Much has been written over the last 20 years of companion planting. And yet, not much has actually been said, and very little expansion of the original ideas. In a way, this is because plants haven’t really changed that much, and the relationships between plants have evolved over many thousands of years (or by divinity, if you choose that line of thought).
If you are unaware of what companion planting is, it’s a very basic form of symbiosis, where two plants help each other to survive. The concept can be taken further, by including wild-life.
Why do it?
For me, it’s all about saving time and money – and a little bit of laziness. Our budgets are tight and we don’t seem to have enough hours in the day. In my case, I have two toddlers that require constant attention, and I don’t like the idea of spraying anything around them.
Personally, I prefer to let nature do the work for me.
When I first heard about companion planting, I grew very excited, because it meant I could do less in the garden! So I set about researching.
First up, I have a few books at home – I won’t embarrass the publishers by naming them. Suffice to say, the most I found was a “Top 5″ list.
So, onto the internet.
To cut a long story short, most of the companion tables I found were short, covering just the basics (peas, beans carrots, onions, garlic, etc). Some even showed plants that should NOT go together. By far the best table I found is Wikipedia [Link], and covers more than just vegetables. I won’t copy the table here, as it will change over time, as Wikipedia does.
How does it work?
There are a few different kinds of relationships.
- Diversionary: One plant looks more attractive than the one you are trying to protect. You can even use fake plants! Just a bit of green plastic that looks a bit plant-ish.
- Repellant: A plant may smell revolting to insects (like garlic), so protects nearby plants.
- Nutrients: Legumes (beans, etc), attract microbes that draw nitrogen out of the soil. Quite often, there’s more than enough to go around, so plants that would otherwise miss out (rosemary, lettuce, strawberry, broccoli).
- Support: Strong plants provide natural trellises for vine type plants (eg. corn for beans)
Micro-climate: Hardy plants can protect weak plants from the elements, or increase humidity. Also, ground covering plants (like oregano) create a “green” mulch that inhibits weed growth and retains moisture in the soil.
Again, the Wikipedia table goes into detail about how each relationship works.
Animals, birds and other insects can keep you garden pests at bay.
Obviously, you can’t just move these creatures into your garden. They will need coaxing.
- Create a mini-forest
- Build a bird box
- Keep bees
- Build a pond for frogs
If there’s one thing all of us learn at some point in our lives, it’s that you can’t beat nature.
Plants survive just fine out in the wild. They may thrive in some areas, and not exist in others, yet they survive. If we can create just a little bit of wilderness in our back yard, then we won’t be spending hours on our knees weeking, or spending our pay on chemicals.