Long before companion planting became a popular term with landscapers, the Iroquois were practicing a version of companion planting. The people whom Americans remember at Thanksgiving for having shared food with the Pilgrims were more than just hunters. After all, what would Thanksgiving dinner be without a side dish of that classic Iroquois food, squash?
Classic Companion Planting
Corn, pole beans and squash were planted together in their gardens, each plant providing some benefit to at least one of the other two -- by definition, companion planting. The corn's contribution came from its height: it provided a "living trellis" for the pole beans, which love to climb. In return the beans, members of the legume family, are nitrogen-fixers beneficial to the whole garden. Leguminous cover crops are often planted to fix nitrogen into the soil, but the beans served another purpose as well, of course, being edible.
The most diverse contribution in this instance of companion planting came from the squash. The squash vines shaded the ground beneath the corn and beans, thereby regulating the soil temperature and conserving soil moisture. Essentially, the squash vines functioned as a living mulch. Not only that but, like conventional mulch, the squash vines suppressed weeds.
And the squash delivered yet another benefit to its neighbors -- one that might not come to mind quite as readily. Namely, the squash vines discouraged mammal pests from entering the garden. Raccoons for instance, those clever masked bandits who love to pilfer corn, dislike having to trudge through squash vines to get to their loot. Why? Well, in addition to forming a "living barrier," squash vines and their leaf stems are studded with small, prickly spines that are annoying to have to brush up against.
It's Not Just for Food Crops: Organic Landscaping
But once you understand the concept behind companion planting, you realize that its use is in no way restricted to food crops. Those interested in organic landscaping can also benefit from employing companion planting, as a way to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides in our yards.
Fortunately for us, certain plants naturally repel certain pests -- pests that would otherwise damage our prized specimens. Making use of such repellent plants as a pest control method is a wonderful example of companion planting and organic landscaping. Another example of companion planting in the yard is making use of plants that attract beneficial insects, such as bees.
Organic Landscaping: Repellent Plants
Some report success in repelling moles, using:
- Castor bean plants
- "Mole" plants
For Japanese beetle control, several plants are recommended, among them:
Companion planting with the last three offers an ironic (but convenient) twist: four o'clocks, white geraniums and delphiniums attract Japanese beetles, but are reportedly poisonous to them!
Organic Landscaping: Plants That Attract Bees
But you don't want to repel all insects. Some are beneficial and will aid you in your organic landscaping efforts. You want to attract such beneficial insects to your yard and can do so through proper plant selection. It's all a matter of knowing which plants best attract beneficial insects.
The following are examples of plants great for attracting the bees you'll need for adequate pollination of your landscaping plants:
In addition, many of the plants I discuss in this resource on attracting birds to your yard also attract bees.
Organic Landscaping and the Study of Nature
Companion planting is something to study -- it's all about smart landscaping. To derive the most benefit from companion planting, you need to use your head and your powers of observation to figure out the dynamics of nature -- or at least the piece of nature observable in your backyard. And there's a concurrent benefit: the study of companion planting can't help but bring you closer to nature and all its marvels!
As your knowledge of companion planting increases, more and more of nature's intricate relationships unfold before you. For instance, attracting bees to promote plant pollination is one thing. But did you know that yarrow attracts predatory wasps that will patrol the skies around your specimens, keeping them free from injurious insect pests? Hire your own "squadron" today, and forget about having to spray with chemical pesticides!