As essential components of the plant life cycle, pollinating insects and birds are the key players in getting our plants to reproduce and bear fruit. Unfortunately, as you’ve certainly seen on the news by now, the numbers of these precious pollinators, like the beloved honey bee, are on the decline. There are so many negatives working against these hardworking, little guys with overuse of pesticides, mites, and climate change. Luckily, we can help attract and foster the safety of these important species right in our own backyards with companion planting.
What is Companion Planting?
A long time ago in a land far away, the Indigenous people of Mexico came up with an impressive system of planting certain crops together to increase the health of their plants and the overall harvest at the end of the year. In particular, they noticed that when corn, squash, and climbing beans all made an appearance together in one plot, they yielded far more successfully. Why is that?
One of the first instances of companion planting on record, this complex system of planting shows that placing certain plants in close proximity to other compatible plants results in a mutually beneficial relationship. The beans supplied much-needed nitrogen to the soil, the corn created a natural trellis for the beans to climb, and the squash helped shade the ground, keeping the weeds away and the soil from drying out. And in the centuries since, gardeners have discovered several different garden combinations that work together to produce stronger and healthier plants.
Why is Companion Planting Important?
One thing that is always a potential risk for the health of your plants is an unwanted invasion. When aphids, mites, and nematodes come knocking, that can mean the end of our favourite flora, so preventing them is obviously a top priority. Problem is, many gardeners find it all too easy to resort to proven chemical pesticides that devastate not just the insects we want to be rid of, but all the beneficial ones, as well. This is where companion planting can help!
Companion planting allows us to keep the pests at bay without causing any harm to our pollinator pals. In return, we’re blessed with a lush, all-natural garden free of chemicals and filled with a colourful array of fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers!
Pest-Repelling Companion Plant Pairings
Similar to how one dessert at the potluck is always more popular with hungry partygoers, certain plants are more likely to fall prey to pest invasion. The reverse also applies; some plants are considerably less popular with pests. So, by strategically placing these less-favourable plants next to those more vulnerable ones, your chances of fending off unwanted guests are much better.
Other flowers and herbs are also known for being particular favourites for the pollinators, so if we keep the pests at bay while making the pollinators welcome, we’ll have a much healthier dynamic in our garden. Here are some of our recommendations for planting for the pollinators:
Basil and tomatoes aren’t just a great combination for a margherita pizza, they’re also great companion plants in the garden! Basil is known for repelling all sorts of pesky pests, like mites, aphids, flies, and mosquitoes, but it’s also a particularly effective repellent for a common tomato trouble—the tomato hornworm. Not to mention, basil has been known to improve both the vitality and the flavour of tomatoes!
Cucumbers, marigolds, and potatoes are a winning combination for anyone looking to rake in the pollinators while keeping cucumber and potato beetles at bay. Why? Well, the bright, sunny yellow of a marigold bloom may be a surefire winner for pollinators, but they’re just not favoured by these invasive species. In fact, they’re super effective at keeping them at bay, making them a great choice for pairing in the garden.
Peas and cabbage love to be paired with mint, which not only helps to improve their overall flavour, but also keeps them from being munched on by common pests. We know and love the cool, leafy aroma of mint in our summertime beverages and wintery desserts, but the smell isn’t as favourable to ants, mealybugs, snails, and even mice. However, it’s very popular with the hoverfly, a powerful pollinator!
Chamomile is a great plant to pair with carrots and onions, offering different benefits for each! Pollinators just can’t get enough of this fragrant flowering herb, and you won’t believe the difference in flavour you’ll taste in your onions. Not to mention, it’s a powerful repellent for carrot rust flies.
Radishes planted around the risen mound on which you grow your squash will help deter any of the insects that have been known to feast on them.
When planting your fruits, vegetables, and flowers in the garden, taking time to carefully think about what you’re pairing them with can save you plenty of frustration over time. Not only will you be less likely to encounter those pesky pest problems, but you’ll also enjoy a more bountiful and flavourful crop!