Companion planting is a gardening practice that operates on the idea that certain plants benefit one another when grown in close proximity. The benefits can be one or several, and they fall into the following categories:
Distraction - Some plants are so attractive to certain pests that they draw the pests away from another crop. The crop that is desirable to the pests is planted as a diversion and considered expendable so that the crop desired by the gardener is left alone. It's like throwing ears of dried corn on the ground to keep squirrels out of your bird-feeders.
Suppression - Certain plants produce chemicals that repel pests, so they are planted in close proximity to desirable primary crops to ward off intruders. This is like surrounding your home with an electric fence or poison ivy.
Symbiosis - Some species benefit mutually by the presence of another. Interplanting pole beans and corn is a traditional example. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil that benefits corn. Corn provides support for the beans to grow upon. It's kind of like a good marriage.
Nursing - Stronger plants may provide some protection to younger, sensitive crops until they can manage for themselves. Here in the south, homeowners often plant annual rye grass along with centipede grass seed. The rye grass germinates very quickly and provides some cover and erosion control until the centipede seed germinates several days or weeks later.
Physical Interaction - The physical characteristics of certain species may be mutually beneficial. For example, tall-growing species may benefit from cooler soil temperatures provided by low-growing species growing below, while the low-growing plants benefit from the shade of the taller.
Diversity - Perhaps you've noticed while driving through farmland fields sown in strips of alternating crops. Some farmers have learned that planting many acres of a single crop (called mono-cropping) presents pests with a huge, highly-visible target. More diverse cropping can attract fewer pests. The same principle holds true in your garden.
Refuge - Crop-eating pests are generally gluttonous creatures and thoughtless, "whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly." (Philippians 3:19) Too intent on the next meal, they aren't very mindful of dangers that may lurk. Beneficial insects devour crop-eaters, and they lurk. (That's why we call them "beneficial"; if they were bigger than we, they would be called something else.) By growing plants nearby that provide habitat and hiding places to beneficials, the crop-eaters may meet their doom.
Companion planting requires some planning. First, the gardener needs to know which plants make good companions; not all do. Beans, for example, don't get along with onions, but tomatos and onions cooperate. (Beans finally reconcile with onions in the pot, along with marjoram, lemon juice, olive oil and a dash of salt.)
Other important considerations include growing seasons, germination rates, and harvest times.
It's beyond the scope of this article to address those issues. I'll probably write more in the future.
You can learn more now by visiting out the following web sites:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
Cornell University Gardening Resources
There are many other resources, but these are well-respected and should suffice. Companion planting will introduce you to a new way of gardening that can result in better yields, healthier living, and a lot of pleasure.
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