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Multipurpose Companion Plants for Edible Gardens

posted by: okiedawn on 01.09.2013 at 05:20 pm in Oklahoma Gardening Forum

In response to a request from Charlie for info on companion plants that can be useful in edible gardens, here's some that I use.

Compost Crops: In order to garden as sustainably as possible, I try to gather compost materials here from our property and I grow some compost crops. The fewer compost-type materials you bring in from an outside source, the more control you have over the quality of your compost. This is a bigger deal than it seems because ever since about 2000 or 2001, there have been persistent problems with contaminated hay, compost, manure, grass clippings in municipal compost, etc. that contain herbicide residue that kills many of the plants in a person's garden and stunts many of the ones that survive.

So, if you have space to grow your own compost crops (also referred to as green manure), here's a few that are useful:
Clovers of many different kinds (short Dutch White, taller New Zealand White, Crimson, Red, Sweet White)
Fava Beans (cool season)
Vetch (hairy or wooly)
Cereal Rye (especially important to grow this in sandy soils that are infested with root knot nematodes)
Winter Rye
Austrian Field Peas/Winter Field Peas
Amaranths (the tall grain types make oodles of material for your compost pile)
Phacelia tanacetifolia
Agricultural mustard
Lupines (in our climate I use Texas Bluebonnets)

I plant all of these in different ways. You have to experiment and see what works for you. Many serve a cual purpose. For example, the tall grain types of amaranths produce large flower heads that are highly ornamental. You can cut the seedheads and use them dried as fall decorations. You can thresh the seeds and use them as an edible grain crop. You can eat young tender leaves of amaranth. You can put any and all of the plants in your compost pile. The big stalks get huge in summer, so I like to chop them up (a machete makes quick work of them) into smaller pieces before composting. I usually plant amaranth on the northern edge of the veggie garden right along the fence line...just outside the fence line so I can use the ground inside for beans, peas, cukes, melons, etc. that will climb the 8' tall garden fence which doubles as a trellis. Once the amaranth is tall enough, it also serves as a windbreak.

The low growing dutch white clover can be planted in garden pathways. It doesn't mind being walked on, it can attract beneficials, and you can clip it and use it as mulch or put it on the compost pile. You also can plant it in orchards where it is more useful than grass. Grassroots compete with your orchard trees. Clovers fix nitrogen in the soil.

I'm not going to go through every use for every plant or I'd end up writing a book, but every plant listed above produces lots of organic matter for your compost pile, attracts insects when blooming, and, if legumes, improve the soil. I plant some on the edge of the garden during the main garden season, use others as off-season cover crops, and grow some inside the garden mixed with veggies, herbs and flowers.

PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BENEFICIAL INSECTS: Most of the following plants attract many, many different kinds of beneficial insects. In some cases, they are mainly attracting butterflies, which makes the garden a more enjoyable place to spend time. In other cases, they attract bees which are essential for good pollination of some crops, and other pollinators of all kinds. They attract many kinds of good insects that are carnivores who will prey upon the herbivore insects that eat your plants. Some of them release enzymes that deter pests. Some have fragrances that repel bad insects but not good ones. They are many reasons to grow these. In my garden, most of these are generally scattered around here and there. Sometimes I put a specific plant next to a specific vegetable or fruit for a specific reason. A few of these can be invasive in some situations. When I find one to be excessively invasive I tend to move it outside the garden and plant it where its rampant growth doesn't threaten the veggies, herbs and flowers inside the fenced garden. These companion plants can be annuals, biennials, perennials and include flowers and herbs. Some are considered common weeds, but remember that a weed is in the eye of the beholder. To many people, a dandelion is a weed, but it is helpful as a dynamic accumulator, which I'll get into in a minute.

Here are some great companion plants:

Sweet Alyssum--I grow this as an edging in some raised beds, or underneath taller plants as a form of living mulch.

Bishop Weed (Ammi visnaga)--Interplant these with leaf crop plants to protect them from leaf-eating insects. They'll attract beneficial insects that prey upon the leaf-eating insects.

Nasturtium--in addition to attracting beneficial insects, these produce edible flowers. I especially like to plant these around squash plants.

Calendula, aka Pot Marigold -- attract beneficial insects, flowers are edible.

Cosmos--attract butterflies and beneficial insects

Nicotiana--The various nicotianas are both beautiful and beneficial. Their flowers attract beneficial insects and, as a bonus, the undersides of their leaves are sort of icky-sticky and will catch/trap whiteflies and some other pest insects. Then, as a bonus, you can brew some nicotiana tea and spray it on your plants as a natural pesticide. DON'T drink it! The flowering nicotine family is huge. I grow the white flowered ones like N. sylvestris and N. alata in my moon garden near the chicken coop, and grow a few in my veggie garden. They self-sow there, so when they pop up, I leave them where I want them and pull the rest. I grow some of the newer, shorter ones with flowers in different colors in my flower border.

Sunflowers--I mentioned these in another thread. They are a great trap crop for some pest insects. Just plant them some distance away from your garden so they attract pests away from your garden, not to it.

Yarrow--attracts many beneficial insects. I transplanted some native yarrow from my pasture to my veggie garden years ago. Its foliage emerges in Nov. or Dec. and it grows fast when the weather warms up. Attracts beneficials very early in the season before some of the other companion plants are up and growing much.

These are herbs that are multipurpose. Most of them attract beneficial insects, but there's several whose aroma repels herbivore insects.

Sage(Salvia officinalis)--Repels insects, especially cabbage worm butterflies. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Wormwood (Artemesia absintheum)--Repels cabbage worms if planted near your cabbage plants. It has some compounds that serve as growth retardents, which helps it keep competing weeds away from it, so I plant it about 3' away from my cabbage plants, usually just outside the garden fence. It will discourage some burrowing pests, and deer normally won't eat it.

Thyme--attracts beneficial insects when blooming. Grows low so can be used as a living mulch. Needs well-drained soil. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Sweet Annie (Artimesia annua). Attracts beneficials and deer generally won't eat it. I put it on the north side of the garden because it can get tall and shade other plants. Can be used a bouquet filler or as a background plants in wreaths.

Mint-generally repel insects, but can be invasive. Attracts beneficials when flowering, repels ants. Useful in herbal tea or tea blends, or a single leaf can be used to flavor regular iced tea. Can be used to make mint jelly.

Hopi tobacco -- N. rustica---not as attractive as the flowering nicotines mentioned above, but does attract beneficial insects, and repels some of the herbivore insects. Better as a background plant as it has large coarse leaves.

Basil - Improves the growth and flavor or tomatoes when grown nearby. Attracts beneficial insects when flowering. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Parsley--useful as an herb, but I mainly plant it specifically to attract swallowtail butterflies. Their larvae eat the parsley, so if growing it, understand at times they may eat it down to the ground. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Winter Savory--attracts beneficials. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Skullcap-- attracts beneficials

Oregano--attracts beneficials. Useful as a kitchen herb.

Licorice mint (A. foeniculum)--attracts beneficials

Catnip--attracts beneficials and cats (felines). Useful as catnip tea. Readily reseeds.

Catmint--attracts beneficials and cats (felines)

With both of the above, if you have pet cats or neighborhood cats that like to hang out in your garden, you can plant then some catnip and catmint adjacent to the edible garden, along with some catgrass or variegated cat grass, and they'll be more attracted to the little spot of cat garden plants than to your nice edible plants. Sometimes in the past, we've had bobcats pop up in the garden. We joke that they were attracted to the cat garden plants, but I think they are sitting in there waiting for sometime to come into the garden that they can prey upon. Since we raised the garden fence to a much taller height, the bobcats are less common as long as I remember to keep the gates closed.

Stinging nettle--multipurpose

Lemon balm--attracts beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb.

Lavender--repels pests, useful as a kitchen herb.

Hyssop officinalis--attracts beneficials

Chamomile--attracts beneficials readily and esp. early in the season when few companion plants are blooming. Flowers can be harvested and used to make chamomile tea, which is a great preventive treatment for damping off in seedlings. Useful as herbal tea.

Dill--attracts beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb as both dill weed and dill seed

Cilantro--attracts beneficials if you let it go to seed.( The seeds can be collected, and in this form is known as coriander. The leaves are harvested and used as a kitchen herb.

Fennel--attracts butterflies and beneficials, useful as a kitchen herb

Calendula--attracts beneficial insects, edible flowers

Feverfew--attracts beneficials, can be used for migraine headache relief

Chives--repels pests, especially aphids, but also attracts beneficial insects when in bloom, useful as a kitchen herb. Sometimes I use the lilac-colored flowers (from regular chives) or the white flowers (from garlic chives) as a garnish along with parsley on platters of deviled eggs.

Tansy--attracts beneficials, but can be tall and rangy in good soil I usually plant it outside the garden fence, and often plant it near the chicken runs because it repels flies.

Almost any flowers that produce either pollen, nectar or both will attract beneficials. I like to use old-fashioned varieties that date back decades. Some of the newer flowers are bred more for appearance and may lack nectar and pollen that the insects need, or their nectar/pollen is not attractive to the beneficial insects.

Here are some of the 'antique', heirloom or open-pollinated flowers I like to plant around the garden. These are different from the ones mentioned above in that they aren't as multipurpose--I just like them because they look good and the beneficial insects like them:

Fire Chief petunia

Laura Bush petunia

Four O'Clocks (also seem to deter tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms)

Texas Hummingbird Sage (a salvia)

Salvia farinacea (blue flowers)

Pincushion Flowers, aka Sweet Scabious

Verbena bonariensis--also known as tall verbena. One of the best butterfly-attracting plants in my garden

Henbit--in bloom very late in winter or early in spring when few other plants are and when beneficials desperately need to find flowers

Poppies--for early spring blooms for beneficials

Larkspur--for early spring blooms for beneficials

Sunflowers--to attract beneficials, to serve as a trap crop for stink bugs, to provide sunflower seeds for the birds (I cut and dry the heads and save them for winter)

Zinnias and other daisy-like flowers--for the butterflies.

Butterfly weed - for the monarchs

Cleome -- for the butterflies

I'm sure I've forgotten plenty.

I deliberately didn't mention marigolds before now for a reason. Marigolds are a two-edged sword. In some cases, I don't think they perform as well in real life as garden writers would have you believe, at least not in my garden. Some of them actually attract spider mites, so I plant those outside of and away from the garden. I tuck a few into the flower border hear and there, but don't put them right in the beds with the veggies much any more.

It isn't necessarily about which flowers or herbs, or shrubs or trees, you plant in proximity to your garden. It is just more about having as wide of a variety of plants as possible. You never know which plants will attract which insects. I have found that even carrots and onions if left in the garden and allowed to flower both produce flowers that beneficial insects like.

Sometimes you learn the functions of the various companion plants merely by planting them. I've always loved lemon balm and like to plant it where it hangs over the edge of a raised bed and I brush it as I walk by, thereby releasing its lovely fragrance. I also like to use it in cooking. One of these days I will plant a little lemon bed with nothing but lemon-related plants in it. Anyhow, through observation I learned that very often if I am paying attention I will find the very first, tiny, newly-hatched grasshoppers sitting on the lemon balm leaves eating them. So, I watch them when it is grasshopper egg-hatching time, and when they show up, I immediately sprinkle Semaspore on the leaves to control them. It is most useful when they are in the younger instars from about 1/4 to 1/2" in length, so watching the lemon balm for young grasshoppers allows me to spot them easily at that size.

I didn't mention garlic, onions or chives in much detail, though I discussed them in an earlier thread. Garlic is a great repellent and often organic gardeners plant it under and around their fruit trees. Ditto with the chives. Garlic, chive or onion tea can be sprayed on plants to repel pest insects.

For years and years I tried to apply traditional companion planting bush beans with potatoes or tomatoes with basil and borage....but I don't know if it really is effective. I think it is just as effective, in general, to scatter those companion plants all over the garden, though there's still a few I like to place close to the plant that they are said to help. I'll mention some of those in the post on planting schemes.

Charlie, I hope this is the kind of info you were looking for.



clipped on: 02.14.2014 at 10:04 am    last updated on: 02.14.2014 at 10:04 am

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posted by: EdiblePlanet on 09.09.2013 at 05:06 pm in Permaculture Forum

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clipped on: 02.14.2014 at 03:16 am    last updated on: 02.14.2014 at 03:16 am

RE: New to Gardening, help me plan please! (Follow-Up #2)

posted by: DirtandYarn on 02.14.2014 at 12:29 am in New to Gardening Forum

Start small, and leave room for growth in future seasons. You are learning new gardening skills, but you're also learning about your site and weather conditions too. Please don't overwhelm yourself with a large garden plot right at the get go. (I've done this myself, and this could kill your enthusiasm.) Start smaller than you would like; choose easy herbs with wonderful scents that pull you outside; quick growing plants like radishes, baby carrots or edible flowers - for (almost) immediate gratification. Hopefully this will leave you hungry for more gardening when next year comes around.


clipped on: 02.14.2014 at 01:15 am    last updated on: 02.14.2014 at 01:16 am