As urban gardeners, we are always pushing the boundaries on what we can achieve. Always trying to grow more, grow faster, and generally get more success and fulfillment out of what we do. In larger cities, space might be an issue, but cleverness is not. That’s why it’s important to look for new ways to improve how we do things as square-foot gardeners.
One way to build a smarter garden is to implement companion plants. Companion plants are essentially two or more different kinds of plants who’s features compliment or help one another.
This is an age old process that has been used throughout the world. One of the most popular examples of this is the so-called “three sisters” model. This is made up of the bean, corn, and squash. The idea is that all three of these plants help each other out and contribute to the welfare of the ‘whole’ group.
Let’s elaborate on this model a little further:
- The beans wills affix nitrogen to the soil, which is beneficial for the corn and squash.
- The corn acts as a trellis for the bean plants to climb up and expand.
- Finally, the squash acts as a ground cover and cools the soil temperature, which keeps moisture from evaporating.
The lesson that we can learn from this is that: while we work to make our plants grow and thrive…why not let our plants work for each other? Can’t we leverage their unique properties in our favor? After all, every little bit helps..
Now I’ll give you 6 examples of other companion plant models and explain the unique dynamics of each one:
1. Marigolds, Basil, and Tomatoes:
This trio packs quite the punch when grouped together. It has been well documented that tomatoes, when planted near basil, grow at a faster rate and acquires a richer flavor when compared to growing alone. Basil is also well-suited for repelling Mosquitos.
The Marigold acts as a ground cover, competing with any weeds that might stray into your garden as well as a moisture barrier. Another added benefit is that marigolds excrete a substance through its roots that is known to kill nematodes.
Finally, the tomato has an insecticide/fungicide called solanine that can be found primarily in the leaves and tubers.
2. Peppers, Carrots, and Onions
Carrots and onions have been known to enhance the flavor of peppers.
The chili plant will fend off root rot via exudates (any kind of damage to the plant) which benefits not only itself, but the carrots and onions as well.
furthermore, the onions will repel pests such as…oddly enough…carrot flies among others. However, when planting onions, be aware that they don’t like to be planted in the same place year after year, so some rotation might be necessary.
3. Tarragon, Thyme, and Cabbage
Tarragon (a favorite amongst French cooks) has a two-sided approach to being a companion plant. First of all, the scent and taste is disliked by many insects, therefore repelling any near it.
Secondly, the tarragon has been described as a ‘nurse plant’ whereby it will boost the growth and enhance the flavor of herbs an vegetables planted near it.
Thyme, in addition to being a powerful attractor of honeybees, it will also repel the cabbage worm and flea beetles. What a coincidence, as the cabbage is the third plant in the group.. Using wooly thyme will also act as an effective ground cover and extinguish any weeds in the area.
Cabbage, on its own, contributes less to the other two, however the plant itself has numerous health benefits and would be much more fruitful if kept away from pests.
4. Rosemary, Beans, and Radishes
A very interesting triad of companion plants. Beans will fix nitrogen into the soil (as described by the three sisters model) which will improve the overall quality of the soil.
Rosemary, if you’ve ever smelled it, has a strong aromatic scent. This scent will deter bean beetles as well as a number of other insects (carrot flies and cabbage moths to name a few).
Radishes have developed an interesting tactic as a companion plant. The radish will draw the attention of leaf-eating insects instead of the weaker plants.
And even though the bugs eat on the leaves, the roots will still grow at a steady rate. Since that’s normally the only part that people eat, then losing a few leaves is an acceptable loss. Think of it as a botanical insurance policy.
5. Strawberries, Garlic, and Celery
This grouping of companion plants is a must-have for the health conscious urban gardener. The celery, being the largest of the three plants, will provide shade for the garlic and strawberries. Also, the aroma from the celery and the garlic will mask the scent of the strawberries, keeping pests from being attracted to it.
Garlic collects and concentrates sulfur, which is known as a natural and powerful fungicide. Also, garlic deters certain bugs such as aphids from entering your garden.
Strawberries, when properly planted, will provide moderate ground cover, which in turn will slow the amount of moisture being lost to the heat and air.
6. Alfalfa, Lemongrass, and Corn
With this potent combination, you will have an interesting set of crops to cook with. Alfalfa, being a magnificent companion crop with fix nitrogen to the soil as well as concentrate iron, magnesium, and potassium. On top of that, alfalfa provides and excellent ground cover that reduces the amounts of weeds to a minimum.
The lemongrass plant can provide some shade to the alfalfa (though rarely needed). Instead, the lemongrass aroma (just like its name) will repel certain pests away from the area.
However, the plant that really comes out on top is the corn. Not only does it have an abundant supply of nitrogen and other minerals, but since it has a shallower root system, it doesn’t have to compete with the alfalfa.
BONUS COMPANION: Sunflower, Cucumber, and Peas
Lucky number 7 companion plants should bring quite the mix to your urban garden. The sunflowers themselves are great attractors of birds. They come for the seeds, but they’ll also chow on some insects while they’re around. Also, the sunflower acts as a natural trellis for vine-forming vegetables.
Which is great for your peas. These plants will not only vine up the stalk of the sunflower, but they will also affix nitrogen into the soil, creating a better environment for your harvest.
Cucumbers, on the other hand, will provide for pretty good ground cover and should benefit greatly by the nitrogen fixation of the peas. With better cover, all three plants will do well with enhanced moisture control provided by this vegetable.
If you have enjoyed this post and found it to be useful, I would suggest some further reading into companion gardening and its many applications. Above are a few books that are offered through my affiliate program. You would be able to get a good amount of knowledge and further examples from these, and I would also receive a small commission for the sales as well.
I hope that you have enjoyed this article as much as I have creating it. If you have any questions about this post, feel free to shoot me a comment in the section below.Thanks again for stopping by and come back again for more ‘upon further inspection’