Companion Gardening

Companion gardening or sometimes called companion planting, refers to two or more vegetable plant species that support each other to grow healthy, as well as creating a protection against invading garden pests.

There are numerous Websites on the internet offering information on the

benefits of companion planting and how planting specific vegetable plants with other plants create an ideal environment for successful vegetable plant growth. In fact, many Websites include a table of favorable companion plant combinations as well as which vegetable plants shouldn't be planted with each other. There is also a table of which plants work best with each other to ward off garden pests and discourage them from invading your vegetable garden.

Spending most of my life growing vegetables, I can't quite figure out where most of this information came from. Is it folklore, or is it carefully guarded information known only to a few? Then again, perhaps it's a result of trial and error. But when I look at how many vegetable plants are included in some of these Website tables (350 vegetable combinations) that sure is a lot of trial and error, and one would think more than several lifetimes work. Then again, perhaps I'm not the brightest crayon in the box.

Brightest crayon or not, what I can tell you is that over my lifetime of gardening, be it ignorance or innocent bliss, I have had my share of planting (as many of these tables say), plants that shouldn't go together. Yet my outcome was a healthy vegetable crop.

Now that said, by now you may think I'm against the whole idea of companion gardening. No, not really, what I am saying is to use rational thinking to what you hear, read in print, or read on the internet.

Can Companion Gardening Help Your Plants

Yes, companion gardening can benefit your vegetable plants by using proven research developed by The Department of Agriculture or agricultural departments at many Universities.

Most gardeners are not going to be planting all those do's and

dont's one would see in the companion gardening tables of folklore gardening. So, why not decide on the one, two, or three vegetables you plan to grow and look up these companion plant tables and give it a try. Also, do your own experimentation with a few plants (be sure to write down what's going with what) and see how they turn out.  As I said earlier, sometimes ignorance is bliss and like me you may discover a pleasant surprise will greet you at the end of your vegetable gardening season.

Now that said, I suggest you don't take most of these companion plant gardening tables as fact etched in stone.

Before I start with some interesting companion plant gardening combinations, let me conclude my introduction with a piece of information from the agricultural scientific community.

 Author of Pests of the Garden and Small Farm, Mary Louise Flint who is also an Integrated Pest Management Specialist at UC Davis, says "research has consistently show that companion gardening offers no pest control benefits under controlled conditions. Plants that have chemical components themselves that repel pests offer no protection to nearby plants of different species."

Although there is limited scientific "research" regarding companion gardening, many gardening experiments and scientific studies do show a benefit using this technique.

Now that you know the facts, use your own judgement regarding this method of vegetable gardening.

Okay, here is a mixture of what I have learned about companion gardening over the years through my own gardening experience, as well as information I learned from University agricultural departments.

For your interest, there will also be a link or two to some highly respected Websites with tables on companion gardening at the end of this article.

So, what about companion gardening and how do we use this method in our vegetable garden?

Let's start by asking ourselves what we want to achieve by using a companion gardening method?

As any experienced vegetable gardener will tell you, the following titles would just about cause any gardener to jump out of their gardening boots. And, guess what? All this can be accomplished through companion gardening.

  • Reduce Pest Damage and Pesticides
  •  Attracting Beneficial Garden Pests 
  • Provide Nutrients to Other Plants 

Whether we like it or not, vegetable garden pests come with the territory when gardening. As any vegetable gardener will tell you it's a summer long battle and who prevails is usually indicated by the success or lack off at harvest time.

To reduce the use of pesticides as a last resort, many vegetable gardeners use a variety of companion gardening techniques.

Here are my suggestions.

  • Planting Marigolds near your vegetables

    They have a distinctive odor due to a chemical they exude from their roots and flowers that encourage garden pests to wander off hopefully to parts unknown. You can also appreciate the effect of this plant when dead-heading its flowers if you happen to let your fingers pass in the near vicinity of your nose. Marigolds in your vegetable garden don't need a lot of attention and will hold up quite well during the hottest temperature.

  • Mints

    Most all varieties of mints are effective in discouraging garden pests and especially catnip which is particularly effective in repelling aphids, and cabbage worms.

    However, there are a couple of things that you need to know about most mints. They do have a habit of growing out of control and take over your garden space. To prevent this from happening, grow your mints in separate containers or as an alternative, remove both ends of a coffee can then insert in the soil and plant your mints inside. This method will cause the mint roots to grow down rather than out.

  • Sweet Basil

    When grown among vegetables it repels mites, aphids,
    and mosquitoes. Basil also acts as a fungicide and can slow the growth of milkweed bugs.
  • Rue

    Is not common in the vegetable garden but is also very effective deterrent.

    Usually grown as a garden border this plant is quite effective in discouraging  Japanese beetles. 

    When handling this plant be careful  because it may cause a poison ivy-like rash for some people, so wear gloves.

  • Trap Crops

    This is another method of garden pest control where you plant crops such as collards or radish near your vegetables to attract garden pests.

    If you're a lover of collards and radish, choose a different plant or two you're not particularly fond off. As long as pests have a source of food they are not encouraged to wander away and perhaps find your precious vegetable plants.

    When a trap crop plant is heavily infested with garden pests, pull out the plant and throw away. Make sure you have planted enough trap crops for future invading garden pests.

Trap crop suggestions that are quite effective

  • Nasturtiums and radishes

    Work well to attract aphids, flea beetles and other plant

  •  Dill

    Works well for 
    Tomato Hornworms.

  •  Eggplant

    Works well for potato bugs.

An interesting note -There are recent studies that show flying pests are less successful if their host plants are surrounded by a decoy plant or even green plastic, or any other green material, even cardboard.

Most all experienced vegetable gardeners know the value beneficial garden insects contribute in protecting your vegetable garden. In this regard, companion gardening plays an enormous role in attracting and creating a home for these wonderful insects. Do keep in mind the next time you inspect your vegetable garden that less than 1% of insects in your garden are vegetable garden pests.

Although beneficial garden insects do feast on garden pest insects, at some point in their life cycle their feeding is confined to nectar and pollen. You can encourage them to remain in your garden by planting host plants they enjoy such as the flowers or parsley.

What You Need to Provide
To Attract Beneficial Insects

Lowing Growing Plants Act as cover for ground beetles

Thyme, mint, or rosemary - are an excellent choice.

  • Dill, Fennel, Clovers, Queen Anne's Lace

    Are excellent candidates for small wasps. Yes, I know the poor wasp strikes terror in the heart of most people, but the threat to people is largely over blown. You leave them alone and they will leave you alone. The same holds true for other beneficial garden insects such as bees, praying mantids (also known as praying mantis), pirate bugs, and spiders.

  • Chamomile, Daisies, and the mint family (catnip, peppermint, or spearmint)

    Are popular plants for both robber flies, and hover flies. Yes, all good guys in your vegetable garden.

    Other popular plants to attract beneficial garden insects are:

  • Aster, Zinnias, Carraway, Dill, Sweet Cicely, Yarrow, and Cosmos.

     If you devote a section of your vegetable garden to perennial flowers, try growing aster, black-eyed Susan, liatris, and coneflower.

    To sum up, be diverse in your garden planting and think about selecting other plants and flowers from the companion gardening table which I have included at the end of this article. The end result will be your vegetables will thank you as will these wonderful beneficial garden insects.

Companion Gardening
Provides Nutrients to Other Plants

Certain cover crops concentrate specific nutrients in their tissues and release their nutrient in the soil. Potassium levels can be increased significantly by selecting cover crops such as grain, rye, and buckwheat. Plants in the legume family, convert nitrogen from the air in their roots and as they decompose they release stored nitrogen which increases soil fertility. Although, most of these selections are not common for most vegetable gardeners, they are a valuable choice for companion gardening and of course, your plants. As a matter of fact, any cover crop that is plowed under will release nitrogen as the crop decomposes. Hence, this is the origin of the term "green manure."

For the beginner gardening enthusiast, companion gardening may seem like an awful lot of work and somewhat complicated in practice, but don't get discouraged. Don't try to do too much at one time. As with any type of gardening, your learning curve will increase through trial and error. So when you next plant your vegetable garden, try this method with one or two vegetable plants and see how it goes. Do keep notes to remind you what you have done and how it worked out. Now you will be ready to expand your knowledge in coming years.

Companion Gardening link to List of Companion Plants

As always,

Happy Gardening

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