What is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is a great way to attract the right pollinators whilst keeping enemies at bay. The purpose of companion planting is to keep a natural balance in your garden, saving time and money by grouping plants together which compliment each other. Although the idea has become more prevalent recently it is not new. Nearly 10,000 years ago native Americans grew squash, sweetcorn and beans alongside each other as companion plants. Sweetcorn acts as a frame for the beans to climb; the beans fix nitrogen in the soil which benefits the fertility, and the squash provides shade, helping it to retain moisture and reduce weeds. This creates a homogenous relationship and balance, which is exactly what companion planting achieves.
Why use Companion Planting?
I can endlessly extol on the many benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables in the garden, not least of which is that you can be sure your produce is as organic as possible. However, if you’re not going to use chemicals to control the pesky little critters that want a slice of the action in the vegetable plot you need to think of alternative methods. One way is by growing companion plants.
Some Common Companion Plants
Adding a large variety of plants, flowers and vegetables to grow alongside each other in your garden is the best way to attract pollinators and benefit your garden’s eco system. With the deliberate positioning of strong smelling companion plants you can deter pests. For example, garlic, or any of the allium family, will confuse aphids; rosemary, a lovely evergreen strong smelling herb, deters carrot flies and mint repels flea beetles.
When growing fruit and vegetables it’s vital to attract pollinating insects to increase the chances of a bumper harvest. The best way to do this is by growing some nectar-heavy flowering plants around the edibles. For example sowing seeds of poached egg flowers directly under soft fruits will attract bees, hover flies and other beneficial creatures. A good plant partnership is to grow sweet peas with climbing beans on a wigwam of canes. The sweet peas provide colour and interest to the structure, along with attracting pollinators.
Some annual flowers, such as marigolds and nasturtiums play a big role in companion planting. Bright, bold, and cheerful, nasturtiums are among the easiest to grow and fun for children to see develop. Requiring very little care and attention, these fast-spreading plants put on a summer-long show of vibrant, beautiful flowers. And they’re entirely edible! Every part of the plant, including seeds, leaves, and flowers, has a tasty, distinct flavour. Marigolds, being rich in pollen attract the gardener’s best friends such as ladybirds, a natural predator of aphids. They repel whitefly making them a great companion plant for tomatoes.
Introducing the natural predator/prey cycle into your garden is the perfect way of managing pests. But remember that pests are also part of your garden’s eco system, so don’t aim to eliminate them completely, rather get the balance right and let nature do its work. For other ideas on gardening for wildlife visit our transformation page.