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Herb companions in your garden?

Herb Snips


I am delighted to have this opportunity to share my passion for herbs and their eatin’, curin’ and smellin’ benefits. Join me monthly as we explore these amazingly beneficial plants. We will start with some companionable herbs. They will turn your garden into a tasty, healthy and aromatic space by being supportive, protective and complementary to your favorite plants. Organic gardeners have long recognized these plant attributes and many herbs rank high on this list.

How do they do this? Well, they are among the first bloomers in spring. With their variations in textures, colors and scents they attract beneficial insects, like pollinators and pest predators. Detrimental bugs are looking for specific host plants and the myriad characteristics introduced to the garden by herbs are overwhelming to their senses. The abundance of good guys feasting on the interlopers diminishes the need for insecticides so the natural plant chemistry flourishes and supports ripening and good health for its coop-partners. Perennial herbs do not generally compete for nutrients or water so their neighbors remain healthy and are less likely to suffer from viral and other ailments. These perennial herbs are ideal in our Tehachapi weather and we will talk more about them in future columns.

Having explored the overall benefits of planting herbs, let us look at some specific affects of several herbs. If you can’t plant these protective herbs close to your “darlings” spread their cuttings liberally around for a similar effect. Bordering garden areas with these herbs can also provide some defense.

Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium) contains pyrethrum that paralyzes many chewing insects. It can be used as a “lure plant” near flowers and vegetables, because it will attract and kill feasting aphids.

Basil (ocimum basilicum) is often planted with tomatoes, onions, salad burnet and peppers because it improves their growth and flavor and is a delicious accompaniment at the table. It contains camphor, which confuses and repels hornworms and other munching insects.

Bee balm (monarda) also enhances the development of tomatoes and its dried leaves can be used to make Oswego tea, made famous by the Boston Tea Party. Its brilliant scarlet flowers and citrus scent make it a “knock out” it any garden.

Members of the onion family (alliums) include garlic, onion chives and garlic chives. Their strong smell repels aphids, beetles and potato bugs. They are excellent barrier plants because four legged critters also dislike the odor.

Parsley (petroselinum) invigorates the growth of roses, tomatoes, and asparagus by repelling beetles, flies and aphids.

Sage (salvia officinalis) and rosemary (rosmarinus) discourage slugs, beetles, cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies. They are excellent companions for these three vegetables in the garden as well as in cooking.

Integrate tarragon (artemisia dracunculus) among vegetables to improve their growth and flavor. Pick and cook it with the garden vegetables for a real treat. It contains the organic compound estragol, which is used industrially as a food additive to enhance flavor.

Grape growers have a friend in hyssop (hyssopus officinalis) because it attracts pollinators and repels vine pests. It is not competitive with grape roots for food or water and its lovely purple flowers complement the grapevines.

Fragrant herbs such as scented geraniums, lemon balm, thyme, lavender and mint are effective repellents for pesky insects. Plant them in your flower or vegetable garden with plants that have similar sun, water and soil requirements.

Keep in mind that the idea of companion planting is supported by centuries of gardeners’ observations, but scientific studies are few. Try your own experiment by interplanting one of these herbs with a suggested partner and see what a helpful cohort it is.

Please contact me on my website with your “herb companion” experiences and questions. You will also find photos, recipes, and other garden related information there. Enjoy an herbally delightful month!

Tehachapi Farmers Market – Railroad Park every Thursdays 4-7 p.m. June through August. Buy fresh produce from independent local growers.


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