What is companion planting?

Companion planting is planting two different types of plants together, so that they benefit from each other. One recent example paired alyssum, a flower, with lettuce.

Traditionally-grown lettuce prices shot up in 2014 because many of them were overcome by aphids, tiny insect predators that can easily take over and destroy many crops. But organic farmers suffered little loss, because they planted alyssum as well.

Alyssum is a sweet-smelling, tiny flower that attracts the hoverfly, a beneficial insect. Hoverfly larvae eat aphids, and the adults eat the nectar and pollen of the alyssum flowers.

So by planting the flowers along with the lettuce, the aphids population was kept under control by the hoverflies. Pretty smart farming!

You can do the same in your backyard or kitchen garden. Simply be sure to plant alyssum close to, or alongside, lettuce.

Be sure to include other plants which attract beneficial insects and bees, to help pollinate crops such as cucumbers and squash. Plants such as dill, fennel, basil, and flowers such as calendula and cosmos and the herb borage are good choices. You can eat the flowers of borage, the petals of calendula and cosmos, and both the leaves and flowers of dill, fennel, and basil.

Let’s hear it for multi-purpose plants in the garden!

You can read more about the alyssum-lettuce partnership here: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jan14/lettuce0114.htm

You can find out more information about companion planting with vegetables in my book, Low Water Veggie Gardening: How to Create a Drought-Resistant, Sustainable Vegetable Garden, Conserve Water, and Grow Your Own Food.

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