The Importance of Companion Planting
What is companion planting?
Companion planting is an age-old horticultural philosophy which takes a holistic and organic approach to cultivation. By growing mutually beneficial crops together, we can improve productivity, soil fertility, and overall horticultural well-being.
Ancient farmers in the Americas developed one of the earliest companion planting schemes for maize, squash, and beans, known as the 'Three Sisters'. Maize stalks were used to support climbing beans, who in turn fixed nitrogen in the soil, whilst the squash leaves provided shade from the scorching sun and suppressed weeds (Gandhi, 2022).
Nowadays, companion plants are used by growers the world over, from large-scale farming to hobby gardeners. Find out all about this ancient growing technique and how it can benefit your garden with our quick guide to companion planting.
Why is companion planting important?
One of the most common uses of companion planting is pest control. Strongly scented plants grown amongst edible plants such as fruits and vegetables, will deter pests who are averse to pungent smells. ‘Trap plants’ which attract pests can be planted a short distance from food crops to lure them away. Pollen-rich flowers can be grown to attract beneficial predator insects ladybugs who prey on pests (Iannotti, 2020).
Tall, strong plants like sunflowers can be planted to provide support for climbing and vining plants and vegetables. Large-leaved plants offer shade for sensitive vegetables that are prone to bolting in warm temperatures. Densely packed companion plants suppress weeds before they have chance to take hold, as well as maximising your potential growing space to increase your garden's overall productivity (Hicks-Hamblin, 2021).
Without pollination, our plants would be sterile and worthless. Incorporating pollen-rich native flowers will attract beneficial insects who pollinate our plants and increase their yield. Growing pollen-rich flowers also benefits the wider ecosystem by providing sustenance and safe habitats for our native wildlife (Martin, 2022).
Clever planting can help to preserve and even improve the quality and fertility of your soil. incorporating ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants will draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and release it back into the soil to be absorbed by other plants. Additionally, by growing a variety of different species together with different nutritional needs, your plants won’t be competing for the same nutrients and exhausting your soil's fertility (Clapp, 2022).
How can companion planting benefit your garden?
Minimises maintenance and expense
Companion planting is both easier on your back and your wallet! Densely packed companion plants will smother emerging weeds, meaning no back-breaking weeding. Using tall, strong plants to support climbers means no need to buy trellises or garden canes, nor will you need to fork out for expensive pesticides or fertilisers.
Companion planting for pest control eliminates the need for harmful pesticides. Soil amending plants will help safeguard the fertility of your soil and deliver the right nutrients to your plants without chemical fertilisers. So your gardening practices will be more sustainable, more organic, and far kinder to the surrounding environment.
Healthy plants are productive plants! Clever companion planting combinations will help you create a holistically healthy, fertile, highly productive, and sustainable garden. This means you and your family can enjoy a greater diversity of fruit and vegetables with a greater yield that will be even more delicious and nutritious!