May 15th is the traditional cut off date for a final frost. Meaning, starting next week, everything goes – in your garden. I will be seeding watermelons and transplanting chile peppers. As you prepare to fill your summer plot, consider not only what you’re planting, but where you’re planting. The logic and tradition of companion planting is based on setting up mutually beneficial relationships between plants. This method of organization can encourage pest control and stimulate vigorous growth. It is even said to produce tastier tomatoes.
Every plant demands and provides differently – absorbing certain soil nutrients, attracting specific pests while repelling others. It makes sense, then, to arrange your garden in a way that takes advantage of these individual properties. Companion planting originated with the Native American custom of the “Three Sisters” guild. Historically, Native Americans would plant corn, squash and beans side by side on a small plot of land. The tall stalks of corn provided a trellis for the beans, while the sprawling squash offered ground cover, stamping out potential weeds. Beans, a legume, are nitrogen fixing, and will not disturb nutrient intake of corn or squash.
Trap crops are another example of companion planting. If you are concerned about squash bugs attacking your cucumber bed, plant zucchini nearby. Summer squash leaves are sweeter and more preferable to the pests, thus deterring them from your main crop cukes.
Overtime, growers have collectively developed a comprehensive guide to companion planting. Inevitably, these guides are part truth, part lore, but in any case, a home garden offers the perfect scale in which to trial some of this knowledge. We can’t tend to our garden at all times, so why not let the plants themselves do some of the work?
Here are a few suggestions:
Basil with tomatoes – repels tomato hornworms
Nasturtiums with squash – deters squash bugs
Radishes and cucumbers – trap crop for cucumber beetles
Lettuce and carrots – for best flavor of both
Bee balm and tomatoes – for enhanced tomato flavor
Tomatoes and lettuce – tall trellis can provide welcome shade for tender greens