A quarter score and 3 years ago, my wife and I embarked on a journey. It's a journey to be remembered for the ages and notated for all to witness. We got married!...then she got bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes. There's nothing that makes people hate being outside in their garden more, especially in my wife's case, than bugs...specifically mosquitoes. For our honeymoon, I actually made a mosquito repellant. You too can use these herbs and various flowers to concoct a mosquitoes repellant of your own. JUST IN TIME FOR THE SUMMER!
Now, let me be frank, growing flowers vs herbs and veggies are 2 completely different worlds. If you don't really research how to plant flowers, you'll be quoting Dickens spouting It was best of times (herbs and produce), it was the worst of times (your staggeringly empty flower garden). Though it is a true tale of 2 cities, it's not impossible, in fact it's easier to avoid this harsh reality than you might think. What I'm referring to mostly are companion plants vs deterrent plants vs trap plants. If we're being honest, mosquitoes aren't the only things discouraging about gardening. So we should know all of the weapons at our disposal.
Companion plants are flowers that can grow in the same soil conditions as your crop. Therefore, they can be planted alongside your crops and deter certain pests away from your beautiful lettuce, etc. One great example of this is marigolds. They attract pollinators which allows your plants to live longer, repel pests like cabbage moths, Mexican bean beetles, nematodes, slugs, tomato hornworms among others. This makes them great to plant near tomatoes. Because of their versatile growing conditions, you can plant them almost anywhere. To top it off, they're edible! So built in garnish! Marigolds also fill a role of another plant we're covering, trap crops.
A trap crop unlike a companion, is one that attracts harmful insects and pests that would normally pose a threat to your crops. Many trap crops might not be edible and many can't tolerate the soil conditions of your fruits and vegetables. Some need more PH, others may need less water, etc.
Though companion plants can simply be other produce, they can also be flowers. Examples of companion plants are Marigolds, Calendula, Petunias and Nasturtiums. Now, the companion plant will be dependent on the crop you're planting. So it can be tricky, but here's a little cheat sheet that can help. Some of the more famous companion plant combinations are: Tomatoes and Basil as basil deters moths that lay hornworm eggs and Corn-pole beans-squash aka the Three Sisters while Nasturtiums, Marigolds and Lavender are considered a general companion plant. This means you can plant them with many crops and they will benefit by proximity. So, where do you plant companion crops? Depending on the height of the companion vs the produce, you can plant them in rows right next to the crop. Just make sure the the bloom time matches the cycle of the produce and the height will determine if they're in front or behind to ensure both get the sun they need. For example, if you're planting giant sunflower species as your companion plant, you'll want to plant them behind your crop, otherwise they'll cast a shadow preventing your crop from getting the sunlight they require.
So now that we know companion, what are deterrent plants? Deterrent plants are crops that repel harmful insects as their primary function. So if companions are the essential base that gets the train going of guiding harmful insects away from your garden, the deterrent plants are the rail that escorts them further away. The major difference between companion and deterrent, not all deterrent plants attract beneficial insects, though they repel undesirables. Deterrent plants also don't always have the same soil conditions, but as long as they're planted in close enough proximity, they can still benefit your crops. For instance, Lavender tends to repel deer, but you can't grow it in the same soil conditions as your cabbage. But if planted nearby, it can help keep deer away from your garden. It's also a great mosquito repellent. Some deterrent plants are listed here. Remember, a deterrent plant is considered a companion plant as well, just sometimes serves a different overall purpose than the companions that attract pollinators while repelling others.
The last of our trio are known as trap plants. These are the plants that attract harmful insects away from your crops. So think back to the train analogy, The companion is the starting point, the deterrent is the track continuing the guide them away. They have to have a destination in mind, otherwise they might circle back right? Que our trap plants. These plants have the scents and other key things these pests are interested in. These should be planted as far away from your crops as possible. Many will plant them on the perimeter of their garden to protect their crops. Some can be planted intercropped, which just means between rows. This will ensure less likelihood for them stumbling upon the real prize lol For instance, in my garden, I have marigolds planted as my companion plant, I then have different forms of mint and lavender planted along the outskirts of the yard to further push the pests away from the crops. They're essentially sacrificial crops. Just like that note in the fridge that says eat me instead. Trap crops can also attract natural predators to the buffet that is your pests These are the exceptions to the as far away as possible rule lol. The landing zone is my trap crop at the edge of my property. Some examples of trap crops are: Chervil, marigolds, nasturtiums and nettles. I'm sure by now you're noticing a trend that some plants fit into all 3 categories. Don't think of this as now a scientific project, think of it as an opportunity to use the plants in the best way that benefit your garden. Nasturtiums can fit any of these 3 roles, so use them that way as a filler for your 3 areas of companion planting. Here's some more information on trap plants.
How many of each plant of each category should you plant? Well it actually depends on your crop, but a good starting point is one trap plant for every 6 plants you're trying to protect. With the deterrent and other companion plants, plant them according to their normal needed spacing, which is normally written somewhere on the seed packet. Just make sure you group the companion plants that have similar water and nutrient requirements together.
In the end, what you're really doing is learning how to build a stable ecosystem that will yield the best crop results. So don't beat yourself up if you don't get it right the first time. Nobody does. A great movie/documentary to watch that covers eco systems and how hard they can be to establish is The Biggest Little Farm. It's an amazing story of a family who decide to build a natural eco system farm with NO previous farming experience. It's a great journey and one that can really encourage and educate you about the journey! You can currently rent it through Amazon.
Until Next Time