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Archive for the ‘Companion planting’ Category

Marigold and peppers. Dill and cabbage. Nasturtium and cucumbers. Who needs pesticides or expensive soil amendments when careful matchmaking can do the trick? Companion planting—including plants in your garden that help other plants thrive—is a time-tested practice among indigenous farmers and permaculture gardeners alike, and it’s a low-impact way to grow bountiful vegetables.

Companion planting benefits

  • Chemical-free pest control. Carefully selected plant partners regulate pests by repelling harmful insects, attracting their natural predators, or serving as “trap crops” that provide a tastier alternative to their neighbors.
  • Pollination. The right companion plants attract honeybees and native pollinators, encouraging fertilization and successful seed development for flowering vegetables.
  • Healthier plants. Plants like peas and clover add nutrients to the soil that are especially beneficial to their companions.
  • Shade. Taller plants can provide much-needed heat protection and enhanced humidity for their shorter neighbors.
  • Structure. Large woody plants provide climbing support for “travelers” like cucumbers and beans.

Five perfect veggie partners

Just about every vegetable has at least one companion plant that will help it thrive. Here are five of my favorites.

Borage. If I could have only one companion plant in my vegetable garden, it would be this one. Bees can’t resist its delicate star-shaped blossoms—and neither can I. Borage is one of the best pollinator attractors (hence its “Bee Bread” alias) and benefits most any plant in its vicinity by increasing resistance to disease. Plant borage with tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, or with strawberries to enhance their flavor. Borage is both a treasured medicinal herb and a nutritious addition to your dinner table. Its leaves are rich in vitamin C and calcium (that fuzz dissolves from the leaves when cooked); fresh-picked blossoms have a delicate cucumber flavor and make a gorgeous salad addition.

Sunflower. Did you know that ants herd aphids onto sunflowers, keeping them off neighboring plants? Plant a few, and invite the neighbor kids over for a fascinating natural science lesson. Traditional Cherokee gardens almost always include sunflowers, both for food and to improve the yield of corn. Sunflowers attract pollinators and hummingbirds, provide seeds for birds and humans, shade nearby heat-sensitive plants, and provide a natural trellis for climbing vegetables.

Nasturtium. Nasturtium is one of the best plants for attracting predatory insects that feast on harmful pests, and is a trap crop that lures egg-laying caterpillars away from nearby cabbage. Nasturtium deters a number of unwanted insects, including wooly aphids, whiteflies, and cucumber beetles. Pair it with radishes, tomatoes, brassicas (cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, mustards), and curcubits (melons, cucumbers, gourds), or plant it as a barrier. Nasturtium is reputed to improve the flavor of nearby vegetables, and its leaves, blossoms and seeds are delicious additions to a summer salad.

Marigold. Like borage, marigold is one of those “plant it everywhere” companions that is beneficial to most vegetables, especially especially tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, gourds, squash, broccoli, kale, and cabbage. Marigold’s pungent odor is reputed to deter some insects as well as rabbits and other rodents (I’ll be testing that this year), and the roots produce a pesticidal chemical that is especially useful in deterring nematodes. Use French marigolds (Tagetes potula); the chemical secreted from Mexican marigolds (Tagetes minuta) can be too strong for the roots of some tender young plants.

Dill. The aromatic oils in dill attract beneficial predators and repel harmful pests like aphids, spider mites, cabbage loopers, and squash bugs. Sow dill seed liberally among cabbage and other brassicas, chervil, onion, corn, lettuce, and cucumbers, but keep it away from carrots and tomatoes. While dill can help tomatoes, it will stunt their growth once it matures. Dill is a versatile culinary herb. I plant it among cucumbers and harvest both to make half-sour dill pickles. Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars particularly enjoy dill, and I believe it’s worth a few chomped plants to enjoy their eventual winged beauty in the garden.

Ready to play matchmaker in your garden?

Here are some useful resources:

Garden Toad’s Companion Plant Guide

Gaia’s Garden Companion Planting Guide

Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte

Permaculture principles at work

  • Observe and interact
    (Pay attention )
  •  Obtain a yield
    (Make sure you’re getting valuable results)
  • Integrate rather than segregate
    (Stack functions to capitalize on how things work together)
  • Use and value diversity
    (Diversity leads to greater resilience)


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