How Companion Planting Can Profit Your Backyard


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It’s a truth of life that sure issues are infinitely higher when paired collectively: wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, chips and guacamole. However this logic would not apply solely within the kitchen. The concept that sure issues work even higher collectively is your complete ethos of companion planting—a gardening approach that is been employed for lots of of years to make sure more healthy, extra profitable harvests. And sure, you are able to do it at residence.

Companion planting, also called intercropping, refers to planting a number of plant species in shut proximity to impart each crops with advantages. The custom has its roots in a number of cultural traditions from Native American nations, significantly the Iroquois and Cherokee nations, of planting “the three sisters,” or corn, squash, and a climbing bean collectively. “The concept is that the corn offers a number of the preliminary structural help for the beans, then these two mixed present not solely shelter however nitrogen-fixing and vitamins within the soil, then the winter squash is getting some shade and vitamins from these earlier crops whereas it prospers within the fall,” explains Scott Oneto, farm advisor at College of California Cooperative Extension. All three crops assist one another develop, and in flip create a extra bountiful harvest.

“It is this concept that you just’re determining what your drawback is, and then you definately’re seeking to a companion plant [to solve it].”—Haley O’Connor, formal backyard supervisor at Filoli Historic Property & Backyard

From there, a pair books by gardener Louise Riotte popularized companion planting for the lots, Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets and techniques of Companion Planting and Profitable Gardening (printed in 1976) and Roses Love Garlic: Companion Planting and Different Secrets and techniques of Flowers (printed in 1996), in accordance with Haley O’Connor, formal backyard supervisor at Filoli Historic Property & Gardens in Woodside, California. “For millennia, individuals made these superb observations that after they planted one factor subsequent to a different, it both attracted the pest or stored it away from that plant,” she says. “It is this concept that you just’re determining what your drawback is, and then you definately’re seeking to a companion plant [to solve it].”

The advantages of companion planting

Drawback-solving is the ethos of companion planting. The best pairings of companion crops can deal with an entire host of points that may plague any backyard, say each O’Connor and Oneto. For instance, sure crops can entice useful bugs (akin to ladybugs, which eat dangerous pests) and pollinators like bees and butterflies. Others can particularly push back varied insect adversaries. “Companion crops additionally simply confuse the bugs as a result of there are extra selections,” says O’Connor.

You too can use companion planting to create a construction for trailing crops, to supply shade for different crops, or to defend the ground under with a floor cowl. Some combos may take up floor area and stop weeds from rising there, whereas others can create wealthy and nutritious soil after they decompose that helps robust root programs.

Making a backyard with as a lot biodiversity as potential—which is what occurs with companion planting—helps keep away from the problems of a monoculture, that are extra liable to be felled by pests and plant sicknesses, says Cynthia Nations, PhD, a retired training guide and a UC Grasp Gardener in San Mateo/San Francisco Counties in California. Together with crop rotation, or planting crops in numerous areas 12 months to 12 months as a way to disrupt pests and preserve soil wholesome, companion planting helps the backyard grow to be a spot the place every plant will get to contribute its power and have its weaknesses defended. The outcome? More healthy, happier greens and herbs.

In Dr. Nations’ personal backyard in El Granada, California, she used to only plant tomatoes alone, however she lately began planting basil alongside them and has seen advantages when it comes to their yield, well being, and taste. “I’ve have not had any extra hornworms, however my tomatoes are simply nice,” she says.

The fundamental guidelines of companion planting

Understand that a lot of the proof for which companion planting pairs work is anecdotal; totally different gardeners are certain to face by totally different combos. However generally, take into consideration pairings that complement each other. Take strawberries and spinach. Spinach’s broad leaves can cowl strawberry crops to shade and shelter them from pests, and it incorporates a compound that makes it pretty pest-resistant.

Keep away from combos of crops that’ll compete for a similar sources or endure from the identical points, akin to potatoes and peppers (each belonging to the identical plant household, nightshades). Do not interplant crops that want loads of area to unfold their leaves or develop upward, like broccoli and pole beans, as a result of they’re going to stunt one another’s progress.

You additionally wish to keep away from utilizing crops that are inclined to take over wherever they’re planted. For instance, mint’s robust aroma makes it a useful pest deterrent, however Oneto says it tends to take over any backyard mattress it is in, which may hinder different crops. An alternate: Plant it in a separate container close by or in a pot after which bury the pot in your backyard mattress to include the roots, he says.

The simplest method to think about what may go nicely collectively is to contemplate what tastes good collectively, says O’Connor. “Take pico de gallo: when you plant peppers and tomatoes, and onions and garlic all collectively, you are going to have a reasonably pest-free mattress,” she says. One other methodology? Oneto thinks concerning the pest most probably to disturb the plant in query, and crops one thing to immediately counter it.

The perfect starter companion plant combos

A companion planting chart to use to guide your home gardening.
Picture: W+G Artistic

1. Beans + squash + corn

O’Connor calls legumes “the holy grail of companion crops,” as a result of they’re typically immune to pests and might present useful nitrogen fixing that different crops would profit from. “Nitrogen helps crops develop so that you get these massive leafy crops,” she explains. “If you go away [beans] on the bottom after they’re useless and mulch with it, it can actually enhance the soil.” Plant them with the basic Three Sisters pairing of squash and corn—or every other plant that wants shade.

2. Onions or garlic + dill

The allium household (which incorporates onions, garlic, chives, and leeks) is usually a dependable companion plant for many pest-prone greens due to its pure antiseptic properties, says O’Connor. Nonetheless, these crops are usually threatened by sucking bugs like thrips, says Oneto. “They’re a fairly large order of bugs which have an urge for food for nearly the whole lot,” he says. To deal with these pests, plant dill or parsley. In line with Oneto, they “intermix very well with absolutely anything” as a result of their complicated underground root programs are pest resistant and self-sustaining. Additionally they entice varied useful bugs, like ladybugs, which snack on thrips and different pests.

3. Carrots + rosemary or sage

Oneto says carrots are fairly hardy, however are weak to carrot flies—which bore into the guts of carrots and spoil them. Fortunately, aromatic herbs like rosemary and sage can deter these pests with their robust scent.

4. Peppers or eggplants + marigolds

Cousins peppers and eggplants take care of the identical pests: worms and lygus bugs. To assist them thrive, O’Connor and Oneto advocate marigold. “I’ve seen marigolds and a number of the brassicas like arugula used loads for [nightshades],” he says. Marigold attracts useful bugs like ladybugs and inexperienced lacewings, says Oneto, plus parasitic wasps that eat different pests. (Basil and onions can help these crops, too.)

5. Tomatoes + basil

They do not solely style nice collectively in caprese salad—tomatoes and basil are excellent companion crops, says O’Connor. The basil’s aroma repels bugs that wreak havoc on tomato crops akin to thrips and tomato hornworms. This pairing is even thought to enhance the flavour of each. (This is not backed up by research, however O’Connor and Dr. Nations say many gardeners report this anecdotally).

6. Cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli + oregano

In case you’ve ever examined a cabbage leaf and located chunk holes, you’ve got in all probability seen the work of a cabbage looper, certainly one of this household’s major pests. This cruciferous vegetable household additionally has points with beetles and diamondback moths. Fragrant herbs akin to oregano, rosemary, and thyme push back these pets with their perfume. “Cabbage moths actually don’t love nasturtiums, that are additionally simply actually massive and exquisite,” provides O’Connor.

7. Strawberries + spinach + thyme

Strawberries are a standard starter plant for a lot of residence gardeners, however sadly fairly pest-prone; they usually endure from slug, snail, and aphid infestations. Thyme and basil assist with this. Past pest management, leafy greens like spinach give strawberries shade. O’Connor additionally likes pairing the fruit with borage, a small star-shaped flower, which attracts useful pollinators.

8. Squash + marigolds or nasturtiums

O’Connor significantly likes marigolds, geraniums, and nasturtiums as a companion plant for any kind of squash (together with pumpkins and butternut squash) to fight squash bugs. These flowers additionally repel root-knot nematodes, aphids, and varied beetles and flies—widespread pests that afflict squashes.

9. Zucchini + corn + sunflowers

Corn works right here due to the Three Sisters methodology, and sunflowers may also present extra shade that can assist you develop monster zucchinis. Useful flowers entice pest-eating bugs, and nitrogen-fixers like peas and beans make the soil particularly nourishing.

3 ideas for residence gardeners to begin companion planting

1. Begin small

You don’t must have a sprawling backyard plot to make companion planting work. Dr. Nations recommends beginning small with only a couple companion pairs in a mattress or container, like tomato and basil, to see the way it goes. Don’t be concerned an excessive amount of about beginning off a bunch of crops, as a result of then it will get too sophisticated and also you may get discouraged.

2. Hold notes about your progress and progress charges

Among the finest methods to trace your progress in your backyard is to actively take notes on what’s working and what’s not. Dr. Nations makes use of an in-depth spreadsheet, however protecting a working word in your telephone or in a pad of paper to trace while you planted sure seeds and which combos appear to be working and never is all you want. “You must experiment and adapt, and it entails a studying curve,” she says. In case you abruptly discover your strawberries rising plumper, it is useful to have the ability to return and see if planting it alongside dill might be to thank.

3. Begin with a robust soil base

Soil is extremely essential to get crops all of the vitamins they should develop massive and luscious. Begin with top quality soil or potting combine, and add compost. Dr. Nations tried mixing natural cow manure into the soil that sprung her prized tomatoes this 12 months, however you would ask your native backyard heart for ideas for what works finest in your develop zone (seek the advice of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the concepts of what and when to plant the place you reside).

  1. Ali, Ahmad, et al. “Garlic Substrate Induces Cucumber Development Growth and Decreases Fusarium Wilt by Regulation of Soil Microbial Group Construction and Range in Replanted Disturbed Soil.” Worldwide Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020, Accessed 30 Aug. 2023.

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