Colorado Master Gardeners: Plants need companions too
The CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer your questions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Thursday at the Extension Office. Stop by 136 Sixth St., call 970-870-5241 or email csumgprogra...
I learned about companion planting a lifetime ago while studying permaculture and urban gardening in Oregon. When hearing of the term, I still remember my vision of a little, old couple sitting in their rocking chairs, side-by-side, comforted by their similarities and complemented by their differences.
That vision has stuck with me, helping me tap into the age-old wisdom of gardening when it comes time 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 as we do. And just as with humans, some plants thrive with the right companions, while others simply don’t like each other. Through the years, I’ve found it’s better to know in advance than to find out afterwards that my plants just didn’t get along.
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.
Following are a few companions I use; I urge you to start your own list based on the plants you grow, and see what comes of it.
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. 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. On the other hand, according to Louise Riott, carrots love tomatoes.
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 per year — reseeding them next to your cucumbers makes them both happy.
All around town, I see strawberries growing in rows or on their own out of cinder block. 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 nicely 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.
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’ that’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.