Depending on where in the country you reside, you may have already started cleaning out your vegetable beds and turning your compost pile in anticipation of the first weeks of planting. Just as light starts to shine more brightly on dusty corners in the house, the melted snow and warming soil reveals earth that practically screams to be cleared of old growth and weeds.
Recently, I’ve been interested in companion planting, the close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests. There are many books on the practice; I recommend the classic Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte. While there are questions about whether there is a scientific basis for companion planting, there are a few strategies to recommend:
Planting to attract pollinators
Planting plants that enhance each other’s flavor
Planting to deter common garden pests
The first strategy is to plant flowers and herbs among your vegetables in order to attract the pollinators that vegetables need—as well as to lure bees and butterflies to your garden. Rosemary and lavender are two wonderful herbs that detract pests while attracting bees and butterflies. Rosemary attracts pollinators for tomatoes, squash, and beans; and lavender serves as a great border shrub for detering deer. If you’d like to attract hummingbirds, try plants with brightly-colored, tubular flowers such as lobelia, bleeding heart, or weigela.
If you have roses in your yard, you might decide to plant some garlic and marjoram nearby. Garlic has many healing qualities and repels pests like aphids and Japanese beetles, and marjoram improves the flavor of any vegetable by which it’s planted—plus it’s a wonderful garnish and flavor-enhancer. Marjoram also improves the growth of other plants. Another flavor-enhancing duo consists of tomatoes and basil. Tomatoes are wonderful for beginners, since they love full sun and almost always produce a good amount of fruit. There’s nothing like fresh caprese salad made with tomatoes and basil from your own garden!
Nasturtiums and marigolds are two oft-cited flowers in the world of companion planting. Nasturtiums repel aphids and marigolds scare off cabbage worms. Their brightly colored flowers are also pretty in the vegetable garden. Dill, yarrow, calendula (also known as pot marigold), onions, and tarragon repel pests while serving as wonderful garnishes or medicinal herbs. You could couple any of these plants with vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, and radishes.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas for how to get started on your companion garden. Never be afraid to experiment—a great deal of what makes a gardener successful is learned via trial and error—and be sure to get your hands and knees dirty!
Bio: Growing up, Mackenzie Kupfer learned many of the ins and outs of gardening from her Nana. Now she spends as many of her spring, summer, and fall days in her backyard as possible! Kupfer also enjoys hiking, reading, and supporting her local CSAs. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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