The secret to building a good plant community is to foster plant relationships between crops. Just like people, plants have friends and enemies. When paired with some plants, specific crops and plant varieties thrive. However, there are cases when plants that are grown near each other do not get along. That’s because plants, like all living things, compete for food, space, and resources!
What is Companion Planting?
Specific plants benefit from some varieties of plants. Companion planting is an agricultural strategy that involves pairing friendly plants together for higher yield or for pest control. Certain crops need a helper plant to thrive. For instance, grains are often grown alongside legumes as nurse crops. The grains provide weed control while the legumes protect the grains from harsh weather conditions.
Most people think that companion planting is reserved for fruit-bearing plants but flowering plants could also benefit from this farming method. You can apply companion planting in small gardens and in full-scale fields!
On the flip side, some plants tend to wreak havoc on other plants. There are plants that grow too quickly, which could overwhelm nearby plants. Others secrete toxins that are harmful to neighboring plants. By knowing which plants complement your crops, you can build a thriving plant community right in your own garden!
Three Sister Planting
The Three Sister is a planting strategy that exemplifies the benefits of plant relationships. This planting strategy involves growing corn, beans, and squash in close proximity. The beans could climb the growing corn stalks while the squash prevents weed growth. The beans rebalance the nitrogen in the soil, allowing the corn and squash to grow healthily.
Benefits of Companion Planting
Better Protection from the Elements
Some plants work as a natural defense against harsh weather conditions. Legumes, for instance, could ease the weight of snow on grains or minimize the impact of harsh wind. Some plants have wide foliage that works as a barrier to minimize heat and light exposure. By planting tougher plants alongside delicate crops, you can minimize die-offs and increase your crops’ yield.
Save More Garden Space
Every gardener worth his salt wants to grow a diverse collection of plants. Implementing companion planting helps maximize space, something that will be useful for small gardens. This strategy usually involves planting taller plants alongside shorter plants, which saves you more garden space. You can also grow crops in between rows of slow-growing plants. By pairing crops with slow growing plants, you can harvest more crops throughout the growing season!
Retains Soil Moisture
Growing more plants reduce water evaporation because the plant foliage protects the ground from sun exposure. Companion planting helps keep the soil nice and moist longer because you are able to maximize more space in your garden. Climbing and trailing plants, in particular, work so great in shading the soil. If you live in a dry region where rain is rare and droughts are frequent, your garden will benefit from companion gardening.
Prevents Soil Erosion
If your garden is prone to soil erosion, planting complementing varieties of crops will prove to be supremely beneficial to your outdoor landscape. Companion planting allows you to grow more varieties of plants, plants with complex root systems that will hold the soil and reduce erosion. In addition, companion planting shades the soil, which minimizes moisture loss and reduces the risk of erosion. Companion planting is highly recommended for gardens situated in dry, drought-prone regions.
Protects from Weed Growth
That’s right, companion planting keeps the weeds out of your garden! The Three Sisters planting method demonstrates how the vining squash kept the weeds from growing and overwhelming the garden. That’s because the climbing crop blocks sunlight from the soil, causing growing weeds to die. The added shade from taller plants could also block sunlight and inhibit weed growth!
Protection from Infestations
The traditional monoculture garden layout is more prone to infestations. This layout gives the pests solid patches of their favorite food with no barriers that could keep these critters from snacking on your crops. The same thing cannot be said with the companion planting method. Growing plants that could deter certain pests reduces, if not prevents, infestations completely.
For example, planting wormwood among cabbages and other green leafy crops deter cabbage moths. Marigold can be grown to inhibit the spread of Mexican bean beetles. Planting basil and tomatoes side by side deter whiteflies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles.
Protection from Diseases
Diseases spread more quickly when the same varieties of plants are grown so closely together. By introducing different varieties of plants, you can break up your garden and make the plants resistant to diseases. In addition, companion planting could also slow down the spread of diseases. Although science has yet to define how plants interact with each other, most plants become healthier when they are grown alongside different species of plants.
Citing the three sister planting method, the corn and squash become more resistant to diseases because the beans are boosting the nitrogen in the soil. Growing basil alongside tomatoes makes the latter resistant to bugs, which increases the yield. Some plants could also attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden! If a garden has a great collection of flowering plants, crops, and shrubs, pollinators will have more food and shelter.
Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and some plants take nitrogen from the air rather than the soil. All types of legumes, for example, have the ability to take nitrogen from the air with the help of certain soil microbes. In turn, the legumes would share the oxygen supplied by the air into other plants. This is the reason why clovers and vetches are used as cover crops.
You can maximize legumes’ ability to get nitrogen from the air by growing them in different areas of the garden. This strategy helps improve the nutrient profile of the soil. Intercropping beans with other vegetables could also boost plant health and improve yield. Using legumes as a cover crop during the winter season also gives the soil a boost of nitrogen with plenty of green compost come springtime!
Some plants tend to have softer stems or delicate roots that need more protection from the elements. Shade tolerant plants like lettuce, for instance, need protection from taller, sun-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. Sturdy bushes could protect young bush beans from the wind. A tall plant works as a support for smaller, weaker plants. Tall plants could also serve as a pole for climbing plants.
Examples of Plants to Grow Side by Side
Nasturtium and Cucumber
Nasturtiums emit a unique scent that repels garden pests while attracting beneficial insects. The nasturtium blooms add texture and color to your garden setup too.
Melons, Squash and Flowering Herbs
Flowering herbs like fennel, parsley, and dill attract pollinators. Grown together with melons and squash, these flowering herbs help increase the season's yield while boosting plant health!
Calendula and Broccoli
Calendula flowers secrete a sticky substance that lures and traps aphids. Planting calendula near broccoli and other green leafy vegetables minimize aphid infestation while attracting ladybugs, which prey on aphids.
Lettuce, Tomatoes, and Eggplants
Tomatoes and eggplants grow tall, which add shade to delicate, low-lying plants like lettuces. Lettuces tend to burn when exposed to direct sunlight. By adding shade, you can extend your lettuce season. The shade also cools the soil, promoting better plant root growth.
Roses and Chives
Chives emit a strong scent that repels a variety of nibbling insects that feast on roses. Growing chives and roses side by side protect the flowering plants from pests while also extending their blooming season!
To discover more plants you can grow together, our friends over at First Tunnel have a comprehensive list you can get started with.