Have you ever wondered why people plant sunflowers in their garden? Or maybe you have seen vegetables or herbs in a flower bed. These people haven’t lost their minds and they are not eccentric, they are companion planting. What is companion planting you ask? Companion planting is putting plants that may provide nutrients, protection from pests or disease or attract good bugs and birds to other plants. Some people disagree on what plants are best for others so it may be more trial and error and what works for you.
Marigolds are a great companion plant for pretty much all garden plants, blooming or edible. Their roots contain thiopene which is toxic to certain nematodes. Plant marigolds around the outside of your garden to discourage aphids and beetles from stopping by for an all you can eat smorgasbord. Marigolds will also attract beneficial insects that will snack on the insects that are feasting on your plants. Beans, carrots, cabbages and tomatoes are just a few plants that benefit from having marigolds as a companion plant.
Onions, as well as garlic and chives, contain chemicals that help protect roses from black spot and apples from scab. Broccoli and cabbage are a tasty treat for cabbage moths, but you can mask their scent by planting carrots and onions near by. Onions will also help repel carrot flies. They make good companion plants for most any other garden plants but don’t mix well with peas and beans because they are thought to stunt their growth.
Plants that have a strong smell such as rosemary, sage, lavender and oregano help to mask the odor of more tasty-smelling plants. This camouflage can help to keep aphids away.
Cabbage and other plants that are similar, contain oils that can poison spider mites, mosquitos and Mexican bean beetles. This makes cabbage, kale and others good companion plants for beans but may not work will with strawberries or tomatoes.
Squash, as you are very aware if you have picked any, has scratchy foliage similar to okra. This can be beneficial to other plants by deterring pests. It not only works for the six-legged types, but when planted as a barrier around corn, squash plants can help keep four-legged critters such as raccoons away.
Petunias, onions, corn, lettuce and peas do well around squash. It is thought by some, that when planted near cucumbers and melons, they can alter the flavor of each other. Other sources say that it’s an old wives tale so you may want to use your own judgement.
Catnip is a versatile plant. Not only can you drive your cats wild with it, you can also use it as an insect repelling mulch. Some aphids and flea beetles find this plant offensive and will leave your other plants alone. Use or plant catnip around eggplant and lettuce, some greens and potatoes.
Rosemary, as well as onions, can repel carrot flies. It is also very aromatic and helps mask the odors of tastier plants near by that bugs seek to eat.
Parsley isn’t just for garnish. It is a natural repellant for asparagus beetles, parsley attracts beneficial insects such as wasps, lacewings, and syrphid flies which will help keep the harmful bugs in check. Plant parsley with peppers but avoid planting with fennel. Fennel should be kept to the fringes because it can inhibit other plant’s growth.
Geraniums can help repel leafhoppers. Plant them near your cabbage and other plants from that family and even grapes. Geraniums will also keep cabbage worms and Japanese beetles at bay.
Petunias are more that just a pretty face, they can repel leafhoppers like geraniums. This can be beneficial to any garden vegetable that may be bothered by these little pests including eggplant, squash and greens. Petunias can also attract good insects that will feast on harmful insects.
Early in the season you can plant alyssum to attract helpful bugs to your garden. When it gets a bit warmer, marigolds and coreopsis will pick up the slack. Salvia is good at attracting beneficials also.
Dill, chamomile, corriander, fennel and sunflowers are a few plants that attract insects that will feast on caterpillars, aphids, leafhoppers and thrips.
Sunflowers, echinacea (cone flower), cosmos and zinnias will attract larger insects that will eat cucumber beetles, grasshopper eggs, slugs and caterpillars.
Birds are great for pest control also. Zinnias, sunflowers and other plants that produce seeds will bring in bug-eating birds. Hummingbirds do not just like nectar, they too snack on caterpillars and other small insects. Monarda (bee balm), pineapple sage, nicotiana, verbena and salvia are just a few plants that will attract these fast-moving birds.
So now when you see sunflowers in someone’s vegetable garden or parsley in their flower bed, you will know that they serve an important purpose. Experiment in your own gardens to find out what works best for you.