What are Companion Plants?
Companion plants are plants that grow close to each other so they have easy access to food and water. They may or may not be edible. For example, if there is a tomato plant and lettuce nearby, then it’s probably not going to make your meal any better than if you had a bunch of basil near the kitchen sink. But sometimes companion plants do provide benefits like protection from pests or disease.
How to Plant Companion Plants?
There are many different ways to plant companion plants. Some prefer to start them out in pots first before transplanting them into their permanent locations. Others like to start them out directly in the garden. There are even some who just put one of these plants where they want their tomatoes and forget about it until harvest time when they pull up the weeds themselves! Whatever method you choose, there is no wrong way!
The most common way to plant companion plants is to start them in containers, but you don’t necessarily need a large container. You could use a few plastic tubs or buckets. I’ve seen some people use old coffee cans as well.
Just remember that the larger the container, the longer it will take for your plants to get established and produce fruit. So if you want your tomatoes now, go with smaller containers. If you don’t mind waiting a few weeks, go with something larger so the roots can spread out.
One of the most important parts of companion planting is in the soil. If your companion plants are going to suffer at all, it will be from either a lack of food or too much competition for that food. It’s important to have good quality garden soil if you want the best success rate.
But even then, you may find that you have to supplement your nutrition. For leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, a general fertilizer will work great. Anything high in nitrogen and potassium is perfect. You can even get a high nitrogen fertilizer for things like broccoli or other plants that tend to “fill out” like cabbage family plants.
Root vegetables like potatoes or carrots need something with more consistency and nutrient-holding power. A good garden soil will work, but so will compost or even potting soil (but only the stuff with no chemicals). People forget that carrots are a try crop and as such they need their food to be close by or they won’t grow well.
Companion Planting for Tomatoes
When it comes to companion planting for tomatoes there really isn’t much to worry about except for the pests and diseases. If you’re putting them in a large container, you might consider mixing in a few marigolds. They aren’t the best-smelling flowers around, but they are known to keep certain insects away.
If you are planting your tomatoes in the ground, you can also use things like dwarf or bush varieties. There are some magnificent dwarf varieties that still produce plenty of fruit and keep their size down so that they don’t have as many diseases or pest problems.
If you’re really ambitious, you can build a trellis for your tomatoes. This not only keeps them off the ground where disease loves to hide, but it allows you to grow them vertically which means more tomatoes in less space!
Do keep in mind that some diseases are out of your control and no matter what you plant with them, they will get sick. Do some research into what diseases affect your plants and how you can prevent or cure them.
If you want to grow your plants from seed, just remember that the larger the seed the longer it will take to grow to maturity. You won’t get a harvest at all if you plant something too big. Peas are a good choice since they are fast growing and produce well in containers.
The next thing to consider is where are you going to plant these things?
The best place would be some place that gets a lot of sun. Most leafy greens like lettuce or spinach prefer more shade so don’t plant them where your sun loving plants are going to be unhappy. Keep in mind that as things grow, they are going to cast more shade in the areas below them. Make sure you leave enough room for your sun plants to get all the light they need.
If you have a yard, then the best place to plant your garden in the area that gets the most sun during the day. If you have a lot of trees, then you might have to do a little planning because the leaves will prevent sunlight from reaching the ground underneath them. You can also get self-grown vegetables under them if you leave enough space for their root systems to grow.
Your garden doesn’t have to be out in the backyard. Many people use containers to plant vegetables on balconies, windowsills, and other small areas that aren’t dedicated to other things.
So now that you know what you’re going to plant and where you’re going to put it, it’s time to prepare the soil. This is going to vary depending on where you live and what kind of soil you have available. If you live in an area where the soil is fairly sandy or rocky, then you have your work cut out for you.
If you’re very lucky, you have good rich soil that just needs some minor adjustments.
Fortunately there are lots of resources out there to help you learn about what kind of soil you have and how to improve it. Your local gardening center should have some books you can buy which will walk you through the process. Some are written for what region you live in, so be sure to get the one that matches.
Obviously the first thing you need to know is what kind of soil you have. You should be able to tell something just by looking at it.
Probably a sand based soil.
Very dark and damp?
You’ve got loam. Most home gardens are either loam or sandy, but very rarely you’ll have a combination of the two. Whatever the type, you’re going to want to add nutrients and organic matter to it. This can either be in the form of compost (Which you can make yourself) or fertilizer.
You can also buy bags of soil called ” started soil ” at the store which has some ingredients already in it to help seeds get a good start. This can be a good place to start if you’re unsure of what to do, but you’ll still need to do some reading up on the subject.
If your soil is lacking in nutrients or is just very light, it might be a good idea to, over the winter, add manure or other nutrients to the soil. You should have read about this earlier in the year and gathered some manure in buckets to let it partially compost before using it. Fresh manure should be at least a year old because otherwise it can actually burn your plants.
You’ll also need to let it completely compost before using it because if you just throw fresh manure on top of the soil without letting it break down first, it can actually do more harm than good.
Once you’ve gathered your resources, you’ll want to till the soil. If you’re new to gardening, you may not know what this is. Basically, all you need to do is break up the bigger clumps of soil and make it loose and friable.
This allows better air flow which helps your plants grow. There are lots of tools you can buy to do this, but a simple hoe will work fine and is much cheaper.
Now that you’ve till your garden soil to the desired consistency, you can start adding your fertilizer and compost. Again, there are lots of different kinds and you’ll need to do some reading to see which is right for your situation.
Of course, there’s the old “add manure in the fall and compost in the spring” method which has worked fine for many people. Others prefer a more scientific approach with chemical measurements and timers. You’ll have to decide what works best for you and your garden.
Either way, you’ll need to prepare the garden before you actually plant anything in it. You can’t just throw seeds in the ground and hope for the best. You need to draw out a plan of some sort first, whatever you’re most comfortable with.
If you don’t care what your garden layout is, then just go ahead and plant everything in a simple row pattern. This works fine for slower growing plants such as beans. If you want to be more elaborate, you can draw out a design. There are dozens of different types, or you can create your own.
Once you’ve chosen your design and planted your seeds, mulching is an important step in the process. Mulch is material such as leaves, grass clippings or straw that is laid on the soil to keep the weeds down and keep the soil moist. It also helps to keep the soil at a consistent temperature.
Many new gardeners make the mistake of not using mulch. It’s much easier to do it now then to try to clear away weeds that have grown up around your plants after they’ve already grown!
If you’ve chosen to use a plastic mulch, you’ll need to make sure that this is laid down before you plant anything. This is best done before planting because the plastic can severely damage the roots of your plants if you put it down after and accidentally cover them.
A few other things to keep in mind are that many plants need special preparation before you plant them. For example seeds like carrots need to be sprouted before you put them in the ground. This is a simple process of soaking the seeds in water until they sprout.
There may also be times when you need to thin out certain plants so that there is enough space between each one of them to allow them to grow properly. Again, there are plenty of resources available to explain all of this if you find that you need it.
You’ve decided on what types of plants you want, prepared the soil and started growing your garden.
Time to sit back and relax right?
Wrong. Garden maintenance is a year round job. Even if you start your garden in the perfect conditions, you’ll still need to keep an eye on things and do regular maintenance.
You should also be checking on your plants periodically to see how they’re growing and when they will be ready to harvest. If you notice any problems such as insects or diseases you’ll want to try and solve them immediately.
The most common problem you’re likely to run in to is weeds. Weeds will compete with your plants for nutrients and water and their roots can actually damage your plants by growing around and through them. You’ll need to keep on top of weeds or they can take over your entire garden in no time at all.
Many people put down black plastic sheets on the soil surface before planting their vegetable seeds or plants. This prevents any weeds from growing at all. If you find weeds have grown up between your plants, you can pick them out or just pull up the entire plant, weed and all and throw it away.
There are other pests and animals that can cause problems such as rodents digging up your seeds before they’ve had a chance to grow or insects damaging the plants themselves. You’ll need to keep on top of them as much as you can.
As well as looking after your garden you’ll also need to periodically harvest your crops. If you’ve picked the right variety this should be a simple matter of picking the fruit or vegetable when they’re ready and then either eating them, storing them or even selling them if you want to!
You’ll also need to keep in mind that each type of plant will take a different amount of time to grow before it is ready to harvest. It’s up to you whether you want to pick the fruit or vegetables when they’re small and continue to pick every few days as they grow or whether you want to wait until they’re fully grown and just pick everything at once.
There are many other things that can go wrong such as weather conditions and animal predators but these can only be mitigated against so much. It’s up to you whether you want to continue to try and perfect your garden or whether the risks are too great and it’s time to start again.
Which variety of plants did you decide to grow? Did you put down plastic sheeting over the soil before planting anything? How well did everything grow?
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Sources & references used in this article:
Companion planting with French marigolds protects tomato plants from glasshouse whiteflies through the emission of airborne limonene by NJA Conboy, T McDaniel, A Ormerod, D George… – PloS one, 2019 – journals.plos.org
Yield, pest density, and tomato flavor effects of companion planting in garden-scale studies incorporating tomato, basil, and brussels sprout by MK Bomford – 2004 – orgprints.org
Effect of companion plants on tomato greenhouse production by I Tringovska, V Yankova, D Markova, M Mihov – Scientia Horticulturae, 2015 – Elsevier