Get your garden growing with companions

If you’re growing a garden this year, give your vegetables some company.

Companion planting — also called “intercropping” — is an age-old practice in which plant varieties are arranged in ways that are mutually beneficial. It’s a method of all-natural gardening that helps conserve water, control pests, and even fertilize the soil.

A perfect example is an American Indian approach known as the “three sisters”: corn, beans and squash. The beans use the corn stalks as climbing poles, while their roots replenish the soil with nitrogen. The corn’s roots hold the soil — which is mounded — together. The leaves from the squash shade the soil, retaining moisture and deterring weed growth. (Specific instructions can be found on Garden Web)

According to Rodale’s Organic Gardening, “Scientific study of companion planting has confirmed that some combinations have real benefits unique to those combinations. And practical experience has demonstrated to many gardeners how to mate certain plants for their mutual benefit.”

There are numerous combinations that rely on plants’ specific interactions to achieve results. Each plant releases certain chemicals — including alkaloids, amino acids, sugars and tannins — that can aid (or deter) the growth of another plant, and attract some insects and repel others. If you’d like to try it, Organic Gardening lists the following “Winning Combinations” on its Web site:

  • “Roses and chives: Gardeners have been planting garlic with roses for eons, because garlic is said to repel rose pests. Garlic chives probably are just as repellent, and their small purple or white flowers in late spring looks great with rose flowers and foliage.
  • Tomatoes and cabbage: Tomatoes are repellent to diamondback moth larvae, which are caterpillars that chew large holes in cabbage leaves.
  • Cucumbers and nasturtiums: The nasturtium’s vining stems make them a great companion rambling among the cucumbers and squash, suggests Sally Jean Cunningham, master gardener and author of Great Garden Companions. Nasturtiums “are reputed to repel cucumber beetles, but I depend on them more as habitat for predatory insects,” such as spiders and ground beetles.
  • Peppers and pigweed or ragweed: Leafminers preferred the weeds to pepper plants in a study at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia. Just be careful to remove the weeds’ flowers before they set seed or you’ll have trouble controlling the weeds.”

If you have some favorite combinations, please let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook page. And if you try it, let us know how it worked!