I’m a big fan of companion planting. The idea behind it is that planting certain plants near each other will help to naturally either deter pests you don’t want, attract pollinators you do or help to increase the productivity of the crops your growing. It is an ideal method for gardening organically. There has been much written about companion planting and some methods work, others don’t, but here are some that are pretty much proven and ones I have used in the past.
When growing broad beans I move my pots of the herb summer savory close to the plants. Broad beans tend to attract black fly which effect the production of the beans. I also nip the tips of the growing beans out and together with the savory the methods seems to keep my plants infestation free.
Tomatoes are best planted together with basil. Basil (both green and purple varieties) has a strong scent which will deter pests like white fly. You can plant them together in the same pots as the tomatoes or plant them in separate pots and put them near your tomatoes. You can them move the pots around to ward off the aphids.
Pots of mint and lavender are great to have around. The strong oils in these herbs exude a scent that deters aphids from your crops. I also place pots of mint near roses for this reason as it helps to reduce greenfly on the new tender shoots.
Nasturtiums are the ultimate sacrificial neighbour. If you plant them with beans the black fly will be attracted to these instead. It means that you will have pretty awful looking nasturtiums and that you will need to pull them up and dump them on the compost heap but you will have relatively pest free beans as a result.
You Just Smell So Good and You Look Great
The scent of nasturtiums and the oil they secrete are wildly attractive to insects. In addition to beans they will also protect tomatoes against whitefly, they reportedly also protect brassicas from whitefly infestations by attracting the aphids to the nasturtiums instead. Their bright colours also attract pollinating insects to the garden to help ensure you get the best harvest.
I love nasturtiums and they will usually self seed once you have grown them in the garden once. They will happily take over a patch of ground if left unchecked but if you don’t want all of them you can dig some up and either confine to the compost heap or transfer into pots and put them where you need them.
Perhaps the best looking benefactors are calendulas and pot marigolds which are great to plant with brassicas like kales and cabbages. I am a huge fan of the beautiful Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’ (you can get seeds from Sarah Raven). It has a wonderful vibrant orange tone with red undertones at the back of the petals. This is a handsome plant for sure but it is it’s vibrant colour which attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds to the garden. The females will lay eggs on the aphids which provide a source of food when the young hatch and get rid of any pending infestations.
All marigolds are good for this reason and I try to pop as many in around crops as possible either in pots or directly into the ground.
The more beneficial insects you attract to the garden the more good pollinators will come creating a fantastic eco-system that will mean abundant crops of things like runner beans, tomatoes and your fruit bushes and trees.
A Helping Hand
Borage is a beautiful plant with it’s sky blue tinged with lilac flowers. The flowers are lovely frozen in ice-cubes and added to a long cool drink on a summer’s day. Borage is also a great attractor of pollinating insects so great to have around the garden. Planting it near strawberries helps to keep the fruit healthy and encourages the plants to produce larger fruits and crops.
There are wonderful sources of information regarding companion planting. Ultimately it’s about creating a healthy eco-system and working with nature and allowing nature to come to it’s full glory.
If you want to read more then I would recommend taking a look at a post called Good Neighbour’s Always Help, companion planting basics on Rob’s Allotment Blog (the 2015 winner on The Big Allotment Challenge). Also take a look at Sarah Raven’s article Companion planting: friends with benefits for your garden. For additional sources take a look at Organic Garden. They have a good guides on good and bad companion planting.