In a world where wellbeing and horticulture is becoming more prevalent in everybody’s life, reducing the use of chemicals and moving towards sustainable gardening is the path taken by many. Companion planting can help enormously with this.
So one morning, after getting up and ready for the day, you go out to say hello to your lovely plants to check how they are doing, the same as every day. It’s so nice to be able to be outside and enjoy all your efforts with all those magnificent plants growing in your pots. All seems fine, life is good. You’ll do some watering as it’s going to be a hot day and you are happy to see that one of your peonies has flowered. But, you go over to your tomato plants and, panic alert! Greenfly has invaded your tomatoes, and it’s all over your Clematis too. How did this happen? It was all fine yesterday. So of course, you want a solution and you want it now.
It is just so easy to go to the garden center, straight to the shelves stacked with an easy fix for the pests attacking your lovely plants. Those plants that you so cherish and want to see thriving or ready on your table to eat. But, isn’t the point of growing your own to be healthier? Do you really want to spray some Thiamethoxam – even saying it makes me go grey – all over your tomatoes, the tomatoes you will be eating shortly? Well, you might think I’m exaggerating here and that a small dose of chemical won’t harm you but the fact is that we should always try to reduce the use of chemicals as much as possible and if your aim is to completely ban them from your cupboards even better.
There really are many ways of doing this and one of them is by using companion planting in your garden. It won’t get rid of everything, but that’s not a bad thing either because you want a number of pests that other beneficial predators will eat. This will keep an ecological balance in your garden. By reducing the use of chemicals you are also taking care of all the beneficial organisms living in your soil. The fungicides you use for black spot on your roses for example, will kill everything in the soil which will mean in turn that you will have to buy fertilizers, again a synthetic agent. If you think about it, by using pesticides you are also forced into buying other products to counterbalance the harm fungicides or insecticides make when you use them, plus it contributes to more clutter in your shed. So, I guess you are starting to see how we should take care of that ecological cycle to make sure it’s not broken along the way.
Back to companion planting, this is an important way of saying goodbye to pesticides, you will still have to continue doing more if you want to go the organic route, but today, let’s start with this. Like I said in my last blog, “focus on one thing at a time” so that your gardening experience becomes pleasurable and not a chore.
Companion planting is usually associated with vegetable gardens but it can be widely used in other environments. So let’s focus on vegetable pots and how you can use companion planting to control pests.
The principle idea is to use a plant that will attract a pest next to the one you want to protect. The first one is the companion plant. They will usually have either a strong scent that attracts the pest like for example herbs, or they might be sticky like the sweet tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris. These are what we call sacrificial plants. But before using them you can do something else that will also count towards keeping pests away.
SIX TOP TIPS
• Chose strong and healthy plants that will fight pest and disease better. Look for the stronger varieties, the one that will need less watering and less chemicals but still have a very high ornamental value
• A wilting, underwatered plant will fall pray of pests because of its weakness, make sure you tend to your plants to keep them healthy too. So chose your plants wisely and take care of them.
• Use aromatic herbs that will deter pests with their scent
• Plant insect or bird friendly plants that will attract the beneficial predators that will eat the bad ones
• Always have sacrificial plants growing on the go so you can keep replacing them when they’ve been smothered with the pest
• Good sacrificial plants for companion planting are: Nasturtium, Mint, Calendula.
This is what you do step by step. Chose a large container, make sure you will be able to move when filled up with compost. Plastic will be lighter. Fill it up with compost where you will be placing it to save yourself moving it around as you find it could be heavy. Fill it up with enough compost to place your main plant in the middle so that it is high enough leaving an inch or so lip when filled up.
Then alternate crops and your companion plant around the tomato. Think about its ornamental value too, this is how colours and textures will play with each other in the pot. Keep it simple, don’t overwhelm the look of your design.
In this pot I’m using Calendula intercropped and planted in a more informal ornamental way. If you plant in rows and you loose one crop it will stand out more than if you mixed it up a bit.
This was my first vegetable plot designed during my horticultural apprenticeship years ago, when I came back to have a look at it after a months away cabbage flies had devasted it and it had gone onto my colleagues’ plots too – they weren’t happy at all, I wasn’t very popular! In this case planting it with clover or using lavender would have been more effective.
Next week I’ll explore how to grow Peonies in pots and which ones to chose for successful growing in your pot garden.
Have a good week!
Your Potty Potter.
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