Bug off, winged pests, lest companion plants run you away!

April 04, 1992|By Helen Weil | Helen Weil,Cox News Service

Tomatoes and basil go well together in the salad bowl, and in the garden as well. Basil grown next to a tomato plant will repel tomato horn worms.

This is an example of the ancient practice of companion planting.

Companion plants can trap or repel insects or lure beneficial bugs that consume pests. Other pairings make use of the buddy plants' complementary sun needs, soil demands and maturity times.

Companion planting has not been conclusively proved effective, but many gardeners report successes.

Success is harder to come by in bug-prone locales, however. Robert Brannen, an agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, says, "Most people would not be happy with the results they get."

But horticulturist Arty Schronce says companion planting is a worthwhile experiment. At least it's preferable to the "Desert Storm approach" -- heavy use of insecticides for immediate results.

If you want to experiment with companion planting:

* Check out the literature. Two helpful texts are "Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally" by Robert Kourik and "Rodale's Chemical-Free Yard & Garden."

* Results vary greatly by location. If you hear about a successful planting, find out if it occurred in a similar climate.

* Once you decide on a primary crop, select its companion with care.It may get rid of one bug but attract another to the primary plant. Some companions may become so overloaded that the pests spill over onto the primary crop.

* Avoid matching a primary plant with a companion so competitive that it takes nutrients and space away from the primary plant and reduces its size or yield. Mint, catnip and horseradish are among the most aggressive.

* Don't crowd the primary crop and its companion. In humid areas especially, a plant needs air circulation to prevent fungus, mildew or rot.

* Make sure the companion doesn't stunt the growth of the primary plant. The chemical makeup of the companion may repel insects or inhibit weeds, but it also may choke the primary plant with its chemical aura.

* Experiment. Plant one area with just the primary crop, another with the crop and a companion. Evaluate the results.

* Encouraging beneficial predator bugs is one Earth-friendly practice gradually gaining acceptance, says nursery manager Tina Hunter.

The ladybug, a heroine of organic growers, is attracted by evergreen euonymous, goldenrod, morning glory, ragweed and yarrow. You don't need to plant these with food crops; a nearby stand will provide a habitat from which the ladybug can commute.

You can buy ladybugs in the adult or larval stage, and you can buy the egg case of the praying mantis, a spectacular predator. One egg case will release up to 200 mantises, enough for almost any home garden.

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