In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2009
Regional Report

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Nasturtiums are perfect companions to cucumbers to ward off beetles. And they are edible, too!

Companions Can Make Life Easier

I'm all in favor of doing whatever I can to make gardening easier, aren't you? One of the best ways to bring a garden into balance where plants actually assist each other toward health is by companion planting. As we plan our gardens, if we put some thought into how the plants affect each other, we can add diversity for beauty as well as companions that are beneficial to each other.

Plant Companions
Many gardeners believe that certain plant combinations have extraordinary (some even believe mysterious) powers for helping each other grow. Happily, scientific study confirms that some combinations have real benefits. In the end, though, only your practical experience and a willingness to experiment can demonstrate the benefits of companionship in your garden. So, how exactly does companion planting work?

Physical Assistance
First of all, companions can physically help each other grow. For example, tall plants provide shade for sun-sensitive shorter plants, helping them thrive through the hottest part of the summer or nursing them off to a healthy start. Lettuce planted with woodland tobacco and spider flower will have the shade it needs to thrive into the hot days of summer. Why not try lettuce in your flower garden as a spring crop?

Use Garden Space Efficiently
Companions can help use garden space more efficiently such as when a vining plant like winter squash covers the ground under its tall neighbor like corn. This way, two plants basically occupy the same ground in the garden.

Pest Repellants
Some companions prevent pest problems on other plants. Onions and garlic repel some pests. Planting them close to a tasty crop can actually help keep problem pests away or at least reduce their damage. Try planting garlic chives as companions to roses. Their starry white blossoms make a beautiful accent to roses and the garlic scent supposedly repels rose slugs and leaf miners. Gardeners have planted marigolds next to tomatoes for years as repellant to nematodes on the tomato roots.

Cucumbers and nasturtiums are natural companions. Plant vining nasturtiums to grow along with the cucumber vines to repel cucumber beetles. Even if they don't repel cucumber beetles, they provide a habitat for predatory insects such as spiders and ground beetles, and they are certainly beautiful, so what's the risk?
Some companion plants act as trap crops to lure pests away from more desirable plants. Plant Chinese cabbage near eggplants. Flea beetles love eggplant but they love Chinese cabbage even more. So, the flea beetles eat the cabbage and leave the eggplants alone. Leave some pigweed plants to grow in the vegetable garden as an aphid trap. The aphids flock to the pigweed and leave succulent garden plants alone.

Repellant Plant Foliage, Enhanced Flavor
Tomato foliage is also a repellant for many pests, and planting tomatoes right next to cabbages may help ward off the cabbage moths. Planting mint or basil next to tomatoes will enhance the tomato flavor. What better combination for pasta than tomato and basil?

Attract Beneficial Insects
Plant cabbage and dill together. Dill attracts tiny beneficial wasps that control imported cabbageworms and other cabbage pests, and is also a host for the beautiful swallowtail butterfly larva. Sweet alyssum flowers attract predatory wasps, so plant them alongside bushy crops like potatoes, or let it spread to form a living ground cover under arching plants like broccoli.

As you can see, the companions are endless. A quick search on the web will turn up all sorts of ideas to try.

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