I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there’s an easy way you can reduce pests, boost growth, and even help wildlife. And it all depends on the company your plants keep.
Companion planting is when two plants are grown near each other for the benefit of one of those plants, or both. Companion planting could be as simple as growing flowers near your crops to attract pollinating insects or growing two vegetables alongside each other to confuse or repel pests. Let’s look at a few examples that I intend to use this season.
Using Companion Planting to Reduce Pest Problems
My first companion planting combo should help to tackle the green peach aphid. This aphid – which, despite its name, can colonize more than 400 different plants – is resistant to over 70 pesticides. Its particularly destructive because it transmits more than 100 different plant viruses, which can severely crimp your crop! But there’s one vegetable, above all others, they just can’t stand: garlic.
With this in mind, I’ll be planting garlic around those crops that are most susceptible to attack, for instance by growing potatoes between rows of garlic to serve as pungent bodyguards. I’ll also be saving some to plant alongside my lettuces, together with alyssum to attract aphid-eating hoverflies.
Tomatoes and basil are not just natural companions in the kitchen, they’re best friends in the garden too. Basil repels insects such as thrips and whiteflies, and if you’re in the US, basil has also been shown to disorientate the adult moths which produce tomato hornworms.
As with garlic, there’s loads of research backing up these claims. One study by the folk at Iowa State University found that insect damage on tomatoes was less when basil was grown alongside them. Researchers also found that interplanting tomatoes with basil resulted in less egg-laying by armyworms.
Next up are those plants we can grow to take the brunt of a pest attack so that our more precious crops are left undisturbed. For me, there’s one plant that stands head and shoulders above the rest for this purpose: nasturtium!
Several insects, especially cabbage family-eating caterpillars, just love the mustard oil that nasturtiums produce, so it makes sense to grow nasturtiums close to brassica crops such as kale, cabbage, and broccoli. Nasturtiums often self-seed, resowing themselves from one year to the next, so this is one of those flowers that will pop up here and there – but it’s a welcome sight, believe me!
There are plenty of other flowers well worth including in the vegetable garden. Any nectar-rich flowers will attract pollinators such as bees to the garden, helping to boost the pollination of flowering crop plants like tomatoes, beans, and squash: flowers such as sunny-side-up poached egg plant, ageratum and zinnia. But flowers have benefits beyond attracting pollinators too.
One of the most powerful flowers is tansy. This obliging bloom is a real draw to pest-eating bugs such as ladybugs, predatory wasps, and minute pirate bugs – which plunder not the sea but unsuspecting insect pests! At the same time, tansy repels many of the common baddies – what more could you want? Tansy is a perennial, which means you only have to plant it once for it to provide summer after summer of blooms, so it’s a yes for this flower in my garden! Do be aware though that tansy can be invasive, and is banned for this reason in some areas. It’s often best grown in a container to curb its garden-grabbing tendencies.
Other flowers I’ll be including alongside nasturtiums and tansy in my garden are marigolds and calendula, whose flowers also draw in those pest-hungry beneficial bugs.
Companion Planting Using the Garden Planner
This is all well and good but, honestly, who has the time to research scientifically rigorous companion planting combinations? I know I don’t! Which is one of the reasons I love our Garden Planner. Our team has spent many months – years even – trawling through all of the peer-reviewed research in this area, exhaustively working out what is proven, and what’s not. The result is the Garden Planner’s Evidence-Based Companion Planting feature.
To view suitable companions for your crops, highlight a plant in your plan and then click the Show Companions button. The selection of plants will be filtered to show only those plants that grow especially well with your selected crop. A handy arrow shows which way the benefit runs, or if they’re mutually beneficial.
The Garden Planner takes all the guesswork out of finding perfect companions for your plants. I love the fact someone else has done all the research on all this, so I don’t have to. Lazy? Yeah, so what! Smart? Definitely!
Companion planting is a seriously powerful but, crucially, natural way to turbocharge your garden’s growth, and with this Evidence-Based Companion Planting system I can deploy it with ease! Now tell me, will you be making more of companion planting this year? Let me know in the comments below.