Plants need friends too: Why companion planting is important

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti/Unsplash

This February, love is truly in the air! Despite the differences in how people spent Valentine’s Day, all of those actions stem from the celebration of companionship – either with their significant other, family, or friends. On the other side of the spectrum, those who are not in love or would like to be alone are often called plants because of their supposed inability to feel emotions. However, most plants need companions too!

Long before the establishment of scientific studies about companion planting, gardeners and farmers have long observed the beneficial effects of growing certain plants together in terms of their produce and health. This does not come as a surprise to Peter Sutter, a member of Missouri University Extension’s Master Gardener group, who highlighted the fact that plants growing together has been happening in the wild already long before humans started agriculture. 

At first, companion plants may look like they are battling for survival, but there are actually some species that prefer growing with specific plant types to complement what they lack and optimize what they have – as most humans do. Shallow-rooted plants prefer growing with deep-rooted plants so as not to compete with food, but rather get nutrients from different levels.

In home gardening, Sutter suggests flowers as good companion plants. Flowers help attract predatory insects to ward off potential pests. They also attract bees, which are essential for pollination. The aroma of some flowers and herbs also helps in masking crops from pests that are looking for food. One example of healthy companion planting is growing zinnias and cauliflower. According to Sutter, zinnias help attract ladybugs that, in turn, help control the pest fly population that usually attacks cauliflowers. Planting basil among tomatoes also helps in warding off hornworms.

On the other hand, marigolds are known to be repellant to a wide variety of unwanted garden organisms, like beetles, nematodes, and even some small mammals. Some plants, like carrots and parsleys, do not necessarily repel, but help attract beneficial insects to help ward off common pests. 

As with human communities, diversity through companion planting helps prevent the proliferation of unwanted materials that typically thrive in highly monoculture environments. Companion planting helps ward off diseases and pests without the use of excessive pesticides and other chemicals. 

While there are a lot of companion plant suggestions readily available online, Sutter still recommends constant monitoring of crops to see what will work in the long run. Like in humans, there are still a lot of things to learn in plant relationships. 



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