When dreaming of an ideal garden, one often imagines a neat and orderly, well-weeded and organized garden, not necessarily an overgrown forest, right? Well…in some ways a forest can set a great example for your garden. Biodiversity is nature’s very organized plan for mixing things up. The wide range of plants and animals found in natural fields and forests can be a model for our gardens in creating a diverse inter-planting of crops called polyculture. The term polyculture
, as defined by Wikipedia, is “agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture,” and is a fancy word for Companion Planting. It will enhance your ability to fend off pests and disease, make the best use of your garden space, protect your soil, and increase yields… and maybe even beauty
Method to your Madness
Companion planting does not necessarily imply a mixed-up mess of a garden. In addition, it does not mean that interplanting any crops will work in your favor either. There is actually a science to all of this, which can lead to a very intricate dance for the experienced companion planter. For the beginner, a few simple guidelines can propel you into a love affair with the polycultural medley of companion gardening:
- Plant a diverse array of crops in wide rows or blocks instead of mono-cropping in single rows;
- Interplant flowers and herbs to attract beneficial birds and insects and fend off the pesky ones; and
- Provide habitat to attract and perpetuate the beneficials.
I have included a chart (see below) from The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
that lists crop types and their time-tested companions, which may help you to organize your efforts. Furthermore, there are a few companion planting rules that I gleaned from the book Great Garden Companions
by Sally Jean Cunningham.
It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
“Choosing plants and grouping them into families
to make garden neighborhoods
” is one of Cunningham’s “favorite parts of companion gardening.” She recommends that you group together crop families from your veggie wish list, from which you can assign their favorite plant friends to interplant. Together these families and friends create neighborhoods. Each year, you can easily rotate each neighborhood to a different location of your garden for the purpose of crop rotation.
The first step is to categorize your crops into families, keeping in mind that plant families can be grouped in many different ways, such as:
Herbs and Flowers Make Great Friends
- Genetically related crops with similar growing needs,
- Crops with similar nutrition requirements,
- Crops that help each other to grow symbiotically, and
- Crops that lure or repel pests from one another.
Once you have grouped your crop families, next you will want to find plant “friends” to interplant among your families, thus a neighborhood is created. In many instances, these garden friends consist of flowers and herbs which provide a wide array of aromas that either attract beneficial insects or repel the pesky ones, while adding splashes of color and visual diversity…and in some instances include living mulches that help protect and build the soil while suppressing the weeds. Examples of different attributes of your garden companions are:
- attracting beneficial insects,
- repelling pests,
- trap crops for luring pests away from your desired harvest,
- weed suppression,
- attracting pollinators,
- providing ground cover, and
- soil building.
While you can’t go wrong with interplanting herbs and flowers among your vegetable crops, some choices are better than others. For example, strong smelling plants like marigolds and basil, while toted as pest repellants, actually serve to confuse pests from finding their desired meal. Flowers in the Aster family attract beneficial insects. Nasturtiums provide a nice habitat for predatory insects. Sweet alyssum can be under-sown as a living mulch among Brassicas. Dill attracts predatory wasps and works well interplanted with Brussels sprouts. Tansy is “the singe best plant for luring beneficial (insects) to the garden and keeping them there,” says Cunningham. For a complete example of Sally Cunningham’s neighborhood planting scheme, you’ll have to get her book, which is, in my opinion, a worthwhile investment for the beginner companion gardener.
The Hospitable Habitat
One of the most important aspects of the companion planting theory is attracting beneficial insects, birds, and reptiles to your garden…and more importantly, keeping them there. All living beings require food, water, and shelter. Aside from the obvious meal (garden pests), benficials love to indulge in pollen and nectar, which will be abundant in your diverse array of veggies, herbs, and flowers. Adding rocks and pebbles to your birdbath will provide a way for insects to access water as well as the birds, or creating “bug-baths” on the ground using pie plates or something of the like. Shelter can be created using hedges, perennials, living mulches, and even rock piles.
There is lots of advice out there for organic gardeners about natural pest control, building organic matter in your soil, attracting pollinators, etc., but companion gardening wraps it all up in a single package. It will allow you to create a symbiotic relationship between your crops, insects, wildlife, and ultimately your dinner plate.
Companion Planting chart from The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, J.I. Rodale
||Companion(s) and Effects
||Tomatoes, parsley, basil
||Tomatoes (improves growth & flavor); said to dislike rue; repels flies & mosquitoes
||Potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage, summer savory, most other veggies & herbs
||Sunflowers (beans like partial shade, unless you live up north, sunflowers attract birds & bees for pollination), cucumbers (combination of heavy and light feeders), potatoes, corn, celery, summer savory
||Tomatoes (improves growth & flavor).
||Tomatoes (attracts bees, deters tomato worm, improves growth & flavor), squash, strawberries
|Cabbage Family (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi)
||Potatoes, celery, dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary, lavender, beets, onions; aromatic plants deter cabbage worms
||Loosens soil; plant here and there
||Peas, lettuce, chives, onions, leeks, rosemary, sage, tomatoes
||Plant in borders; protects against flea beetles
||Leeks, tomatoes, bush beans, cauliflower, cabbage
||Radishes (improves growth & flavor).
||Carrots; plant around base of fruit trees to discourage insects from climbing trunk
||Potatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash
||Beans, corn, peas, radishes, sunflowers
||Potatoes (deters potato bugs)
||Cabbage (improves growth & health), carrots
||Most plants are supposed to dislike it.
||Roses & raspberries (deters Japanese beetle); with herbs to enhance their production of essential oils; plant liberally throughout garden to deter pests
||Potatoes (deters potato beetle); around plum trees to discourage curculios
||Cabbage (deters cabbage moths), grapes; keep away from radishes
||Nutritious edible weeds; allow to grow in modest amounts in the corn
||Onions, celery, carrots
||Here and there in the garden
||The workhorse of pest deterrents; keeps soil free of nematodes; discourages many insects; plant freely throughout the garden.
||Here and there in the garden
||Cabbage family; tomatoes; deters cabbage moth
||Tomatoes, radish, cabbage, cucumbers; plant under fruit trees; deters aphids & pests of curcurbits
||Beets, strawberries, tomato, lettuce (protects against slugs), beans (protects against ants), summer savory
||Squash (when squash follows peas up trellis), plus grows well with almost any vegetable; adds nitrogen to the soil
||Protects beans; beneficial throughout garden
||Horseradish, beans, corn, cabbage, marigold, limas, eggplant (as a trap crop for potato beetle)
||Helps tomato, but plant throughout garden as deterrent to asparagus beetle, tomato worm & many other garden pests
||Peas, nasturtium, lettuce, cucumbers; a general aid in repelling insects
||Carrots, beans, cabbage, sage; deters cabbage moth, bean beetles & carrot fly
||Roses & raspberries; deters Japanese beetle; keep away from basil
||Rosemary, carrots, cabbage, peas, beans; deters some insects
||Grows with anything; helps everything
||Bush beans, spinach, borage, lettuce (as a border)
||Beans, onions; deters bean beetles
||Plant under fruit trees; deters pests of roses & raspberries; deters flying insects, also Japanese beetles, striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs; deters ants
||Good throughout garden
||Here and there in garden; deters cabbage worm
||Chives, onion, parsley, asparagus, marigold, nasturtium, carrot, limas
||Good anywhere in garden
||As a border, keeps animals from the garden
||Plant along borders, near paths, near aromatic herbs; enhances essential oil production of herbs
Thanks for a great article!
more I dig it out the more I get. What is it good for other than a beautiful plant?
Chop 3 large leaves/stalks of comfreyand throw in a blender
Blend it with 1/4 cup of water 9add more if it helps to blend easier)
make a soupy mess and pour into a bowl
Add a handful of flour at a time until the soup mixture becomes possible to handle (more jellied, not drippy) possibly as much as 2 cups of flour.
Spread your poultice mixture 1/4 inch thick over half of cotton cloths and fold over to cover. Place each cloth in a plastic bag and place in freezer. bring out to place over sprains or broken bones for healing reference: learningherbs.com
Thank you so much for the valuable information. Is there a way to get a printed copy of this article. I want to staple it to my journal as a reference. Thanks! Emmanuelle