Companion Planting in the Garden (Good and Bad Neighbours)
The Companion Planting Philosophy
Do you ever question our place on this Earth? Many of us believe we are the supreme beings full of knowledge and caretakers of the planet. It only takes an act of nature like a flash flood, extended drought, earthquake, or snowstorm to prove otherwise. We are really just tiny specks in a long chain of inhabitants.
In mankind's continued quest to prevent famine and disease of the past much valuable knowledge has been lost and the balance of nature virtually ignored. High-yield food production has been achieved through monoculture but the degenerative effects on the land are only now becoming apparent.
Through our ignorance and separation from nature we exterminate pests by the thousands by the use of herbicides and pesticides, and discourage self-seeding crops through the development of genetic modification only to discover they are being replaced by more resistant insects and diseases.
Companion planting provides the means to overcome these problems by restoring the balance of nature to the environment. Many people just see plants as either decorative, edible, or weeds and nothing else.
Do you see a dandelion growing in your perfectly manicured lawn as a weed spoiling the perfection of your garden, or a wild salad herb packed with nutrients and providing a home and food for earthworms?
Everything is connected in harmony and balance. There is a purpose in, and lesson to be learned from everything. If you can understand this concept, and see the dandelion as a wild herb and not a weed, then you have grasped the philosophy and will probably succeed at companion gardening.
Always remember, companion planting requires balance, not domination.We need to learn respect for plants and in turn they will work for us. So called "primitive" cultures have always communicated with nature; they learnt to read her signs and incorporate those into their rituals and everyday lives. We need to recover this ability.
The Role of Companion Planting
- Increase the productivity of edible plants
- Increase nutrients and essential oils
- Reduce destructive pests and diseases
- Attract beneficial insects by providing suitable habitats
- Nurse damaged plants back to health
- Improve both plant and garden health
- Condition the soil
- Make the garden more attractive to earthworms
- Over time the garden becomes self-governing
- Be a small step towards improving the world environment
- Create a unique natural beauty through harmony and balance
What You Need To Know
There are a few things you need to know about your garden before designing its layout and selecting plants.
Favourite plants and suitability to local climate
Just because you like the taste of a certain fruit or vegetable doesn't make it suitable to grow in your climate. If it isn't it will suffer stress and struggle to survive. If you choose the right plants for your climate it will save you both unnecessary expenditure and labour.
Suitable indigenous edible plants
Some native plants and wild herbs are useful planted among non-native fruit trees (especially stone fruit) as they attract birds which prefer to dine on native plants.
Maturing times and growth rates of plants
Placement of plants is easier if you are aware of growth patterns of different species. This is particularly helpful to devise a crop rotation plan which is advisable to avoid disease build-up in the soil.
Knowledge of local weeds
Learn about the weeds in your region so that you are aware of what is considered noxious and may require eradication. You also need to know which weeds attract harmful insects and which appeal to friendly predators.
Seasonal cycle of pests
Each season attracts a different variety of pests and you need to be able to identify these by sight and behaviour. By expecting certain pests you can be prepared for them. Certain crops attract specific pests and reply suitable insect-repellent companions planted nearby.
Seasonal plant diseases
Get to know what diseases may affect your particular crops. that way you will know how to treat them should they strike.
Seasons don't always correspond to dates on the calendar. Expected temperatures may come early or late in your area. In my area, for instance, average spring temperatures may start three or four weeks before the official start date of spring. You should learn the length of your local growing period, and when frost, snow, or heavy rain is likely to occur.
Plants will struggle or flourish depending on whether the soil condition meets their particular needs. Your soil type should determine what you plant, so you need to have it tested.
Depending on your location you will have your own unique feral animals to deal with. Many of these enjoy a smorgasbord of your precious crops they think are planted especially for them. In my area the animals that are attracted to fruit and vegetable are wallabies, kangaroos, possums, fruit bats, and birds like parrots. If this is the case you may have to consider fencing your crops and/or cover them with bird netting etc.
Plant and seed supplies
You will need to locate a reputable nursery that stocks a large variety of plants suitable for your area. Also an organic seed supplier is essential. Fortunately there are also numerous suppliers that you can order from on-line and by mail-order.
Now that you have done your homework and compiled this necessary information, you are ready to start designing your 'organic' companion-planted garden.
List of Companions
plants: catnip, chamomile, eau-de-cologne mint, feverfew, geraniums, lemon balm, onions, garlic, pennyroyal, peppermint, soapworts, spearmint, tansy.
plants: lovage, marjoram, oregano, sow thistle, stinging nettle, valerian, yarrow.
plants: horehound, yellow flowering nasturtiums, older vegetables left to seed.
plants: borage, chervil, coriander, elm tree, foxglove, garlic, horehound, lovage, morning glory, mulberry, peppermint, rosemary, salad burnet, santo liana, stinging nettle, tansy, valerian, wallflower, yarrow.
The Four Roles of Companion Plants
You need to understand the role of companion plants to utilise them to best advantage in your garden. Plants bring ecological balance to the garden in four ways:
- Camouflage: these companion plants mask the scent of the plant that needs to be protected from insect pests. They usually have an overpowering scent that confuses the insect and makes it seek food elsewhere. Eg. Tansy and certain geraniums can mask the odour of tomatoes and kiwi fruit.
- Nurturing: these are the doctors and nurses of the plant world. They draw up nutrients from the soil to improve plant health. They also help other plants recover from the effects of insect attack and disease, and to become more resistant.
- Sacrificial: this type of companion acts as a decoy, attracting pests to itself, in order to protect neighbouring plants. These sacrificial companions need to be planted some distance from the plants they are protecting so the infestation doesn't spread to them. I usually plant a patch of yellow nasturtiums in a far corner of the garden so they attract aphids away from the vegetables and give them more chance to thrive.
- Stimulation: stimulating companions boost each other's flavours, vitamin and mineral content, essential oils or productivity. When these companions are planted together the gardener can actually see and taste the benefits. Strawberries or lettuce planted in conjunction with borage will thrive and be bursting with flavour.
Juice, flavour, production
Makes it hotter
Production and health
Apple trees, most plants
Production and health
Most neighbouring plants
Flavour and fruit
- Permaculture: Australia's most significant intellectual export? – Opinion – ABC
The gardening philosophy known as permaculture was started by Australians. Despite having spread around the world, it is not often listed amongst our nation's great achievements.
- Yates Complete Companion Planting Guide
Common Plants and Best Companions
The companion plants listed here have proved successful for me or other organic gardeners I Have spoken to. I have just tried to include common plants where possible. You may find that some cannot be grown in your area due to climate or local authority regulation. For this reason I have included a selection of companions to choose from.
Acerola or Barbados Cherry: tansy, catmint, pineapple sage, lavender, comfrey.
Almond: stinging nettle, catnip, garlic, sage, and escallonia.
Aloe Vera: borage, scented geraniums, the onion family, sow thistle, balm of Gilead, elderberry.
Apple: wallflowers, apple mint, chives, nasturtiums, foxgloves, marjoram, ajuga.
Apricot: clover, tansy, scented geraniums, horseradish, catnip, alfalfa, basil, yarrow, chives, garlic.
Artichoke, Globe: hollyhock, sweet cicely, violets.
Asparagus: basil, capsicum (pepper), lettuce, parsley, tomatoes.
Banana: pawpaw, strawberries, nasturtiums.
Beans, Broad: potatoes, corn, marjoram.
Beans, Runner: carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, radish, corn, chicory.
Beetroot: gets along with almost everything, particularly onions, lettuce, spinach and silverbeet.
Broccoli: onions, leeks, celery, rosemary, dill, sage, chamomile, peppermint.
Cabbage: pennyroyal, onion, thyme, sage, tomatoes, rue.
Carrot: leeks, sage, lettuce, chives, peas, rosemary, salsify.
Cauliflower: thistle, peppermint, onions, leeks, kale, sage, valerian, lovage.
Celery: bush beans, tomatoes, leeks, marjoram, thyme.
Cucumber: beans, peas, corn, radish, lettuce, scented geraniums.
Kale: potatoes, corn.
Kiwi Fruit: marjoram, catnip, lemon balm, currants, scented geraniums.
Lettuce: strawberries, beetroot, radish, corn.
Melon: corn, sunflowers
Onion: cabbage, carrots.
Passionfruit: marjoram, lemon balm, lemon grass, scented geraniums.
Peas: radish, cucumber, carrots, corn, beans, turnips.
Pepper, Chilli: lettuce, squash, cucumber.
Pepper, Sweet: basil, tomatoes, rhubarb, eggplant, lettuce, asparagus, parsley, okra.
Potato: sunflower, cucumber, peas, beans.
Radish: chervil, nasturtium, lettuce, peas.
Raspberry: tansy, rue.
Rose: garlic, santolina, chives.
Strawberry: borage, lettuce, bush beans, spinach, silver beet.
Tomato: peppers, asparagus, basil.
Turnip: peas, beans, chives.
Watermelon: citrus trees, corn, pumpkin.
Zucchini/Courgette: lettuce, peppermint, peppers, corn, silver beet, spinach, squash, tomatoes, parsley.
If you take the time to do research and get to know your garden, companion planting will work well for you and your garden will respond. Believe in what you are doing and put your heart and soul into it.
Once your garden is established, place a comfortable garden seat in a cosy corner with a tranquil view of your garden and sit and ponder your creation. Take a deep breath and breath in its peace and tranquillity. Be proud that you are fulfilling your role as one of the keepers of this Earth.
Part Two of This Series
- Good Bugs vs Bad Bugs in Your Garden
This is a companion article to my earlier "Companion Planting in the Garden (Good and Bad Neighbours)". Here I discuss the good and bad bugs that may inhabit our garden and their effect on our plants.
- Companion Gardening in Australia by Judith Collins.
- Yates Garden Guide 42nd edition.
- Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in Australia: The Royal Horticultural Society.
- The Garden Expert by Dr. D. G. Hessayon.