Thursday, August 4, 2016

Plants Need Companions Too Andy Kennedy, master gardener

Linda Lewis shows off one of her companion-focused permaculture gardens on the
2012 YVSC Garden Tour

I learned about Companion Planting a lifetime ago when studying permaculture and urban gardening in Oregon.  I still remember when hearing the term, my vision of a little old couple sitting in their rocking chairs side by side, comforted by their similarities and complimented by their differences. That vision has stuck with me, helping me tap into the age old wisdom of gardening when it comes time again to plant. Whether I’m working on extending our beautiful perennial garden or just planting seasonal vegetables in raised beds, all plants needs companions, just like we do. And just as with humans, some plants thrive with the right companions and some plants simply don’t like each other. Over the years, I’ve found it’s better to know in advance than to find out afterwards that my plants just didn’t like each other!

The topic of companion planting has spawned much debate, and many experts reject the idea entirely. However, much practical application, research, and experience is written on the subject and reasons to be on your game with companion planting are extensive.  Successful plant pairings can aid in pest control, growth, pollination, habitat, and maximizing space and resources. So here are a few companions that I use, and I urge you to start your own list based on the plants you grow, and see what comes of it.

Leafy greens interspersed with edible flowers help ward of pests and make gardens beautiful.
For starters, most people know that planting marigolds, nasturtiums, and tansy are good for the garden. They make tasty flowers you can eat as well, so we sprinkle them throughout our gardens. Often it’s their fragrance that repels the pests that like to eat your vegetables, and most of these claims have been tested. Garlic, onion and chive help ward off pests as well, so we like to plant them throughout our gardens too. That said, beans do not like onions, so we give the beans and peas their own space with the squash, and they usually thrive. A common pest that often plagues our brassicas is the white cabbage moth.  It can be deterred by thyme, hyssop, rosemary and wormwood.  Dill also can improve the growth and health of the cabbage family, but keep in mind, it hinders carrots. (But, according to Louise Riott, carrots love tomatoes.)

Author Andy Kennedy showing off tall fall sunflowers, planted next to the potatoes in their Priest Creek Ranch garden share plot.
After pests, we consider yield.  Cucumbers have a shorter season and can do well in our climate if we pay attention. It’s good to know they don’t like potatoes and some herbs; they love beans, sunflowers and radishes.  As radishes are easy to grow here - we always grow at least two yields a year - reseeding them next to your cucumbers makes them both happy.
All around town I see strawberries growing in rows or out of cinder block on their own. This is another potential high-yielding crop in this region (think “Strawberry Park”) and is one of the most companion-loving plants I know. Strawberries play nice with just about anyone, except cabbage.  

They thrive in a dense community atmosphere: think about their wild counterparts growing in the forests. I learned long ago to plant strawberries with borage, which deters pests and draws massive numbers of pollinators.
Borage- attracts pollinators and wards of pests
Some plants like to be moved each season, and “rotating” your crops is good for the soil, but some plants, tomatoes in particular, like to be in the same spot each year. So we keep notes on where our plants have been, year to year, in our gardening journal.
Every year I go back to that gardening notebook, compare it with the expert blogs and websites (most seed companies have great companion lists), and start anew. Some plants still thrive, and some still fail. It’s the nature of gardening. Knowledge is only half the battle, and it takes a lifetime to gather. Hopefully my husband and I will be rocking on our porch in our elder years, still watching our plants grow.

Andy Kennedy has called the Yampa Valley home since 1998 and “graduated” from the CSU Extension Master Gardener program in 2015. She calls herself the “absent gardener” because she frequently travels with her husband, Craig; they rely on an automated watering system and harvest “whatever comes up.” It takes the stress out of gardening. 

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