Nancy Thompson | Bracebridge Horticultural Society
Companion planting is simply when two types of plants are grown close together for the benefit of one or both. It can be as simple as growing nectar-rich flowers amongst crops to attract pollinators.
Based on traditional and later scientific research, we know that there are certain crops which make “good” companions when paired together.
Many early societies grew what we now call the “three sisters” (corn, squash and beans).
The tall corn supports, shades and shelters the climbing beans, which in turn help make soil nitrogen available to the corn and other plants.
The low-growing squash covers the ground to slow down moisture loss and its big, prickly leaves discourage weeds and pests. Simple and effective.
Some plants such as basil are a classic companion for tomatoes because basil helps to repel whiteflies, mosquitoes, spider mites, aphids and its flowers attract pollinators. Whilst sage is useful to repel carrot fly and cabbage moths. Not totally, of course, but they help.
Many flowering plants are excellent natural insect repellents. Garlic and allium tends to repel many pests such as aphids (which affect more than 400 types of plants) and Japanese beetles. Try planting some between rows of potatoes or alongside lettuces and cabbages.
Nasturtium attract caterpillars away from cauliflower, broccoli, taking the brunt of pest attacks. Whilst others such as calendula, cosmos and marigold attract beneficial insects to help control pests such as aphids.
Of course, any nectar-rich flowers such as zinnia, comfrey and ageratum will attract pollinators such as bees to the garden, helping to boost the pollination of flowering crop plants like tomatoes, beans, and squash.
Burdock and dandelions have great long taproots that bring nutrients up from deep in the soil to the benefit of shallower rooted plants.
Parsley, dill and tansy attract pest-eating ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Tansy repels cutworms which attacks asparagus, bean, cabbage, carrot, celery, corn, lettuce, pea, pepper, potato, and tomato plants.
Mint deters aphids, ants, and flea beetles. Just be careful to plant mint in its own pot or bed, as it is a very aggressive grower!
When plants help plants your garden becomes more ecologically friendly to the benefit of us all.
’Tis the time for transplanting
Whether moving purchased plants from their pots to your garden; or moving your home-grown transplants to the garden or even repotting your houseplants to go outside there is always a question.
Should I loosen the pot-bound roots and if so how?
In the case of your fragile seedlings, it is best not to handle the roots more than necessary. Dig a hole large enough to accept the roots without twisting them all up and plant. Gently pack the soil around the baby plant and water well.
So many of the plants we buy for bedding-out have a great bundle of roots around inside the pot and often hanging out the bottom. When moving these plants from their plastic pots in a greenhouse to outside in the ground we are drastically changing their environment. It is essential to prune, loosen and untangle many of the roots before planting to give the plant a better chance to adapt and survive.
For indications that a plant is root bound look for roots growing out of the bottom of the pot; look for thick roots that circle inside the pot.
The whole point in loosening the roots is to help the plant survive when planted in the garden.
Do soak the plant well with water. It the root ball is not too bad, try to gently tease out some of the tangled roots and spread them out into the new planting hole. Water well and tamp the soil down gently around the plant to get any air out.
If the plant has a massive tough encircling ball of roots, use a clean, sharp knife to cut an X-shape in the bottom and cut lines up each side of the root bundle to allow new roots to grow out into the soil.
These cuts will not harm the plant, but will encourage the roots to spread out in the new soil and give t