What is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is key to organic gardening, because it encourages the healthy development of your plants. Certain plants “like” to be planted near one another, while others do not. There are many reasons, but a big one is insects. Many plants have natural substances in their roots, flowers, leaves, etc. that can repel and/or attract insects. But in some situations, they can also work to enhance the growth rate and flavor of other varieties planted around them.
Take the sunflower. Planting sunflowers with corn is said to enhance the flavor. Not only that, but this big yellow beauty attracts aphids like nobody’s business (while not succumbing to the life-sucking critters). Aphids attract ants—ants that like to crawl on your corn. And talk about a good friend, they’re luring ants from your corn, sunflowers also attract hummingbirds—and hummingbirds eat whiteflies. Talk about a good friend—I wouldn’t mind being planted in a field of sunflowers, myself!
Then there’s the hornworm; a plump little ne’re-do-well that is highly attracted to the dill plant not to mention devour a tomato plant in a single day. So planting dill and tomato next to one another is asking for trouble.
Flowers can also be helpful. Geraniums repel red spider mites, horseradish repels potato bugs, but some bugs? They’re “repelled” by certain scents. One of the all around best blooms for this double-duty is the French marigold. Not only does it look pretty, it repels nematodes (microscopic bugs in the soil) and discourages whiteflies, flea beetles and aphids. Speaking of “good scents,” you can use aromatic herbs to prevent pests, too. Ants don’t like peppermint and spearmint, cabbage moths and carrot flies will steer clear of rosemary and the one plant that repels them all (including some people)? Garlic.
Companion Planting Improves Soil
Companion planting isn’t limited to bugs. The Indians used to plant beans around their corn plants, because the beans could use the corn to climb while at the same time, fixing extra nitrogen into the soil for their corn counterpart (who slurps up a lot of nitrogen)! Add a bit of squash to the mix at the base and it will help to shade the soil, preventing weeds from growing. Perfect. Nature in total harmony.
Beets are good for adding minerals to the soil, and because their leaves are composed of 25% magnesium, they add wonderful nutrients to the compost pile. I do so love a multi-tasker. Speaking of which, caraway is good for loosening your soil, something we could all use, since plants like soft beds, not hard—especially carrots. Planting caraway near carrots is a good idea, else you end up with odd-shaped carrots. It also attracts a host of “beneficials” to your garden. (You remember what those are, right?) Radish are amazing wonders. Known as the workhorse of the garden, these beauties repel cucumber beetles, squash bugs, not to mention they’re a good indicator of calcium in the soil. Stringy roots? Get more calcium in your diet!
Companion Planting Chart
Use this companion planting chart by Absolute Astronomy for a detailed listing, then decide “who” needs to be near “whom.”