Companion Planting, in the simplest terms is the practice of planting one variety of plant in close proximity to another kind of plant for a specific purpose. Companion Planting has been called other things too, such as intercropping, companionate planting, interplanting, combination planting, co-cropping, and nurse-cropping. All very colorful terms, right? But what does it REALLY mean for your gardening? What does it accomplish?
Well, you’re in luck. Companion planting is one of my favorite topics. I think it’s fascinating how one plant can help (or hurt!) another, just by being itself. There are whole books written on the subject, and I’ll share my very favorite one at the very end of this article.
The Value of Companion Planting
Companion planting has many benefits, and if done right can give you lots of help in the garden. I’m going to outline some of those right here.
Companion Planting Benefit #1: Repels Insects & Pests
While it is a controversial statement to many agricultural scientists, companion planting for the benefit of repelling insects and pests has been widely practiced for generations of farmers and family backyard gardens.
Marigolds, onions, catnip, and many more, when planted with their “companions”, are said to ward away the evils of certain insects and soil-borne pests too.
Some plants exude chemicals that keep other plants from growing, and that can be a kind of pest control for weeds or other competing plants. Companion Planting guides usually highlight the “don’t grow together” plants as well as the ones that get along for just this reason.
For me personally, I tend to use companion planting to help with pest control because, well, it can’t hurt, and generations of growers before me found benefit, even if science has not (yet).
Companion Planting Benefit #2: Enhances Pollination
When a pollinator insect or animal is nearby, they LOVE to see a big variety of shapes and colors to explore for pollen, nectar, and places to lay their eggs.
By inter-planting your crops, you provide more attractive flowers and plantlife, which will attract more kinds of pollinators, and increase your chances of natural pollination.
Companion Planting Benefit #3: Maximizes Space
Limited gardening space is the bane of all suburban backyard gardening enthusiasts! They quickly find that they have to find any space-saving solutions they possibly can to get the variety of crops they want in their gardens.
Companion planting helps you overcome the “typical” farm setup of rows of the same things planted side by side as the only way to garden. Indeed, mixing up your crops in a planned way helps you utilize the space you have more efficiently, and if done right, can even increase your germination rates and harvests too.
Companion Planting Benefits #4: Improves Plant Nutrition
Part of the system that provides nutrients to your garden crops is the beneficial fungi found in your soil.
Having soil with multiple kinds of plants in relative proximity builds larger communities of mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi) and creates a system where plants share their nutrients, and different plants have different fungi species that help in different ways, all contributing to the community!
Companion Planting Benefits #5: Increased Aesthetics
Let’s face it – plants are pretty. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be so obsessed with them. When you have more types of plants in an area, it looks more beautiful and pleasing to the eye.
Companion planting fits that bill – it allows you to plant things with different colors, textures, fruits, and growing habits all together to create something truly wonderful (and useful too).
One of my favorite books on the subject of Companion Planting is Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. My first copy of this book was completely destroyed from use. I’ve heard that since I purchased my second copy she’s actually put out an updated version of the book, and I highly recommend it.
Written in an encyclopedic format, this book allows you to look up your favorite or current plants and find out what would be beneficial or not to plant next to them. Very easy to use, and very informative!
Please see more great gardening articles in my blog!
Well, I hope that gives you some ideas about trying Companion Planting next time you’re planting a garden. Until next time, Keep Growing!