted to a plant through smell.
Some examples ...
By planting French marigolds next to or near cabbages, they “mask” the smell of the cabbage and in so doing it reduces the damage caused by white butterflies.
French marigolds and Calendula planted next to or near tomatoes and roses will also reduce aphid attacks because they will also attract pests that love eating aphids. (Calendula is often referred to as a type of Marigold – it has a flower like a small yellow daisy and it is in fact of the daisy family. French marigolds are those commonly sold in most garden centres and they actually originated in Mexico).
Research is now trending towards the idea that there are a small range of plants that will create a harmonious community effect in your garden much like a close knit community that works together to achieve common objectives.
When it comes to a garden and particularly a vegetable garden the common objective is to maximise yield and produce healthy fruit and vegetables.
Just to complicate matters, just as some plants, like the marigold, attract insects and mask the smell of other vegetables whose smell attracts insects, there are some other plants that grow really well when they are planted together.
So..... what are the companion plants that work best and who are the good guys that will eat the bad guys in your garden?
Well let us look at some of these plants and what they are best at doing.
Chives: Chives like garlic will keep aphids away – believe it or not when planted in clumps amongst the roses they look quite cool and if you don’t want to eat them you can always let them flower.
Garlic: Garlic does what chives do but probably because they have a stronger odour they are a better deterrent although I would rather plant chives amongst the roses than garlic. Garlic and chives can be planted in different parts of the vegetable garden. I would plant garlic close to the tomatoes.
French Marigolds and Calendula: These are the best two companion plants to consider when trying to keep insects away. They are known as the “workhorses of pest deterrents”. A good idea is plant these in pots so you can move them around amongst the vegetables.
You do not need a lot of them so they can be planted at the end and beginning of rows or in between rows. In a raised bed, one or two in the middle of the bed can work wonders.
They are particularly good near cabbages as they tend to confuse the white moths and will minimise the damage caused.
Poppies and Nasturtiums: These are also good especially near roses, in keeping aphids at bay.
Parsley: Another good practical and edible solution in keeping unwanted bugs away.
Here are a couple of plants that actually ATTRACT insects which is exactly what you want.
Sage: Apart from being a really good culinary number (not just for stuffing – try it with veal) its fragrant leaves attract bees as well as repelling carrot fly and cabbage moths – try planting it as a border.
Phacelia: This one is not so well known but it has such good properties we are going to commission a grower to plant some for us so you can get the benefit. It produces a little purple flower loaded with pollen that attracts Hoverflies which will leave their larvae and these will hatch and eat aphids and other insect pests.
Before you plant your vegetables give some thought as to where you can best strategically plant these companion plants BUT before doing so bear in mind that some plants DO NOT GET ON WITH EACH OTHER WHILE OTHERS DO!
There are a number of vegetable plants that get on really with each other and should be planted alongside each other – no one really knows why but these paired plantings seem to help both plants thrive.
Here are some pairings that you may want to try. I call them “Best Mates”:
- Tomato and basil – rather nice together when eaten as well
- Beetroot and lettuce
- Beans and sweet corn – don’t plant garlic, chives and onions near beans – for some reason they do not get on at all
- Rosemary and sage
- Carrots, spring onions and radishes are all quite chatty and love each others company
- Celery and beans is another good combination – beans are obviously a bit flighty as they run with sweet corn as well!
- Cucumbers also grow well with beans as well as celery, lettuce, sweet corn and funny enough sunflowers BUT don’t plant cucumber next to potatoes as they will both turn their toes up!!
(I have just read that thorny vines will keep raccoons away from your sweet corn so if they ever come to New Zealand you will know what to do)
GOOD BUGS: There are three major good bug heroes that we want to encourage into our garden.
Ladybirds – these are not only very useful but they are beautiful as well.
Their entire diet is made up of soft bodied insects such as aphids.
A single ladybird will eat thousands of insects over its 12 month life cycle.
They are such a clever little beetle because when they are threatened they expel a horrible tasting and foul scented yellow liquid that puts spiders and birds right off them – their spots are a reminder to these would be predators to stay well away.
When the ladybirds are nearing their short stay on earth they lay their eggs on the undersides of any leaves of plants that aphids are known to infest so that when the eggs hatch the little babies are hooking straight into a feast of aphids from day one!
Some species of ladybirds also eat certain species of plant attacking fungus.
Preying mantis - you have to feel a little sorry for this carnivore. It lives in the wild for around 12 months and the greatest cause of death is being eaten by the female species after mating! Make no mistake these fellows are terrific hunters – they can spot the slightest movement over 20 metres away.
They eat moths, spiders, flies, butterflies and crickets etc.
They prefer gardens with a wide variety of plants on offer.
Hoverflies – these little critters feed on aphids, leafhoppers and thrips. There are some species whose larvae feed on pollen and nectar.
They get their name by the way they hover over flowering plants.
They are attracted to your garden by parsley so that is another good reason to plant this popular herb. The literature does not specify which variety of parsley but my suggestion is that you should plant both English and Italian varieties.
Summary:The more astute readers may have already determined that there is a lovely symbiotic relationship between plants and bugs in your garden. The relationship is very delicate however and if you can maintain this relationship you will have a happy contented botanical community in your garden, particularly your vegetable garden.
HOWEVER the single most destructive curse you can inflict on this harmonious relationship is to SPRAY using non organic chemicals. If you spray the aphids to kill them then not only will you kill the ladybirds and preying mantis but you will cause these chemicals to leach into the soil and lock up the goodness.
By using organic sprays you will deter the insects from attacking your plants rather than kill them – in other words they will probably migrate to your neighbour’s garden which depending on the relationship will either be a good or a bad thing.
The subject of spraying is a very complex one because there are fungal diseases that are very hard to control without non organic sprays.
I hope to be able to produce an article in the near future on this very topic.
Marigold Botanicus – email@example.com