Wednesday, February 24th, 2010...12:00 am

Companion Planting for your Garden

Photo of Marigolds planted next to Cucumber plants by Ellen Sousa at Turkey Hill Brook Farm

When planning your garden this year, consider companion planting.  What does it mean to do companion planting? Companion plants are the plants you should grow next to plants that you want in your garden. These companions assist because they have natural substances in their roots, flowers, leaves, etc. that can either repel and/or attract insects. The companions can also provide nutrients to the soil to help enhance the growth rate and flavor of the plants they are near. Companion planting has been used since the 14th century in small gardens as a way of helping to get rid of pests. Then in the 1970s organic gardeners started using companion planting to raise their plants without commercial pesticides. Companion planting is now included as one tactic in what is called Integrated Pest Management.

Why is Integrated Pest management also referred to as IPM? IPM is using a variety of methods that are benign and safe to get rid of plant pests. Companion planting is not the final solution to gardening problems; it is just one means of safe, benign pest elimination. So add it to your arsenal instead of just using synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or weedicides that can be dangerous to the user as well as the environment.

An example of IPM can be as simple as pulling weeds out by hand or pouring boiling water on the weeds to kill them instead of using bought products. Weeds are a pest in the garden or landscaping. Of course, there are times you might need stronger chemicals; but one hopes that there are fewer times that these stronger artificial chemicals will be used and if they have to be used, they are used in the smallest dosage. IPM includes companion planting of plants that will attract beneficial insects like bees. Companion planting also means knowing those plants that you shouldn’t plant next to certain other plants because they may exude a toxin that can hurt another plant.

Here are a few of TheGardenLady’s favorite companion plants:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) by The Marmot

Basil -Ocimum basilicum is not only great for your cooking but is a good companion plant. Plant it near tomatoes to improve their growth and flavor. Besides tomatoes it is a good companion for peppers, oregano, asparagus and petunias. It attracts butterflies. It repels thrips, asparagus beetles, flies and mosquitoes I was told that Italian farmers carry basil with them in the fields as a mosquito repellent. Try rubbing some basil on your skin and carry some sprigs when hiking in a mosquito area. Be wary- do not plant basil near rue or sage.

“Laurus nobilis” flowers by Luigi FDV

Bay Leaf- Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae: This GardenLady not only cooks with bay leaves but she spreads bay leaves on the shelves in her food pantry near grains, especially flour and cereals, as well as dried beans to deter weevils and moths. When I clean the closet I change the bay leaves. Since I started this, I haven’t had any bug problem in the food in my pantry. Also if you have a ladybug infestation, put bay leaves around the perimeter of the house.

Borago officinalis by finieddu

Borage- Borago officinalis: One of the prettiest flowers is the icy blue borage flower which can be eaten in salads. TheGardenLady has read that other parts of the young plant are edible as well. Borage is considered a benefit to any plant that it grows next to because it increases pest and disease resistance so that it has been called the “magic bullet” of companion plants. It also is an attractant of beneficial pollinating bees and wasps ( so don’t plant close to children’s areas) and has been said to attract butterflies as well as hummingbirds. It is especially recommended as a companion plant for strawberries, curcurbits (cucumbers, gourds and squash) and tomatoes. Know that Borage is an annual that may self seed and can spread. But if you get too many seedlings, they can easily be pulled out when young. Also, eat Borage in moderation because TheGardenLady read that too much can cause health problems.

Dill by eye of einstein

Dill: Anethom graveolens. A favorite plant of mine is dill. I love using either the dill fronds or the dill seeds in my cooking, especially fish dishes and meat loaf. I grow it in my flower garden where it self seeds . Neighbors have asked me what the lacy plant is; it adds a pretty dimension to the flower beds. And it not only attracts beneficial insects, it repels aphids, spider mites, cabbage loopers and squash bugs. Plant a lot so you can share it with Black Swallowtail butterflies that love to lay their eggs on the plants. You might not see these eggs until they become caterpillars.  See  here.

Tomatoes and friends by Taifighta

Marigold: both French Marigolds Tagetes patula and Mexican Marigolds-Tagetes minuta are the “wonder drugs” of companion plantings and should be planted in all parts of the garden except for perhaps an area where tender herbs are planted or near beans. However, most plants are aided by having marigolds planted near them; plants like tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucurbits (cucumbers, gourds, squash) and brassicas (broccoli, kale, cabbage). And marigolds should be planted near your roses where they will help prevent aphids. ( If you think orange or yellow marigolds near roses seems garish, consider white marigolds like Marigold Snowball Hybrid.) The only marigold variety that is edible when used sparingly is Tagetes tenuifolia specifically ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Tangerine Gem’. Like the other marigolds, tenuifolia are also good as companion plants that repel nematodes and other pests.

Spearmint by Neo Soul Mom

Mint- Mentha family: My mother always told me how important it was to plant spearmint around the house to deter ants. Well, all mints deter a great number of pests such as white cabbage moths, rodents, fleas, flea beetles, aphids as well as ants. Mint is also said to deter mice. And mint attracts beneficial insects and worms to your garden. Of course, mint is wonderful when used in certain foods like tabbouleh . However, be careful when planting mint because mint can really become invasive. Some people plant mint in pots or where there is some barrier so mint doesn’t spread. The mint in TheGardenLady’s garden seems to jump all over the place; but I don’t mind because I find it easy to pull out.

A more complete list of companion planting is in Wikipedia.

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2 Comments

  • Thanks for the extensive list! What would you recommend for an organic bug spray? I found an organic bug spray online called Tomato and Vegetable Insect Killer that’s made by Safer Brand. Have you heard of it?
    Here’s the organic bug spray I’m referring to:
    http://www.saferbrand.com/store/garden-care/5085

  • This was very helpful! Thank you very much for posting this info. We just moved to a tiny house with a tiny back yard. We love it. The mosquitoes are awful here though. We are planning the backyard and landscaping for kids, foods, and entertaining. I will be planting both the French & Mexican Marigolds, the Basil between our asparagus and tomatoes, the Borago Officinalis with our strawberries and tomatoes, and then the mint all around the house. No mosquitoes, ants, or pests and all done naturally! I’m so excited. Thank you!

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