Companion planting seems to be something that some people swear by, and others discount as an old wives tale. I am a strong supporter of planting both flowers and veggies in your garden but I’d often wondered if companion planting was more hype than practicality. We’ve probably all heard the advice to plant basil with tomatoes, but does it work?
In short, yes! The magic with companion planting happens when you pair plants that either have similar needs, or result in a complementary effect. Jackie French’s Guide to Companion Planting in Australia and New Zealand is a great resource and explains that companion planting generally works in a few ways:
· Where one plant repels pests that would normally feed on the other.
· Where one plant produces substances that are beneficial to the health or growth of another
· Where one plant attracts predators that feed on another’s pests
· Where two or more plants have a manner of growth that is complementary to each other.
It can also mean planting certain plants before or after others in rotation so that they will benefit from the residues left behind.
Companion planting can improve the fertility of your garden, boost plant health and production and reduce your reliance on chemical pest control. It can be as simple as planting a row of tall Sunflowers on the western side of your veggie garden to provide shade from the harsh afternoon sun or planting Lettuce plants amongst larger plants so they remain protected in partial shade. It can be a more complex mix like “The Three Sisters”, a traditional planting where Corn is planted with Beans and Pumpkin – the Corn provides a trellis for the Beans, the Pumpkin acts as a living mulch for the Corn and the Beans, and the Beans accumulate atmospheric nitrogen and make it available in the soil to the Pumpkin and Corn.
Plant flowers like Nasturtiums and Marigolds or let some of your vegetables go to flower. Fennel and Rocket have wonderful flowers that many predatory and pollinator insects love, as do Leek and Onions. Strong scented plants like Lavender and Rosemary grown as a hedge around the vegetable patch will confuse and deter pests from finding your veggies. Inter-planting brassicas like Cabbage and Broccoli with taller plants will help to disguise them from Cabbage White Butterfly, and planting a border of Comfrey around the edge of your veggie patch will help to keep the weeds and grass from creeping in, as well as provide a nutrient rich addition to your compost and mulch. All of these are examples of companion planting, and not a basil and tomato pairing in sight!
There’s a wonderful little paragraph at the start of Companion Planting in Australia by Brenda Little that goes like this “One of the nicest things about companion planting is the way it puts the fun back into gardening. There is a naughty pleasure in being able to outwit one’s enemies and an enjoyable, cocky sense of one-up-manship when simple measures produce marked results”. I have to agree. After all, who doesn’t like a garden that can look after itself?