Companion planting is an organic gardening practice in which dissimilar crops are planted in very close proximity to one another. It is a central tenant of square foot gardening, which involves planting crops in square foot patches on a grid system. Square foot gardening aims to conserve space – companion planting helps conserve space as well, but also can nourish plants, protect them from disease and pests, and assist in pollination. This makes it one of the most effective ways to maintain a garden organically and minimize the upkeep costs and effort. Not all plants are companion plants. They need to be compatible to have a symbiotic relationship.
Square foot gardening is just one method of companion planting. Another method is called forest gardening, where a garden is designed to mimic a natural, intermixed forest setting, but still produce yields which people find useful. Using companion plants ensures that this man-made ecosystem will positively interact and sustain itself.
What are the benefits of companion planting?
- Conserve space. If you plant incompatible plants closely together, all you will do is crowd them. Companion plants are plants which are natural symbiotes. These plants, in close proximity, benefit each other mutually instead of harm or crowd each other. This gives you the ability to plant very densely. Using square foot gardening techniques which utilize companion planting, you can even plant a garden on an urban rooftop.
- Protection from disease. By staggering like plants and placing companion plants between them, you reduce the likelihood that blight which strikes one plant will strike its fellows. The companion plant, which would be resistant to the strain, would serve as a protective barrier. Companion planting can save your crop, even if you lose one plant.
- Protection from pests. Marigolds, for instance, drive away aphids with their scent. They also attract hoverflies, which predate on aphids. Planting marigolds in close proximity to your crops can keep them safe from aphids. This saves you money since you don’t need to buy pesticides. It is also a completely natural solution, making it ideal for organic gardening.
- Nitrogen-fixation. Some plants fix nitrogen underground, which makes the nitrogen available to the surrounding companion plants.
- Shelter. Companion plants with greater hardiness can be used as a shield to protect more delicate plants from wind or excess sunlight.
- More flavorful vegetables and fruits. Some companion plants can, through sheer proximity, alter the flavor of vegetables and fruits growing nearby.
- Trap cropping. This refers to planting a diversion crop which attracts pests away from other plants. An example of trap cropping is using Nasturtium, which attracts caterpillars away from plants they would tend to harm, like lettuce.
What are some examples of companion plants?
- Good companion plants for brassicas include geraniums, onions, dill, nasturtium, rosemary and borage.
- Good companion plants for beans are eggplant and summer savory.
- Horseradish is a good companion plant for potatoes. It protects them from disease.
- Peas and Beans are companion plants for spinach. They provide shade for the spinach.
- Basil is a companion plant for tomatoes; it can enhance their flavor. Chamomile and anise are companion plants to basil and can enhance basil’s essential oils.
- Garlic attracts a number of pests and can be used to lure them away from your other plants.
Companion planting is an excellent way to save time and money by letting your plants protect each other from disease, pests and the elements. Companion plants can enhance the nutritional value and flavor of neighboring plants. Best of all, information on companion planting is easy to locate, which makes companion planting accessible to anyone.