It’s tough to grow a garden.
You put in the right soil and compost. You’re careful in what plants to grow. And you water your garden as required.
All the hard work you put in pays off when you see the beautiful plants growing in the garden.
But then the garden monsters start coming out of the shadows. The harmful pests don’t waste time destroying your precious plants.
You’re thinking about trying out some pesticides to get rid of this problem. You don’t want to use chemicals because we all know how harmful they can be to our garden.
Maybe an organic pesticide? But will that really help get rid of the problem? Isn’t there a better way?
Fortunately, there is a method of planting that can help get rid of pests and diseases. A method that can help attract beneficial insects to your garden. And a method that can help grow more plants in less space and time.
What is companion planting?
It should be obvious from the name that companion planting means growing plants together as companions.
But there’s more to it.
You need to know which plants make good companions to each other. Like, true friends, they support each other and encourage growth.
It’s a method that nature has been using since millions of years to grow a variety of plants together and create a natural ecosystem.
Companion planting can help deter pests, attract beneficial insects, maximize the use of space, control weeds, and increase productivity in your garden.
What are the benefits of companion planting?
Let’s take a look at some reasons why you should use companion planting in your garden.
Makes efficient use of growing space
Most of us have a small garden and that limits the plants we can grow in it. But that changes with the help of companion planting.
You’ll be able to grow several types of plants together in close proximity. And this increases the number of plants you can grow in a limited space.
You can use intercropping where you plant tall sun-loving plants along with shorter plants that need shade. So you get to grow two types of plants in a small space.
You could also use sequential cropping where you grow two or more types of plants that mature at different times. So you could plant radishes along with tomatoes. The radishes will be ready to harvest a lot quicker than the tomatoes. So you get a constant harvest of vegetables than you would just by planting a single type.
Helps control weeds
The benefit of companion planting is that your garden is always full of plants whether you follow intercropping or sequential cropping.
Since there is no empty patch of soil in the garden, weeds won’t be able to take over. And you won’t have to worry about looking out for them every day and trying to get rid of them.
Protects the plants from pests
The problem with planting several plants of the same type is they tend to attract pests that want to feed on them. And once these pests reach one of the plants, they wreak havoc in your entire garden.
This problem is solved with companion planting where you have several types of plants growing together. The pests are unable to reach their favorite plants as easily. Even if they do, the problem will be isolated to one plant instead of an entire batch.
Plants like onions, garlic, and marigold work great in deterring pests from reaching into your garden because of their aroma.
Protects the plants from diseases
Diseases can devastate your garden if you’re not careful.
This is a major problem if you have a garden with the same type of plants. If one of the plants suffers from a disease, there’s a high chance that it spreads to all the plants in your garden.
Companion planting will help isolate the disease to one particular plant so you can take care of the problem or in the worst case get rid of the suffering plant.
There are also plant combinations that avoid diseases in the first place. If you plant beans along with corn, it helps provide nitrogen to the corn and keep the foliage healthy.
Attracts beneficial insects
We all know the benefits of attracting beneficial insects to the garden. They help pollinate your plants as well as get rid of the harmful pests.
But if you plant just one type of plant, it does not good in trying to attract them. That’s where companion planting can help you because you plant a variety of plants in the garden.
You should make sure to include plants that develop flowers with plenty of nectar and pollen to attract bees and butterflies. You should also grow plants that attract beneficial insects that will destroy harmful pests.
It’s good to grow such beneficial plants throughout the year with different periods of blooming to keep attracting the insects as much as possible.
Provides benefits to the plants
Planting different types of plants together helps them thrive as friends.
If you plant legumes like beans along with other crop plants, they help provide important nitrogen to them.
If you use the method of cover cropping, you can till the plants into the soil where they will provide rich organic matter to your crop plants.
Tall plants like tomatoes and peppers can provide protection to shade-loving plants like lettuce. If the plants are strong like corn they can provide support to vining plants like beans. The tall plants can also help protect the smaller ones from heavy wind and rain.
Does companion planting really work?
With so many benefits, can we say that companion planting is the holy grail of gardening?
The answer is yes and no based on what you’re looking for.
If you believe that growing several types of plants together creates a magical relationship between them then there is no scientific evidence for it.
You may see several blogs and websites telling you to plant a specific combination of plants because it helps. But there is no scientific study that has been done with every plant combination you come across.
That’s just anecdotal evidence of some gardeners and we can’t say if it’s true or not.
So does this mean companion planting does not work and you should abandon it? Of course not.
Companion planting does help if you think of it as polyculture where you cultivate several varieties of plants in your garden. This helps you create an ecosystem that is favorable for your plants as we will see.
Does companion planting deter pests?
Monoculture is the gardening method where you grow a batch of a particular type of plant. Studies show that this method tends to attract pests to these plants and damage a lot of them.
The other way to plant is polyculture where you plant several varieties of plants together. This does help deter pests from reaching plants and destroying them.
As this study shows, one way this is possible is that aromatic plants tend to confuse the pests making them unable to find the plants they’re looking for.
Companion planting also makes it harder for the pests to reach the plants they want. And even if they do, they won’t be able to damage all of the plants.
Does companion planting improve flavor?
Some gardeners believe that planting certain kinds of plants together can help improve their flavor. A common example would be planting tomatoes together with basil somehow improves the flavor of the tomatoes. There is no scientific study that shows this to be true so it’s more of a garden myth.
Growing plants together does mean they affect the level of moisture, sunlight, and soil temperature. But it’s at a very small scale and unlikely to cause changes in flavor.
The possible reason why fruits and vegetables from the garden taste better could be because of their variety and the time of harvest.
The fruits and vegetables from the garden have a much better flavor than store-bought ones. That’s because the store-bought ones have been modified to last longer but at the cost of flavor.
Most gardeners will plant heirloom varieties of plants in their garden. These have a much better flavor.
Also, having plants in your garden, means you harvest the fruits and vegetables when you want to. This gives them sufficient time to ripen with the maximum amount of sugar in the produce.
The store-bought fruits and vegetables are harvested when they are raw so they can survive the long transport and last longer on the shelf. But this means they don’t get to develop the sugars they would have on the plant.
So as you can see, the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden have a superior variety and sugar content which enhances their flavor.
Does companion planting attract beneficial insects?
It’s good to attract beneficial insects to your garden. They help get rid of harmful pests from your garden. And pollinators like bees pollinate plants and help grow fruits and vegetables.
The best way to attract beneficial insects to your garden is to have plants that attract them. For the pollinators, this could be plants that develop flowers with plenty of pollen and nectar. You can also grow plants that attract predatory insects to your garden.
This means you can use companion planting to grow several plants that include those that attract beneficial insects and wildlife to your garden.
How to use companion planting in your garden?
There are many books and articles that will tell you how to use companion planting. This involves looking at complex charts of which companions should be grown with which plants to avoid which problems.
But this gets so complicated so fast that you’ll wish you did not start gardening. And the benefits of using such a combination of plants is not even scientifically tested. Rather a lot of it’s based on anecdotal evidence and might not work for you.
Instead, we can do something better if we take a look at the benefits that companion planting intends to provide. And then try to get those benefits in as simple a manner as possible.
The main benefits that we want in our garden include:
- Protecting our plants from pests.
- Attracting beneficial insects to our garden.
- Improving the flavor of the fruits and vegetables we grow.
All of these can be achieved if we make use of the concept of polyculture. This means we will plant several types of plants together in our garden.
It’s different from companion planting in the traditional sense because we won’t worry about the combinations of the plants that are supposed to work well. We just want to have a variety of plants growing in the garden and ideally with different flowering seasons.
Research has shown that such a method of growing plants tends to repel pests because it confuses them from reaching the plants they want to destroy. Even if they reach a plant and start eating it, they won’t be able to spread to other plants in the garden.
The flowering plants will attract beneficial insects that eat the pests. They’ll attract pollinators for the pollen and nectar that these plants provide. And they’ll also attract animals that eat the pests.
We know that planting different types of plants together won’t do much to improve the flavor of the fruits and vegetables. That entirely depends on the variety you grow and the harvest times. But since you have your own garden, you can choose the best variety to grow and pick the produce at the right time to get the best flavor out of them.
Another way to look at this is to consider smart planting instead of companion planting.
There’s no need to stress on which plants do well with which companion plants. Instead, a little bit of common sense when growing plants together can help get the best out of the garden.
We know that herb plants tend to emit scent because of the essential oils they carry. And this scent tends to drive away pests. So it’s a good thing to plant some herbs like dill, basil, coriander, and thyme in your garden along with the other plants as they’ll help deter pests. You could also use plants like onion, chives, or garlic that also have scents that drive away pests.
Another piece of smart planting is to avoid planting tall plants and small plants together in a way that obstructs the sunlight reaching the small plants. You don’t want to plant tall corn along with small spinach where the spinach plants are not getting enough sun they want.
The best thing to do is to plant the tall plants in the north side of the garden and the small plants in the south so all of them get good sunlight.
You also don’t want to plant a large plant like a pumpkin next to a small lettuce plant. That’s because the large plant will overshadow the small one and suffocate it with its vines.
As you can see, companion planting can be useful.
It can help you grow a garden that is free from pests, attracts beneficial insects, and helps your plants grow better.
All you need to do is the right thing. And the right thing is to grow a variety of plants in your garden.
Use companion planting not as magic but as science. And you’ll get all the benefits that are a part of it.