DIG IN: Companion Planting

by Adrienne Diaz

An easy way to make efficient use of your growing space and attract beneficial insects

When I hear the term companion planting I always think of my loyal garden buddy, Daisy. She is a little rescued black and white Shih Tzu that loves to accompany me in the garden. Other companions we have out in the backyard are frogs, lizards, butterflies, all sorts of birds, and our newest friend, a little Florida box turtle. From time to time we even have other people join us, neighbors or beginning gardeners, as my little garden oasis is always open for visitors!

However, the term companion planting really refers to the practice of planting different plants together with the specific purpose of increasing pest control, pollination, and plant productivity. While not supported by research, numerous examples of companion planting can be found in many ancient cultures as well as in many current garden communities. As an example, companion planting was practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas with the planting of corn (maize), pole beans and squash together in the Three Sisters technique. It was widely used in Home Gardens in Asia, and in Cottage Gardens in England. And companion planting is currently enthusiastically promoted in the organic gardening movement and is especially popular in permaculture.

How does companion planting work?

Companions help each other grow. Tall plants, for example, provide shade for sun-sensitive, shorter plants.

Companions use garden space efficiently. Vining plants cover the ground, upright plants grow up. Two plants in one patch.

Companions prevent pest problems. Plants like onions repel some pests. Other plants can lure pests away from more desirable plants.

Companions attract beneficial insects. Every successful garden needs plants that attract the predators of pests.

Winning combinations you can use in your edible garden:

Roses and Chives: Gardeners have been planting garlic with roses for eons, because garlic is said to repel rose pests. Try garlic chives, their small purple or white flowers look great with rose flowers and foliage.

Cabbage and Dill: Dill is a great companion for cabbage family plants, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The cabbages support the floppy dill while the dill attracts the tiny beneficial wasps that control cabbageworms and other cabbage pests.

Radishes and Spinach: Planting radishes among your spinach will draw leafminers away from the spinach. The damage the leafminers do to radish leaves doesn’t prevent the radishes from growing nicely underground.

Cauliflower and Dwarf Zinnias: The nectar from the dwarf zinnias attracts ladybugs and other predators that help protect cauliflower.

Marigolds and Melons: Certain marigold varieties control nematodes in the roots of melon as effectively as chemical treatments.

Tomatoes, Carrots and Basil: Carrots share space well with tomatoes. The carrots can be planted when the tomato plant is still quite small and can be happily growing and ready to harvest by the time the tomato plants take over the space. Basil helps tomatoes overcome both insects and disease and also is reported to improve growth and flavor.

Adrienne Diaz is a Certified Square Foot Garden Instructor, a Lee County Master Gardener and the Project Director of the Six Mile Charter Academy School Garden. She grows numerous fruits, vegetables and herbs year round. She offers free workshops & classes monthly, gives garden tours and can speak to your group. Contact her on Facebook at Miss Potters Place, apdwith5@gmail.com, or 239-464-5754.


Other Green News:

Butterfly Gardening at the Slough

Take advantage of a free opportunity to learn the basics of butterfly gardening from a Master Gardener at 10 a.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in the Rock and Stroll Garden at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. This program includes a casual tour of a butterfly garden composed of native host and nectar plants for Southwest Florida butterflies. Come prepared with questions about creating or maintaining a butterfly garden to get the most out of this free program.

Upcoming dates include March 14 and April 11. Parking is $1 per hour. Carpooling is encouraged. Meet at 10 a.m. in the Rock and Stroll Garden in the center of the parking lot. Learn more at LeeParks.org.

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