Everybody knows that good neighbors are so much better than bad ones. This is true not only at home and at work, but also in the garden.
There are good plants — companion plants — that do a lot for their plant neighbors and your garden overall. They help each other grow, they can increase the yield that each neighbor produces, and some even provide added nutrients to the soil.
One of the things that make companion plants great neighbors is that they offer pest control benefits. They mask or hide a crop from pests, produce odors that confuse pests, and act like trap crops that draw pests away from other plants.
Not all plant visitors are bad. In fact, some are so good that we actually want to encourage them to come into our gardens. Unfortunately, we tend to think that any bug we see is bad; when we focus so much on removing any and all pests, we can wind up killing off the “good” guys in the process.
That’s why companion plants are so great.
While they discourage “bad” garden pests, companion plants also help to attract beneficial insects by providing them with breeding grounds and creating a habitat for them.
Some beneficial insects feed on weeds, some feed on insects and mites like aphids, and some attack insect pests by sterilizing or debilitating them. Good pests you want to invite to your garden include: lacewings, parasitic wasps, lady beetles, spiders and predatory mites. And, of course, bees and butterflies are considered good guys, and we need to attract them to our gardens for pollination.
One of the best ways to use companion planting to attract beneficial insects is to provide a diversity of plants that takes into account seasonality and the different feeding requirements they have at the different stages of development. Make sure to use plants that are rich in pollen and nectar at different times of the year.
To get you started, here are some of the most common beneficial companion plants:
- In general, plants with many small flowers work better than those with a large single flower because small insects may drown in large blooms with too much nectar. Small flowers include asters, alyssum, lobelia, small sunflowers and yarrow.
- Umbelliferae plants: angelica, clovers, coriander (cilantro), dill, fennel, parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, rue and yarrow
- Herbs including basil, borage, chamomile, lavender, mints (spearmint, peppermint), rosemary and thyme
- Annuals or perennials in the sunflower/aster family (many small flowers/petals around a central disk): cosmos, zinnia, small sun flowers, daisy, coneflower
- Sage (Salvia) family plants
Do you have favorite companion plants you’d like to recommend? Share them in the comments section.