Co-Plantings for Gorgeous, Healthy, Fruitful Gardens

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Co-Plantings for Gorgeous, Healthy, Fruitful Gardens

Combing plants in the garden can be as simple as mixing as few complimentary flower colors for seasonal pop or as complex as selecting plants that thrive together for a staggering array of reasons.

Designers may select plant combos based on the amount of sunlight, water and soil type in a garden bed. They may create layers of beauty by weaving together mixtures of fuzzy, water capturing leaves with strands of hair like grasses. Or they may look at building a bed filled with layers of color that change throughout the year in an ever-changing rainbow of seasonal flowers, leaves and fruit. And, quite often a garden’s splendor is the result of a not-so-obvious careful combination of plants that provide for one another in ways that are nothing short of symbiotic. The result: healthy, gorgeous, productive and lower maintenance outdoor spaces.

One of the most well known cooperative-planting combos is known as a 3-sisters garden. In these designs squash, corn and bean family plants are grown in combination and are usually very lovely and bountiful. The corn provides the bean a climbing tower. The beans build nitrogen, which the corn craves. And the squash grows below, shading out weeds. Win-win-win.

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At Summer Run Farm, Organic CSA farmer Cathryn Baerwald takes a different approach to building symbiosis in the vegetable beds. In some spaces, she plants crimson clover – a well-known cover crop – in the beds with her pumpkins and other fall squash plants. The clover fixes nitrogen and helps keep down weeds among the squash plants. If she gets the timing right, those clover flowers will attract the bees and other insects she needs to get the squash plants pollinated and forming delicious fruit. Plus, by the time she harvests the fall squash, it’s generally too late to till her soggy fields. Fortunately, she’s already got a growing cover crop in place for the winter ahead. And, the fields look fantastic!

Another trick from Cathryn’s fields of plenty is to mix pest-prone plants with plants that attract pest predator insects. Aphids arrive throughout the growing year, and before you know it, they’ll suck the life right out of your beautiful plants. Fortunately, lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and soldier beetles will devour aphids fast. Rather than pay to order bags of predator bugs from a nursery or farm supplier, consider planting their favorite foods near those aphid-prone plants. On the farm, Cathryn seeds cilantro in the shade of her corn. The cilantro thrives and produces a delicious harvest in a slightly cooler, protected environment, which the corn provides. Once the cilantro blooms, the nectar-loving soldier beetles flock toward the banquet, slurping up nectar and rounding out their sweet tooth with some protein-rich corn-sucking aphids on the side. And, bonus! The feathery white flowers above delicate cilantro leaves is stunning below the sturdy, masculine stalks of maze. Imagine how lovely that same lacy look would be combined with your aphid-ridden roses!

Even if your plot isn’t farm-sized, planting your garden with symbiosis in mind will help reduce your maintenance, improve your garden productivity, all while giving you a beautiful, healthy outdoor setting to enjoy at home.

**Farm photos provided courtesy of FarmGirlCSA.com