Secrets of Companion Planting

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.
    • Attract hummingbirds to your patio this summer with hummingbird feeders, so you can enjoy their iridescent beauty and charm.
    • Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons can be pruned now without sacrificing next years bloom. Ask at your nursery if you need help.
    • Paint trunks of young fruit trees with Tree Trunk White. This will keep the soft bark from sun-burning which leaves cracks for borer insects, the most common cause of death of young apple trees.

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.