Companion planting is a a traditional method for organic gardeners to naturally improve crops. Companion plants attracts beneficial insects, deter pests or attract them away from your crops and can also provide nutrients and protection
Try these few hints and tips in your garden
- Plant marigolds in rows between your vegetables particularly tomatoes to encourage beneficial insects and deter aphids. They are also very attractive to slugs and can be used as a sacrifice to save your cabbages from damage.
- Grow carrots in alternative rows with the onion family, like leeks. The smell of each vegetable deters pest from the other, saving your carrots from the dreaded carrot root fly.
- Plant nasturtiums near your cabbages, they will attract caterpillars away from the cabbages and keep aphids away from beans. Grown entwined among cucumbers they repel cucumber beetles. Nasturtiums also provide wonderful colour in the garden and are edible.
- Dill and chervil are great for your herb garden. Dill will attract aphid eating hoverflies and predatory wasps. Plant the dill next to cabbages for support. Chervil will keep aphids away from tomatoes and sunflowers.
- Basil will keep whitefly away from tomatoes.
- Keeping a patch of nettles will attract beneficial incests and keep cabbage white butterfies away from brassicas.
- Plant alyssum with potatoes to attract beneficial insects
Using plants to attract beneficial insects has many advantages for the organic gardener. Attracting insects like ladybirds is a great way to naturally control your pests and bees are vital to pollination.
Here are some of the most important beneficial insects you will want to attract to your garden:
- Ladybirds: Adults and larvae are ferocious aphid eaters. The adults can lay up to 40 eggs near to the aphid colony and the larvae actively seek out their prey.
- Hoverflies: The larvae of the hoverfly can eat around 200 aphids
- Lacewings: Adults will feed on nectar and pollen and their larvae prey on aphids
- Ground beetles: Some beetles are predatory and will feed on aphids and other insects
- parasitic wasps: Eggs are laid into prey
- Bumble bees: Are excellent pollinators and providing food and a home in your garden will help support the dwindling population.
There are many pollen and nectar producing plants that can attract the insects the you want. Here are just a few, check out our organic flower seeds for more plants that attract insects and the guide on companion planting for more ideas.
- Borage One of the most important plants to have, borage is a fantastic source of nectar for bees and other insects. It makes a good companion plant to have in the vegetable garden as the insects it attracts make good pollinators. It is also good as a green manure. Its long taproot brings up nutrients from the subsoil that remain in the leaves.
- Pot marigold Hardy annual, which will self-seed freely. Produces bright orange, daisy-like flowers from May to the first frosts of autumn. Direct sow in autumn, spring or early summer, will tolerate light shade and nutrient poor-soils. Excellent as a companion plant.
- Californian poppy (Eschscholtzia) Fast-growing perennial, often grown as an annual in the UK as it will not tolerate very wet conditions to overwinter. Direct sow in spring in a sunny position and into any well drained soil, including poor soils. Flowers from June until September.
- Coriander Tender annual herb, grown for the seeds rather than the leaves. Produces small umbels of white flowers in summer. Direct sow from spring to early summer into free-draining, fertile soil in a sunny position.
- Chamomile Evergreen perennial herb, which produces golden yellow flowers during July and August. Sow under glass during March and April, plant out in early summer into well-drained soil in a sunny spot. This plant to very attractive to most types of beneficial insects.
- Fennel and bronze fennel A tall, hardy perennial herb that produces flattened clusters of tiny bright yellow flowers from August until October. An attractive plant, the leaves are edible too, tasting of aniseed. Sow directly in spring in a dry, sunny position. Remove fading flower-heads to prevent self seeding. Do not grow with dill, as the two will hybridise.
- Fern-leaf yarrow (Achillea) Hardy, easy to grow herbaceous perennial. Produces dense, deep gold flower heads in clusters up to 12.5cm (5in) across on tall upright stems from June until September. Direct sow in spring. Prefers full sun, but will grow in any well-drained soils.
These plants attract insects with nectar and pollen and provide shelter and homes for beneficial insects. The more diverse the plants you have the more diverse insects you will attract. Choose plants that are in season at different time of the year to supply a continuous supply of food. Try and keep a patch of your garden wild this will attract its own pest an therefore beneficial insects which you and relocate to other areas of your garden. Use ground-cover plant, green manures and mulches to provide a habitat for beetles.
Natural Habitats for British wildlife are rapidly decreasing, why not help by turning your garden into a wildlife haven. A diverse eco-system in your garden can provide habitats for a wonderful variety of wildlife and is a great form of natural pest control.
The important needs of wildlife in any garden are shelter, protection from predators, food and water. We have put together a few handy hints to provide these and get your wildlife haven going.
- Firstly, GO ORGANIC. Reducing the use of pesticides will encourage more insects and birds to visit your garden.
- Leave a wild corner in your garden. This doesn’t need to be a ‘messy area’ pick a place you don’t normally go, like behind the shed or compost heap. Let nettles grow, these have many uses for the organic gardener and they can attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Nettles and brambles also provide cover for larger mammals like hedgehogs.
- Build a pond. Even a small pond or water feature can provide a drink or a habitat for many species. Native wetland and bog plants also thrive in areas around ponds. By encouraging more frogs into your little oasis you can keep the rampaging slugs at bay.
- Plant a bee border. The British bee population has suffered massive losses over the past few years and bees are vital for the pollination of our plants. Try planting a range of nectar rich and native plants, here are a few ideas;
- Plant a butterly border. This border will need plenty of sun and shelter. Butterflies love nectar rich plants. Why not try the following;
- Make a mini meadow. Leave part of your lawn unmown, this will act as protection for frogs, mice and snakes. Why not try planting some native grasses and wild flowers too as these are rapidly declining from our fields.
- Leave some leaf litter. Leaf litter makes a great mulch but can also provide some shelter for some insects and spiders over winter and will also attract ground foraging birds.
- Plant a hedgerow or grow a thicket. They can provide shelter, nesting sites, food and protection. Hawthorns, roses and blackberries are all great for this.
- Create extra wildlife habitats. Supplement your natural habitats with bat and hedgehog boxes, nesting boxes for birds, lady birds, butterflies and lacewings. These can be added to even the smallest garden and can make a huge difference to the populations in your area.
- Grow climbing plants to provide shelter, roosting and breeding sites for birds. Ivy is great for this and will also provide nectar for insects in Autumn and fruit for birds in late winter.
- Create a log pile. Don’t just burn or throw away dead wood it can attract beetles, beneficial insects and mosses. Frogs and toad also enjoy a nice damp pile of logs for shelter too.