First, let’s answer the question, “what is companion planting?“. It’s the practice of growing various plants together so each plant may benefit from the other. This practice can offer shade, retain moisture, enrich the soil with nutrients, protect against pests and disease, or lure beneficial insects and pollinators. It can also include:
- Identifying plants that grow poorly together.
- Avoiding plants competing with one another for resources like nutrients or sunlight.
- Prevent the spreading of plant diseases.
If two plants grow closely, some can even produce chemicals that will stunt or kill them. Understanding when to use particular plant combinations to your garden’s advantage is the fundamental goal of the study and practice of companion planting.
The idea is to forego using artificial fertilizers or insecticides on your plants and let nature take care of what she does best.
Why Was Companion Planting First Used?
For centuries, people have practiced companion planting. Some of it was done on purpose, while other parts of it happened entirely by accident.
One of the first
The Native Americans provide one of the first and best examples of companion planting. Developing a method known as the “three sisters,” which combined Native American’s three most important crops:
Native Americans used the beans to gather nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in their root systems. By doing so, there is nitrogen that the two other plants can use for healthy growth.
For a natural no-work method of weeding, the squash plants have large leaves that block sunlight from reaching the soil. Which helps retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
The Three Sisters planting method is the epitome of companion planting, where each plant benefits its neighbor in some way.
There is proof that Europe used basic companion planting techniques between two and three thousand years ago. There are recorded historical instances of the ancient Romans being aware of the nearby plants and trees that would benefit or harm their olive and grape crops.
Although they differed slightly from the cottage gardens we think of today; cottage gardens gained popularity in England in the fourteenth century.
Today, we might picture front gardens with arbors and doorways covered in roses, flower beds bursting with all kinds of flowers competing for position, meandering paths, and idyllic gates conjuring up fairy tales.
However, survival was the main focus of cottage gardening in the fourteenth century. So, out of necessity, many cottage dwellers planted everything they could in their front gardens, including flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Finding the benefits that some plants had when growing next to other plants was a fantastic by-product of this type of gardening. This process became more refined as time passed, and people could record these successful companion pairings and pass that information down through the generations.
A similar practice was used in the French potage garden, which consisted of growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs in lovely arrangements that were both feasts for the eyes and the stomach.
How It Applies To The Modern Gardener
Companion planting principles were once more used in the 1970s as the organic gardening movement began gaining traction.
After all those generations, science began to validate and explain how this worked. But, sadly, it also revealed that some companion planting best practices were more of a myth than truth.
That is where we are now: attempting to distinguish between what is effective and what is not. Science is also introducing us to previously undiscovered companion planting concepts and techniques.
Being an organic gardener at this time is exciting, and it’s an excellent opportunity to start incorporating companion planting in your garden.
Follow These Companion Planting Principles
Companion planting is, at the most basic level, imitating nature. Your garden will flourish in ways you never imagined possible if you adhere to these principles. Additionally, your garden will thrive and grow while requiring much less of your time and effort!
Rotate Your Crops&Nbsp;
There are specific pests that love particular plants. The soil also contains some pathogens that can lead to plant diseases.
Because these organisms only like a specific plant, they tend to overwinter in the exact location. Allowing them to attack the plant again the following year if it’s in the same spot.
By using crop rotation, you’ll switch up your planting locations each growing season and year after year, causing each bed to grow a different crop and preventing the growth of pests and pathogens.
Practice Polyculture&Nbsp;& Avoid Monoculture
Rows of any kind are not found in nature. Additionally, you don’t see vast swaths of a single plant type surrounded by nothing else.
Nature is varied.
The forest floor is covered in ferns, columbine, wild berries, asters, goldenrod, wild geranium, and other plants that all have a specific function in that forest, even though, at first glance, you might only see pine trees in a forest.
The same idea underlies companion planting, which aims to create a diverse growing environment where organisms and plants can coexist peacefully.
Most modern farms have miles upon miles of a single crop planted in a field. This is called monocropping (monoculture), which isolates one plant type and complicates pest control.
Pests like cabbage white butterflies can easily find an endless supply of their favorite foods thanks to monoculture.
By growing two or more different crops together, a practice known as poly cropping or polyculture, we hope to create diversity in our garden.
Fortunately, pests become disoriented when different crops are grown together, making it much more challenging to locate their preferred plants. In addition, pests must start their search again after finishing a plant; they cannot simply move on to the next one in the row.
Remember To Plant Perennials, Herbs, and Flowers
The organic vegetable garden has room for flowers, herbs, and perennials. They not only have a place but should also be prominently displayed! This is good news for gardeners because it makes the garden area more colorful and appealing.
These colorful beacons can draw beneficial insects, which is fantastic for your vegetables. If you grow the right kinds of flowers, herbs, and perennials, they will entice a variety of “good” bugs that will assist you in keeping the “bad” bugs under control.
Make Gardening Easier by Using Plants&Nbsp;Instead Of Labor
Tilling the ground each year deters people from starting gardens, especially if they don’t have a rototiller and must use a shovel to dig till the ground manually.
Much of that labor-intensive work can be avoided by using plants that naturally aerate and work the soil.
Control Weeds Using Living Mulch & Allelopathy
Weeds can be controlled by growing particular plants in and around your crops, which will also help the soil retain moisture.
Even some plants can act as herbicides, preventing the germination of weed seeds (a process known as allelopathy).
Grow a Wide Range Of Pollinators To Attract a Wide Range Of Flowers
Important pollinators like bees, hoverflies, and butterflies are drawn to flowers. However, only some of these bugs are made the same way, and they all have unique mouth shapes, eating habits, and diets. Therefore, planting a variety of flower shapes and sizes will attract the most pollinators to your garden.
Learn More: Best Companion Plants For Each Crop
- Chilies & Peppers
- Squash & Melon
- Sweet Potato
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.