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The Buddy System

Jan Bower, Yolo County Master Gardener, explains how the planting buddy system or companion planting works in her article from the 2010 Summer issue of The Yolo Gardener. Click here to read the full article.

Jan explains companion planting is the idea that some plants benefit from growing in close proximity to others, it’s nature’s ”buddy system.” Some known benefits of the buddy system are better growth, higher yield, pest control and weed repression.

The Three Sisters buddy planting

This idea originated with the Native Americans, specifically the Iroquois, who planted corn, beans and squash together calling the combination “Three Sisters.” Unbeknownst to them this threesome worked so well together because squash takes nitrogen out of the soil, while beans put it back. Lastly corn creates shade which is needed for good production of squash and beans.

Here is a list of was to create beneficial plant associations:

  • Trap Cropping- Plant a secondary plant that attracts pests away from the main crop
  • Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation- Reduce the need for nitrogen based fertilizers by planting legumes and/or clover which add nitrogen back into the soil
  • Physical Spatial Interactions- Plant your garden with a tall, sun loving plant and a low, shade loving plant. For example, plant corn or sunflowers with squash or lettuce.
  • Beneficial Habitats- Create a habitat that attracts and supports a population of beneficial insects.  To do this reduce pesticide use and provide host insects, nectar, pollen, water and shelter. Beneficial insects include: ladybugs, lacewings, hover flies, spiders and wasps.
  • Security Through Diversity- Mix different types of plants in the garden so if pests or adverse conditions destroy some plants, others will remain.
Ladybugs helps us get rid of those pesky aphids!

Here are some buddy planting examples:

  • Mint, rosemary, and garlic create a strong scent that repels aphids, ants and other pests from members of the cabbage family (broccoli, turnips, radishes) as well as roses.
  • Beans and peas should never be planted near the members of the onion family (garlic, chives, leeks and shallots). The excessive nitrogen given off by beans and peas encourages more foliage and less bulb. Also the sulphurous gas given off by onions is toxic to peas. Instead try planting beans and peas with carrots!

Do you plan your garden to incorporate companion or “buddy” plantings? Let us know combinations you like.

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