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March / 2012


Companion Plants
by: Shannon Clinton


We all remember our best friends from childhood.

We were happy just to be in their presence, and they probably helped us stand up to a bully or two.

Gardeners can forge similar beneficial relationships among plants with these and other companion planting techniques, as recommended by horticulture and agriculture experts across the state.

PURPOSEFUL PLANTING Anise hyssop, basil, and bee balm planted in the garden can attract beneficial insects that promote pollination and the production of fruits and vegetables.

MADE IN THE SHADE If Janet Meyer knows a plant needs shade, she’ll simply plant a taller, leafy plant next to it.

TRICKY TACTIC Plant a “trap crop” next to a plant you want to preserve from insect damage. For instance, aphids far prefer mustard greens to kale. So for a healthier kale crop, try planting a few mustard green plants nearby.
Janet Meyer, assistant farm manager for horticulture, Berea College Gardens & Greenhouse

BUGS BEGONE Dr. Linda Gonzales says she’s found the marigolds planted in her home tomato garden are a good means of deterring aphids, root-eating nematodes, whiteflies, and certain beetles, and they beautifully occupy space where a weed might otherwise grow. Gonzales says by using this tactic, she uses less pesticide or can delay application later into the season.
Dr. Linda Brown Gonzales, professor in the Department of Agriculture, Western Kentucky University

DISTRACT AND CONQUER With so many complex interactions among plants and their environments, Michael Bomford says there are few absolutes, including direct benefits of companion planting. Still, he says, some methods are research backed.

The tomato hornworm or cabbage fly can be called “specialist pests” as they seek only the particular plants they are named for, and easily hone in on larger patches to feast upon. But if you intersperse tomatoes (or likewise, potatoes) with other plants, studies have shown the discouraged bugs won’t be as interested in playing hide-and-seek, and will move on quickly.

FEEDING FRIENDS-Y Beneficial insects like ladybugs and hoverfly larvae (they look like translucent slugs) eat aphids, Bomford says, and are actually a good sign in your garden that they’re assassinating the bad bugs. The beneficial insects can be lured to come work in your garden, too, with nectar from flowering plants.
Dr. Michael Bomford, principal investigator, College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems, Kentucky State University