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Companion planting: Truth or myth?

POSTED: March 7, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Through the years, garden folklore has observed some facts about how gardens are planted and arranged. Some plants naturally grow well together, while others do not.

Companion planting refers to the establishment of two or more species of plants paired closely together so some cultural benefit, such as pest control or increased productivity, is achieved. Companion planting involves nothing more than arranging plants in a small garden in such a way that they enhance each other’s growth and quality, improve the soil and repel harmful pests and diseases from one another. This type of planting is natures’ way of controlling insect populations, too.

Based on farming folklore, companion planting has been researched scientifically and proven through enough evidence to support the following:

* Plants with strong odors confuse, deter and stop certain plant pests.

* Certain plants hide and protect other plants that you do not want damaged.

* Certain plants (especially herbs) are considered protection plants for insects by providing shelter, pollen, nectar and cool moist spots for the “good bugs” such as lacewings, wasps, parasitic flies and ladybugs.

* Certain plants serve as a trap crop plant, which pushes bad insects away from other essential plants.

Many lists pair plants together and are presented as traditional companions (plants that have compatible growth habits and share space well), allies ( plants that enhance growth and ward off insects) and enemies (plants that deter good growth).

As you begin planning and planting for the spring, try some of the following pairings and see if they bring you good results.

* Tomatoes with basil, sage or marigolds. These pairings repel mosquitoes, flies and tomato hornworms. Growing basil and tomatoes together may improve health, flavor and yield.

* Eggplant with catnip. These two together repel flea beetles and ants.

* Allium (family of onions) with roses, raspberries and grapevines. This plant repels mice, Japanese beetles and aphids.

* Artemisia with asters. These aromatic plants are two great garden guards, repelling most insects.

* Beebalm near tomatoes. It improves the growth and flavor of tomatoes.

* Squash alongside corn, melons and pumpkins.

* Onions and leeks along with carrots in the cooler season can act as a repellent to the carrot fly.

Some plants enhance pollination. Flowers and perennial plants may provide habitat and food sources to predatory beetles and attract important pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Among the most popular of the repellent plants are garlic and chives. Their powerful ability to repel aphids and beetles is a must in any summer garden. Plant herbs such as savory, chamomile or thyme to attract beneficial insects to the garden.

Plant a row of marigolds around the edges of your garden. The marigold has such a strong odor it literally confuses pests looking for their favorite plants. Their roots also give off a substance to repel damaging soil nematodes.

Try companion planting if you are looking for a way to repel or attract certain insects, enhance the overall growth and quality of all of your plants, maximize ground cover and possibly improve your soil.

Include plenty of these pairings in your garden to create a healthy vibrant environment in your landscape. See if it works for you and your garden’s vitality!

I have only skimmed the surface. Call the extension office for many more creative suggestions.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or wcannon@hallcounty.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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