Gardening is an incredibly beneficial activity. It gives us the connection with nature that we miss so much these days, relieves stress, keeps us physically active, and helps us enjoy the amazing taste of homegrown produce.
Growing your fruits and vegetables is both, fun and rewarding, and it can be much easier than many think. If you are new to gardening, you should try companion planting this year, as it is the best way to boost the fruitfulness of your garden.
It is the technique of planting two or more plants together, as they are mutually beneficial. It also dictates which plants should be separated, because they will compete for the same nutrients and end up malnourished.
In layman’s terms, the idea behind it all is that some plants and plant families are “friends” with others and grow better together. Most of what we know about companion planting has been learned after centuries of trial and error.
In North America, one of the oldest examples of this method is the trio known as the Three Sisters: beans, corn, and squash.
Each of them benefits the other two, and here is how it all works:
- The corn serves as a pole or a stalk for the beans to grow
- Beans pull nitrogen from the soil, needed by all of them, and as they wind up the corn stalks, they hold all three plants together
- The leaves of the squash provide shade to keep the soil cool and moist and protect the garden from pests such as rabbits and raccoons
The three sisters play a different role each, but they all keep the garden healthy.
This is one of the basic principles of companion planting: all plants need protection from pests and insects, some need shade, others support, and some require certain nutrients.
Another successful trio is spinach, bush beans, and radishes. Rhizobia, bacteria found in beans, absorbs nitrogen from the air and converts it into a form usable by the plant. Mycorrhizae, the fungus in the radish’s root system, boosts nutrient absorption.
Both, the radishes and the beans support the growth of spinach by providing shade, protecting it from pests and insects, and boosting nutrient availability.
On the other hand, tomatoes should never be planted together with any member of the cucurbit family, including cucumbers. Yet, plant them with carrots and basil, and they will grow more vigorously.
Other plants that do not get along well include beans and peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, lettuces and broccoli, and peas and onions.
You should also try planting flowers with vegetables. For instance, as marigolds and nasturtiums attract beneficial pollinators, they will boost fruit-sets on squashes and melons, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Although we became accustomed to our veggies planted in neat rows with labels, this is not the way nature does it. Therefore, even though it might look messy, it would be wise to imitate nature’s biodiversity and grow more plants together to help them develop better. Plants in a polyculture are stronger, more resilient, and less prone to losses from insects or disease.
Companion planting offers numerous advantages to gardeners:
- It protects the delicate plants from harsh weather conditions
- It lowers the risk of losing the entire yield
- It attracts beneficial insects to the garden
- It protects the garden from insects and pests
Nan Fischer, the founder of the Taos NM Seed Exchange, a free community service for home gardeners to trade seed, explains:
“Aside from the benefits to your plants, companion planting uses your garden space more efficiently, letting you harvest more. The diversity that companion planting provides is also good for pollinators, wildlife, and soil health.”
If you are willing to try it, the following guide will provide useful information needed to get started and enjoy the upcoming planting season!