Garden Companions

    • There’s still time to plant summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and corn will bear for you if you plant them now.
    • It’s time to set out Brussels sprouts for fall harvest.
    • Stake or cage tomato plants before they get any larger.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.
    • Fertilize container plants every 10 to 14 days with a liquid fertilizer. Pinch off faded blossoms and they will keep blooming all summer for you.

Secrets of Companion Planting

The practice of mixing flowers and herbs into the vegetable garden or around certain shrubs to attract beneficial insects and repel harmful ones is known as companion planting. Hundreds of examples of plant companions are recorded in garden folklore, and scientific studies have supported many of these.

There are many varieties of herbs, flowers and vegetables that can be used for companion plants. Certain plants act as “trap crops” that draw pest insects away from other plants. Nasturtiums are used this way to attract aphids which seem to prefer them to other crops. Planting a ring of them around apple trees limits woolly aphid damage to the trees (although the nasturtiums won’t look too great).

“Nurse plants” provide breeding grounds for beneficial insects. Herbs such as fennel, dill, anise and coriander are members of the carrot family that produce broad, flat clusters of small flowers that attract beneficials. Grow these plants near your vegetables to keep parasitic wasps nearby. Sunflowers, zinnias and asters also attract helpful insects.

Cucumber beetles, which look like green lady bugs, are a common pest in the vegetable garden. You can lure them away from other plants by planting radishes or nasturtiums nearby. Nasturtiums also deter whiteflies and squash bugs.

Radishes will lure leafminers away from spinach. The damage the leafminers do to radish leaves does not stop the radish roots from growing and being edible, a win-win situation.

Flea beetles are tiny black insects that riddle eggplant leaves with holes. Catnip nearby will deter these creatures. It will also reduce aphids on pepper plants. Keep the catnip in a pot, though, because it can grow out of control in the garden.

Sweet basil is known to repel aphids, mosquitoes and flies. Planted near tomatoes, it is said to help them overcome both insects and diseases and also improves their growth and flavor.

Garlic grown in a circle around fruit trees is good protection against borers. It also deters aphids, weevils and spider mites. It is beneficial when planted around rose bushes for these reasons. Plant near cabbage to repel the cabbage moth and resultant caterpillar damage.

Rosemary deters cabbage moth, bean beetles and carrot flies, so plant some around your vegetable garden.

Marigolds are known for their ability to suppress nematodes. However, we do not have soil nematodes in this area of California. French marigolds help to deter whiteflies when planted around tomatoes and can be useful in the greenhouse for the same purpose. Marigolds may help repel flea beetles from eggplants. For best results plant marigolds that are tall and strongly scented, with the eggplants.

There are many other interesting possibilities. So fill your garden with flowers and herbs and reap their protective benefits as well as their beauty and fragrance.

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