Companion planting is defined as the close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests.
While soil, sun & nutrients are all essential considerations in the garden, it may also serve you well to take a moment to consider what you are or aren’t planting alongside that prized garden crop.
Some plants, especially herbs, act as repellents, confusing insects with their strong odors that mask the scent of the intended host plants. Some companions act as “trap plants,” luring insects to themselves. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.
Incompatible plants are sometimes referred to as combatants. For example:
- While white garlic and onions repel an array of pests and make excellent neighbors for most garden plants, they stunt the growth of beans and peas alongside them.
- Potatoes and beans grow poorly in the company of sunflowers, and although cabbage and cauliflower are closely related, they don’t like each other at all.
One of the keys to successful companion planting is observation. Keep a record of your plant combinations (even if you just dash through the garden snapping photos to remember what was planted well and to see how it’s faring) and the results from year to year.
Even plants in woodlands can be companions. Blueberries, mountain laurel, azaleas, and other ericaceous (heather family) plants thrive in the acidic soils created by pines and oaks. Shade-loving plants tend to seek the shelter provided by a wooded grove. The shade-lovers in return protect the forest floor from erosion with their thick tangle of shallow roots.
Sometimes plants may be helpful to one another only at a certain stage of their growth. The quantity and ratio of different plants growing together is often a factor in their compatibility. Some plants make good companions for no apparent reason whatsoever.
You might assume that keeping a garden weed-free would be a good thing, but even that’s not always the case. Certain weeds pull nutrients from lower layers of the soil and bring them close to the surface. When the weeds die and decompose, nutrients become available in the surface soil and are more easily accessed by shallow-rooted plants. Still, you want to keep an eye out for tenacious weeds, such as nutsedge which an even emit a chemical underground that tells other local plants to straight “back off!”
Perhaps one of the most peculiar examples of strange garden friends is the relationship between the weed stinging nettle and several vegetable varieties. For no presently known reason, plants grown in the presence of stinging nettle are said to display exceptional vigor and resist spoiling.
Could we agree that God has made His creation undeniably incredible? Not that you didn’t suppose so before but the more I learn about things like health and gardening and really most anything I endeavor to delve into, the more I am just flabbergasted at the intricate work of our Maker’s hands. Don’t you just find it astounding that He has integrated so much depth, diversity and mystery into so many things, just waiting to lead us on a journey to learn more about Him through it all?