Companion planting is the practice of planting different crops in close proximity to one another for pest control, pollination, protection from the elements, and to otherwise increase crop productivity. This innovative and beneficial method of planting is used by farmers and gardeners around the world in both industrialized and developing countries.
Different plants assist in the growth of others by attracting beneficial insects, naturally repelling harmful insects, providing nutrients, and in some cases, simply providing shade or climbing support for another plant. Different and sometimes multiple methods of companion planting may be employed in a growing area to achieve the desired results for the gardener or farmer.
One very simple example of companion planting involves a closely spaced row of trees serving as a windbreak or providing shade for crops. The trees help the crops produce more yield which would otherwise not be possible without this assistance. This method of companion planting is known as “protective shelter”. In another similar method, known as “Increased Level Interaction”, crops are grown on different levels in the same space, such as one crop providing either ground cover or shade for another, or one crop serving as a trellis for another. With this method, the overall crop yield of a growing plot space can be increased.
One example of the “Positive Hosting” method involves crops or trees with significant pollination requirements benefitting from certain types of flowers planted within the growing area. These flowers attract bees and other pollinating insects, which ultimately benefit the crops or trees. Another example involves utilizing plants which attract a specific type of insect, like Ladybugs. The Ladybugs, in this case, are desirable because they are predators to other insects like Aphids, deemed to be a pest to the other types of plants in the same vicinity.
In China, the mosquito fern has been used for at least one thousand years as a companion plant for rice crops. When rice stalks grow to a certain height, they are transplanted to a field covered with water, leaving only the tops of the rice stalks exposed above the surface of the water. The fern floats on top of the water over the rice field, creating a barrier which blocks out light from getting to any competing plants below the water surface. As the fern progresses through it's life cycle, decaying fern material also supplies beneficial nitrogen to the rice crops.
Companion planting was practiced in various forms by Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans. The “Three Sisters” technique, still in use today, refers to the practice of planting three crops (or Three Sisters) together: corn, pole beans, and squash. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, the beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize, and the squash spreads along the ground, helping to prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", retaining moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Sometimes sunflowers are grown along with the beans as a trellis, or just in proximity to the Three Sisters to draw away aphids. A plant known as the "Rocky Mountain Bee Plant" is also sometimes incorporated into this companion planting method to attract bees which help pollinate the beans and squash.
Organic gardening in particular commonly makes use of companion planting concepts to eliminate the need for synthetic means of fertilizing, weed reduction and pest control. As home gardeners, farmers and consumers, we are all concerned about the effects of ingesting any unhealthy or toxic pest control agents. One of the basic concepts for companion planting is to employ completely natural means to control harmful pests.
Square foot gardening is the practice of densely planting in small garden spaces, usually in raised growing beds. This practice combines concepts from organic gardening and companion planting methods. Square foot gardening is particularly well-suited for home gardens. Drip Depot has developed specific drip irrigation kits for raised beds/ square foot gardening to meet the watering needs of gardeners employing these techniques. By utilizing drip irrigation, gardeners can easily and efficiently establish and maintain a healthy and bountiful garden. Happy gardening!
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