Can plants help each other?
What are Companion Plants?
Companion plants are plants that complement one another in terms of growth and production. For example, one plant may attract an insect that might protect a companion plant. Another plant may act as a repellent for a bug that might be harmful to the plant next to it.
It is also important to look at the nutrients individual plants need. A companion plant may need less of one specific nutrient while its neighbor desperately needs it to thrive. In this case, companion planting would eliminate the competition between the two plants.
Benefits of Companion Planting
There are many benefits to companion planting. Most gardeners would agree, the more help you can get to achieve a productive, fruitful garden, the better! What and how can companion planting help?
- Natural Supports – Plants and flowers that grow tall and strong will lend themselves as natural, organic supports to crops that grow low or sprawl. An example of this would be planting tall sunflowers next to cucumbers or snap peas. The sprawling crops can use the taller plants as a trellis.
- Plant Health – Growing plants next to their companions can improve the overall health of both plants. By eliminating competition between plants, you allow one to absorb what it may need without depriving the other. Additionally, as nutrients are pulled from the soil by one plant, the result can actually change the entire biochemistry of the soil. And when done right, the soil can then change or improve the flavor of other plants in the area.
- Optimize Soil – A plant’s root system can easily affect the soil it is in. Plants with long taproots like parsnips and carrots will lift nutrients from the depths of the soil. The nutrients can then benefit those plants with shallow root systems. Nitrogen is also important to many plants, and some, such as peas and beans, actually help to draw nitrogen in, making it more available in the soil for the plants that need it.
- Prevent Weeds – Alternating upright plants and sprawling ones can create a thicker cover across the majority of the open land in your garden area, which will ultimately prevent weeds.
Regulate Shade & Wind – Too much sun can damage tender and fragile plants. Companion planting can help prevent this by offering shelter as taller plants protect smaller ones. The same is true for wind. The taller and larger plants will offer protection from harsh winds.
Popular Companion Plants for Vegetables
- Dill and Basil – Dill and basil are natural protectants for tomato plants, keeping away the dreaded hornworm.
- Marigolds – One of the best companion plants out there, marigolds help virtually any vegetable. They are particularly helpful for tomatoes, repelling the nematodes that like to attack the roots of vegetables.
- Mint – Mint repels both ants and cabbage moths.
- Nasturtiums – Nasturtiums help prevent insects, particularly aphids, from attacking other plants. Aphids love Nasturtiums and will surround them instead of their neighboring plants.
- Sage – Another helpful herb in the garden, sage can protect from cabbage moths.
- Zinnias – Zinnias are excellent companion plants and attract ladybugs into the garden. Ladybugs are known to control unwanted pests like cabbage flies.
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- Companion Planting Chart.