We all know that plants are your best companions, but could they use some better company? The answer may scare you.
While your nasturtiums sit looking happy as can be in the afternoon sun, their plant friends across the street are probably crying out, wishing for sweet relief from pesky fiends. “The aphids won’t leaf me alone!” The cabbage laments, “How ever will I survive this summer?!” The reality of this situation is all too common. Don’t let your plants waste their life-giving potential. Practice companion planting. Companion planting is the practice of planting an aid plant near a host plant for the purpose of making the host better or stronger in some way. The system takes into account the differing strengths and vulnerabilities of varying plants, producing a non-pesticide oriented approach for the maintenance of a garden. Scientifically, the phytochemicals between the host and companion plant must be different to either aid with pesky pest management, produce a higher crop yield/better tasting fruit, or attract beneficial insects to the garden. Trap crops are those that divert attention from the main crop through their exceptional attraction of certain pests. Mentioned above, nasturtiums attract aphids to such a great extent the pests forget about/aren’t able to feed on cabbage.
There are many ways to use trap crops, called: conventional, sequential, dead-end, push-pull, etc. These all operate under the attempt of using a less valuable crop to attract pests that are harmful to more important crops. Other companion plants may mask certain host plant’s scents through their aroma, physically block or camouflage host plants, or generally enhance the strength and durability of a plant to aid with long life.
Companion planting has a long history, especially in Appalachia in relation to the Cherokee. Corn, pole beans, and squash have traditionally been called the “Three Sisters” due to their synergistic relationship. The story goes there were three sisters, each fiercely independent until realizing their cooperation could eradicate all the practical issues each one had. Heirloom varieties of corn have strong stalks that act as poles for beans to climb during their growth, and squash covers the base of the corn and cuts down on the amount of weeds able to grow around the crop. This relationship is obviously one of life enhancement for the three crops, making the plants companion species despite their lack of insect-repelling ability.
Certain plant pairings can become companion species due to a variety of factors, cultural/economic/environmental all having a say in how plants are able to help other plants achieve desired results. When researching “companion species,” however, one typically finds guides of trap, repelling, and good-insect attractor plants to plant alongside vegetables. Companion planting definitely provides an easy and exciting way to spice up garden spaces, as many beautiful flower species act as the companion species to main garden plants. This method of pest management is one all should give a try.