Companion Planting is a Smart Idea With a Long History
Q: I’m trying to reduce my use of chemicals, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, in my garden. A friend recommended companion planting, in addition to using organic products. What do you suggest I do to get started?
A: Not only does companion planting work, it’s also smart gardening. You can save both time and money by grouping plants together that encourage each other to grow more robustly, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, or repel pests known to favor certain neighbors. Sometimes it’s the odor or aroma of a plant that offers protection for its companions. Other times, it’s secretions from the root of the plant that build up in the soil. Occasionally, it’s both.
Early European settlers learned to plant beans and corn together from Native Americans, who showed them how the corn provides a structure for the bean vines to climb, enabling them to grow two crops in the space of one. The beans attract beneficial insects to eat many of the pests that prey upon corn and, as members of the legume family, also “fix” the nitrogen in the soil and make it available for other plants to use.
Certain combinations have been practiced for years, such as planting marigolds with tomatoes, which supposedly repels nematodes. But the effect is cumulative within the soil, so you have to plant marigolds with your tomatoes for a year or two, minimum, to reap the benefit. The pungent odor of old-fashioned marigolds may repel certain insects, too; some of the newer hybrids lack the smell the older varieties had.
Another well-known pairing is garlic with roses. Some gardeners have reported similar success by planting garlic chives near roses. Garlic chives thrive in our area, and they have an added benefit of attracting bees and butterflies when they bloom. Parsley and carrots also seem to offer protection for tomatoes.
Some plants that make good culinary partners also make good garden partners, such as cabbage and dill. Dill tends to get tall and floppy and the cabbage heads lend support, while the dill attracts beneficial wasps that feed on cabbageworms. Basil and tomatoes, a classic pairing in the kitchen, are also a good garden duo. Beets and lettuce make a great salad and great neighbors in the garden. Collard greens go well with potatoes, on the plate and in the garden.
Some plants don’t play well with any others. Fennel is one such character. Whether you plant Florence fennel for its edible base or bronze fennel for its foliage, make sure you give it its own area of the garden, well away from other vegetables. Both make beautiful plants, and butterflies love them.
Several books offer guidance on companion planting, but not all the advice they contain is appropriate for our area. You need to know what grows during which seasons here to get the most out of these resources.
For example, “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham suggests planting nasturtiums with cucumbers, both to repel cucumber beetles and to attract predatory, or beneficial, insects that eat some of the bugs that cause problems. That’s great advice farther north, where cooler summers allow nasturtiums and cucumbers to thrive in the garden at the same time. Here in Tallahassee and the Florida Panhandle, nasturtiums are a cool-weather edible flower and cucumbers are a warm-weather crop. The book still offers a lot of good general tips on companion planting, as long as you remember where you’re gardening.
Another handy book on companion planting is “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte. She advocates planting carrots and leeks together, because each seems to repel the flies that plague the other. Both grow during our cool season, so this works here. However, like Cunningham’s book, there are a few mismatches.
If you’re not sure what grows when across North Florida, check out a great book by James Stevens called “Vegetable Gardening in Florida.” Stevens, a University of Florida professor who helped found the Florida Master Gardener program, specifies when to plant various vegetables in different areas of the state. You can also find advice for North Florida taken from Stevens’ book at the Leon County Extension Service’s website at http://bit.ly/180lwtc. n
January & February Garden Events
Jan. 2: The Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society meets in Room 1024 of the King Building at FSU, 319 Stadium Drive. Social time begins at
7 p.m., chapter meeting at
7:15 and program at 7:45. Dan Miller will speak on propagation of native plants. Free parking evenings at the parking garage just south of the King Building. Go to magnolia.fnpschapters.org for more information.
Jan. 6 and Feb. 3: Tallahassee Edible Garden Club meets at
6 p.m. at the pavilion in Winthrop Park, behind the tennis courts, 1601 Mitchell Ave.
Jan. 9 and Feb. 13: Tallahassee Orchid Society meets at
7 p.m. in Jubilee Cottage at Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Go to
tallyorchid.org for more information.
Jan. 11-12: 61st Annual Camellia Show, presented by the Camellia & Garden Club of Tallahassee, in cooperation with the American Camellia Society, Doyle Conner Administration Building, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 3125 Conner Blvd., 1–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. Go to atlanticcoastcamelliasociety.org/tallahasseecamelliaclub.html for more information.
Jan. 14 and Feb. 11: Apalachee Beekeepers meet at the Leon County Extension office,
615 Paul Russell Road. Working with the hives on-site at 5:30 p.m., business meeting at 6:30 and
program at 7. Go to google.com/site/apalacheebee for more information.
Jan. 16: Tallahassee Garden Club Plant Exchange and Horticulture Program, 507 N. Calhoun St. Plant exchange begins at
9:30 a.m., program on pruning shrubs with Clara Skipper and Kathy Carmichael at 10:15. Go to tallahasseegardenclub.com for more information.
Jan. 17–23: Annual Birdseed Benefit for the Tallahassee Museum at Native Nurseries,
1661 Centerville Road. A portion of all birdseed sales will benefit the museum, and birdseed and wild bird feeders will be on sale.
Jan. 18: Jody Walthall will present a free program on attracting more and varied birds to your feeders, squirrel-proofing your feeder and creating a bird garden that is both aesthetically pleasing and good for the birds.
10 a.m. Native Nurseries,
1661 Centerville Road.
Jan. 19 and Feb. 16: Tallahassee Area Rose Society meets at
2:30 p.m. in the Laundry Cottage at Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Go to tallahasseearearosesociety.org for more information.
Jan. 26: Tallahassee Daylily Club meets at 2 p.m. at the Leon County Extension Center, 615 Paul Russell Road. Guest speaker will be James Fennell of HopeHill Daylilies in Hawkinsville, Ga. Go to thsgardens.org for more information.
Feb. 4: The Camellia & Garden Club of Tallahassee will hold its annual fundraising Camellia Plant Auction in Jubilee Cottage at Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Social begins at 6:30 p.m., dinner at
7 and the business meeting and auction follow. There is no charge to attend the meeting and auction, but dinner costs $10 and reservations must be confirmed. Go to atlanticcoastcamelliasociety.org/TallahasseeCamelliaClub.html for more information.
Feb. 7: First Friday Brown Bag Lecture Series, Carriage House Conference Center, Goodwood Museum & Gardens. Harriet Wright of the Tallahassee Orchid Society will present a program on orchids. In conjunction with the program, TOS and Goodwood will open a three-week exhibit of a variety of blooming orchids in the Main House’s enclosed sun porch. The exhibit runs Feb. 7–28. Go to goodwoodmuseum.org or tallyorchid.org for more information.
Feb. 8: The 22nd Annual Old Garden Rose Sale adjacent to the Virginia McKee Greenhouse at Goodwood Museum and Gardens, 9 a.m. to noon and continuing every Friday and Saturday morning until sold out. Proceeds are used for the restoration and maintenance of the rose gardens at Goodwood. This year there will be an estimated 1,750 roses in about 120 varieties, including Louis Philippe, Duchesse de Brabant, Pink Pet and several recent additions. Contact John Sullivan at email@example.com for a list of the rose varieties available.
Feb. 6: The Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society meets in Room 1024 of the King Building at FSU, 319 Stadium Drive. Social time begins at
7 p.m., chapter meeting at
7:15 and program at 7:45. Will Sheftall will speak on the relationship between soil and plants. Free parking evenings at the parking garage just south of the King Building. Go to magnolia.fnpschapters.org/ for more information.
Feb. 20: Tallahassee Garden Club Plant Exchange and Horticulture Program. Plant exchange begins at 9:30 a.m., program on bluebirds with Fred Dietrich at 10:15. Go to tallahasseegardenclub.com for more information.
Feb. 23: Tallahassee Daylily Club meets at 2 p.m. at the Leon County Extension Center,
615 Paul Russell Road. Guest speakers will be Dan and Jane Trimmer of Watermill Gardens in Enterprise, Fla.
© 2014 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com or visit her website at www.msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.