This time of year we get a lot of questions about companion plants in the veggie garden. What do you plant with the tomatoes et al to reduce bugs and other critters? Does it work and what do you do?
Vegetable gardens today are different for various reasons. For one, we are using fewer pesticides in our gardens which is a very good thing – but it does make it a wee bit more challenging when we are trying to reduce the bugs eating our veggies….
Another trend for the past few years is that many gardeners are using some of the older heirloom plants as the mainstay of their garden – in particular, we see many more heirloom tomatoes varieties being used. We like heirloom tomatoes – but they generally take a lot longer to fruit than modern varieties so there is more opportunity for pest damage. Also, keep in mind that most heirloom varieties are not very resistant to soil disease issues- so anything companion plants can do to help is a good thing.
Marigolds are a good place to start as French Marigolds are well known to help in the veggie garden. We often plant marigolds with our tomatoes to help reduce whiteflies but mostly to help reduces soil nematodes. Marigolds don't have the nicest fragrance and we wonder if that is the reasons some bugs stay away? Planting marigolds for root nematodes may be more important if you use a lot of heirloom tomatoes – and is important for all tomato gardeners if you always plant your tomatoes in the same area of the garden. A row or two of marigolds is a good idea and this is one flower easily started from seed or added as a bedding plant.
Another flower we like as a companion plant is Nasturtium. Many older gardeners think that nasturtiums help keep aphids away and it is common to see nasturtiums with tomatoes, cabbages and cucumbers. Nasturtiums work as a ‘trap plant’ as aphids prefer the flower to the taste of the veggies. Rumour has it the yellow-flowered nasturtium tastes the best!
Targeting the companion plant to the disease is a good idea. If you are growing a lot of heirloom tomatoes one disease that can reduce yield is Fusarium – a soil disease. Planting hot Pepper varieties with the tomatoes will help reduce Fusarium – as well you have instant salsa!!
Another good idea is to plant legumes that help ‘make’ nitrogen with veggies that use a lot of nitrogen. Beans and peas both are able to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air and push extra nitrogen into their roots. So if you plant beans under your corn you can get a boost.
Companion veggies are often clustered together. Carrots, onions, leaf lettuce and tomatoes work well together at helping each other grow. We see dill and lettuce planted together, eggplant and beans or gardens of cucumbers, corn and beans.
A few combinations are to be avoided – lettuce and cabbage should be planted at opposite ends of the garden – dill and carrots too. But, basil will improve the flavour of tomatoes according to many.
We like companion planting – it is a good way to reduce a few bugs – and the flowers and mixed planting add some colours to the garden!
Here is a helpful link that goes into more detail – http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw.aspx#axzz32BJ1m9zn