Companion Planting As Organic Pest Control

Every year I max out companion planting (aka intercropping) my raised garden beds to help with organic pest control.


organic garden Companion Planting organic pest control

The idea behind companion planting is that certain plants help others by excreting substances from their roots, steer damaging insects away from food crops or ornamentals, or serve as homes to beneficial insects which prey on unwanted pests. Some consider this folk wisdom, as horticulturists and botanists have spent little time actually testing these theories. However, as a lifelong gardener, I can attest that my vegetables and fruit seem to have better growing seasons when I incorporate companion plants than when I don’t.

Planted among my sweet corn are bush beans, cantaloupe, nasturtiums, marigolds and cucumbers; pole beans are planted with cauliflower and nasturtium; three varieties of tomatoes are planted with peppers, garlic, onions, carrots, basil, and parsley (and nasturtiums and marigolds again). Potatoes are planted with nasturtiums. Sweet Potatoes sort of move in on everybody as their vines spread like tentacles across half of the garden. Sunflowers of all sizes border the garden to keep birds and squirrels occupied and raspberry bushes are planted along the South border. Daylilies and Gladiolas inhabit the West border. And wildflowers like Bachelor’s Buttons and Zinnias line the rabbit fence to attract pollinators.

organic sunflowers

My Sunflowers

I have barely a square inch of earth unplanted and I have few if any pest problems. Birds love the sunflower seeds and perch on top to spy crawling insects in the garden. After a rain, the garden is covered with birds looking for a quick meal and I have little crop damage from my flying friends.

Mother Earth News has an excellent list of companion plants here.

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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3 Responses to Companion Planting As Organic Pest Control

  1. Jena Trant says:

    Your garden sounds amazing! I just started companion gardening this year and I am still working out the kinks. I have lettuce, zucchini and pole beans. I just pulled my broccoli because I couldn’t fight off the caterpillars. What size beds do you have? What’s your climate like? I live in northern California near the coast where it tends to be muggy most of the time. My marigolds keep getting moldy, so I planted chives and garlic to help fight off the bugs. I would love to try a more aggressive garden next year like yours. Any pointers?

    • Todd says:

      Just as with anything in organic gardening, you have to experiment a bit to find what works best for your soil, climate and pest presence. Once you nail it, it usually goes pretty smoothly. Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if it takes a few seasons to get it right. My seven beds are of various lengths, but they’re all 3 feet wide, which makes them easy to reach across to weed. Climate here in Pennsylvania is muggier than you might imagine, but pretty mild temp-wise. Best thing I’ve discovered is that if you plant sunflowers on the opposite side of your property, squirrels and birds will spend more time in the sunflowers than in your corn and berries (and everything else). And you also really, really need a fence to keep rabbits out, as they’re the most destructive animals on earth, with an endless appetite(cats work well, too).
      If you can get horse manure for your garden, by all means do so, and there’s no such thing as adding too much compost. My beds look better and better every year from working all of that organic material into them.
      I see your comment about the marigolds – mold has nothing to do with insects. Mold would be caused by your weather conditions, but insects will take advantage of distressed plants and that’s why you might be making the association. Good luck and let us know about your progress!

  2. Marie says:

    What an impressive garden. I’ve heard a little about companion gardening, it seems to be working well for you. I don’t have much planted yet, but am very inspired by what you have accomplished. The only pests I’ve faced have been with my flower garden, lots of aphids. I’ve been using ladybugs as an organic pest control because they eat aphids and so far it’s working out wonderfully. Hopefully if I plant more fruits and vegetables I won’t have any pest problems in that garden.

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