For quite a few of us, companion planting is seen as an innovative technique, whereas in fact this association of plants in a garden draws its inspiration from the very nature of ecosystems. Both on the Web and in books, charts can be found that present partnerships known as profitable or unfavorable. Some go so far as to qualify the plants as friends or enemies. Beware of magic formulas and promising charts, because the information going around about companion planting is often lacking in nuance.
The basic principles of companion planting
In theory, companion planting aims to partner plants to achieve three principal goals:
- Making the most of space by growing several varieties on the same plot and planting species that cohabit.
- Partnering plants that are supposed to be useful, as in protecting against pests or sharing nutrients. Nectar-producing plants, for example, help attract pollinators to the garden.
- Covering the soil to avoid leaving it bare in order to impede the growth of weeds and to keep it cool and beyond the reach of the sun’s rays. Green manure can be sown after your harvest or even between plantings.
Consult our TOP 5 tips for plant sisterhood.
A cautionary note
In theory it seems to work well, but it can quickly turn into a headache when the time comes to follow the companion planting charts. Do we have to put plants with similar needs together or, on the contrary, partner those that have complementary needs? To make a success of your companion planting, be critical when it comes to the different sources you consult. Above all, you’ll have to experiment and accept the conditions offered by your garden and get to know the needs of the plants you hope to grow.
A call to experimentation
It’s through trial and error that we learn the most valuable lessons. Whereas for some it’s groundhogs and deer that cause damage to the garden, in the heart of Montréal Island it’s the grey squirrel that all too often torments our vegetable gardens. Purely by chance I discovered that my ground cherry plantings distracted opportunists by serving as bait plants for squirrels (and my daughter), while protecting the rest of my garden.
Knowing and tolerating the conditions of your garden
It’s vital to understand the characteristics of the place under cultivation. Where are the sunnier areas or the ones more exposed to the wind? Do the surrounding trees extend their roots as far as your plot? What pests are present in your region, and what’s your hardiness zone? Once that information is known, it’s probably best to try to adapt to the conditions of the environment. The question to ask yourself is, what could grow well here without too many sacrifices?
The message to remember
To grow well, a plant needs sunshine, water and nutrients. Companion planting is like a game of Tetris in three dimensions where the goal is to plant strategically so that plants can meet their needs the entire season. So it’s important to know what to plant in order to respond to those needs (water, nutrients, and above all the necessary space).
See your garden as an ecosystem and bank on diversity! We understand today that monocultures foster diseases, pests and soil depletion and that in such cases we have to turn to pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. A diversified garden is a resilient garden, because it favors insects. Some are harmful, but most of them contribute to creating a balance in the vegetable garden. By spreading out your plantings and in practicing rotation, you help distract certain pests by preventing their propagation from one plant to the next. Finally, when you aim for diversity, you attract varied wildlife, which will increase the resilience of your garden while minimizing losses in case of unwelcome visits.