Companion planting in your home vegetable garden is based on the relationships between plants and organisms, as well as among various different plants. The attractant crops are the plants that attract beneficial insects that you want in the garden. These factors prey on pest insects and supplement their diet with the nectar and pollen of the attractant crops. On the other hand, repellent crops discourage pests. Marigolds, for example, exude a substance from their roots that repels eelworms (root-sucking nematodes). It is quite common to see home gardeners plant a border of marigolds around their vegetable garden to keep these pests away from precious edibles. Another excellent all-purpose pest repellent is garlic – grown in humus rich soil, garlic gives off sulfur compounds (what makes garlic smell) that will kill aphids and onion flies, just to name a couple of things.
Another important factor in companion planting includes allies (those that help adjacent plants by nourishing them). For example, legumes (peas or beans) fix nitrogen from the air, adding nutrition to the soil. When allies are planted with root vegetables (carrots, turnips, radishes, rutabagas and beets) the allies provide fertilizer to neighboring plants. (Sometimes better than our own neighbors right?) Plants that make good neighbors don’t compete for space, sun, or nutrients. For example, inter-planting corn and lettuce maximizes the use of space in your home vegetable garden; the corn shields the lettuce from the sun’s glare and the plants have no pests in common. Another one, basil can enhance the growth of any plant in close proximity.
All the elements of companion gardening are not complete without some mention of the plant enemies. Plant enemies are plants that may have a negative effect on other plants when grown in close proximity. Sometimes an enemy may be too aggressive, competing for the same sun and soil nutrients of a neighboring plant. A different type of plant may attract or be a host plant for a pest or disease that also affects the other plants you want to grow in your home vegetable garden. Some plants inhibit the growth of specific plants or all plants in general, such as black walnut trees and sunflowers. Another plant that often stunts the growth of other plants is fennel, but fennel attracts beneficial parasitic wasps and can be given space near your garden rather than inside your home vegetable garden.
With these facts in mind, you should be able to plan your home vegetable garden so that it will benefit from allies, attractant crops and repellent crops while avoiding plant enemies. Whether we want to admit it or not, pests come in all shapes and sizes, from microscopic size upwards. These pests can wreak havoc on a vegetable garden if these same pests are not controlled. Diseases, too, come in all sorts of guises – molds and mildews, wilts and blights, curls and burns. Depending on the disease, its manifestation and effects may be merely unsightly or at worst can destroy an entire vegetable garden. Insects – both good and bad-will vary from one garden to the next; each habitat is unique.
If you haven’t tried companion gardening yet, do you plan on seeding your home vegetable garden with companion gardening in mind?
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