Episode #6 of the course Small-scale gardening by Alice Morgan
Good morning! Yesterday, we talked about the different chores that go into growing a healthy and productive garden. Today, I want to talk about the first of many ways that cut down on your garden work: companion planting. Companion planting is when two different kinds of plants are placed near each other for the betterment of both. For instance, did you know that garlic planted next to roses will keep pest insects away and prevent disease in the blooms? There are several categories of companion plants: nitrogen fixers, pollinators, soil aerators, repellers, and mulchers. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Nitrogen fixers are great plants to add to your garden. Growing plants need nitrogen to properly develop and will pull it from the soil as needed. Unless you add nitrogen back, its levels will decrease alongside your plant’s productiveness. Nitrogen-fixing plants add the nutrient back to the soil through a beneficial relationship with microorganisms. Most legumes are nitrogen fixers, including peas, beans, and peanuts.
Pollinators are one of the most important additions to your garden and one where you can be a little creative with your choices. Pollinating companion plants attract butterflies, bees, and even hummingbirds to your garden. These creatures carry the pollen from one plant to another, allowing flowers to develop into fruit and vegetables. Most flowering plants are great choices—the more colorful, the better. Some of your options include bee balm, sage, zinnias, and verbena.
Soil aerators break up the soil in your garden. These plants have deep tap roots that dig into the earth and let water and air penetrate the dirt. Better water and air flow means more nutrients and healthier plants. Comfrey, potatoes, and chicory are all good soil aerators.
Repellers are a wonderful way to cut down on pesticide use in your garden. You’ll want to use lots of these plants if your goal is to keep your produce organic. Repellers contain chemicals that many pest insect dislike and go out of their way to avoid. For instance, marigolds planted near tomatoes will repel flea beetles and attract beneficial insects to the plant. Garlic and onions work well with peas, lettuce, and cucumbers. Rosary is excellent with cabbage, beans, and carrots, and borage with tomatoes and strawberries. A little research will turn up even more repeller combinations.
Mulching plants are dense, leafy greens that grow just above the level of the soil. They hold in moisture and block sunlight from reaching weeds, essentially acting as living mulch. Depending on the companion plant, you may need to clear out a little room for your vegetables. Planting mulchers will lead to much less work weeding your crops. Good mulchers include clover (which is also a pollinator and nitrogen fixer), strawberries, and alyssum.
Some companions plants do particularly well when planted near each other. These plants often aid each other outside of specific companion roles and promote more vigorous growth.
Wrapping up, I want you to take away that companion planting can make your life easier and your garden happier. Tomorrow, we’ll move on to pests, diseases, and what you can do to prevent them both.
An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide for more excellent plant pairings.
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte
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