Bright Flowers, Bountiful Vegetables Thrive Together
“Companion planting” offers more than color and texture
In a garden, few things are as lovely as white pentas growing next to yellow lantanas growing next to blue asters. Except perhaps interspersing green beans and red tomatoes. Besides adding color, texture and interest, “companion planting” vegetables with flowering plants actually offers myriad benefits.
“Flowering plants help attract pollinators such as bumblebees, carpenter bees and butterflies,” explains Roy Beckford, Ph.D. He is county extension director at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, or UF/ IFAS, office in Lee County.
Vegetables to consider for companion planting include lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, watermelons, squashes, cucumbers, beans and peas. Dianthus, lilies, hyacinths and irises are good choices to add as flowering plants. They offer great color and also provide scent.
“Incorporating aromatic plants is the basis for aromatic gardens,” Beckford adds. Such gardens are “designed to ignite the senses.” Many herbs also add scent and color. Certain herbs, including basil and rosemary, can help repel insects such as mosquitoes and flies.
“I added lavender to my garden to help keep the pesky bugs at bay,” notes Angela Murphy of Cape Coral.
She has a flower and vegetable garden in her backyard, with peas, green beans, tomatoes— and red zinnias and yellow lantanas.
Murphy says, “I also wanted to add a little color to my vegetable garden, so I added flowers.” She enjoys cooking with lavender and says she may add rosemary to her garden to help ward off mosquitoes.
She grows bay leaves in pots near her front door. Besides being a great herb for cooking, it can repel cockroaches, moths and other pests. “I actually keep dried bay leaves in my cupboards to ward off the bugs,” explains Murphy.
There are other plants that keep bugs and bigger pests at bay. “Planting peppermint, rosemary or marigold around vegetable crops can repel some bugs, and even other critters like mice and rats,” Beckford notes.
To keep pests away from any garden, try a “diversion plot.” Beckford says, “Growing some crops, such as amaranth,
can establish a diversion plot where pests will go instead of on actual food crops.” However, once the diversion plot is full of the pest it has to be harvested and removed, or used as green manure in the compost bin.
When it comes to companion planting, the height of plants should also be taken into account. Tall plants and climbing plants can help add shade, and some plants actually thrive when grown together. “One example of this is corn and beans, as the beans climb up the corn plant and can help with shading,” adds Beckford.
Plants such as broccoli and cabbage are “heavy feeders” of certain soil nutrients, such as nitrogen. Thus they require co-crops, such as beans and peas, to help replace nitrogen in the soil.
Low-lying plants, including sweet potatoes, can grow in small places and will offer ground cover. “The ground cover can assist with water savings or moisture retention … a good source of potassium-rich tubers while other crops, or flowering plants, grow above the vines,” Beckford explains.
Of course, the “right plant” in any given situation depends on the type of soil—sandy, silty, clay-like, loamy, peaty or chalk- like—and whether or not the plant needs a lot of sun or can tolerate shade. Also important are drainage and watering needs of the plant, and what other types of plants grow well with it.
Companion gardening is becoming more and more popular. Many of the gardeners at the Community Garden of Lakes Park in Fort Myers choose to mix vegetables with flowers. Each of the local gardeners rents a 4-foot-by-8-foot raised bed, in a fencedin area of the Community Garden, for $60 a year. (Currently, however, there is a waiting list to rent a raised bed.)
Classes to assist gardeners are taught by extension agents and local growers at the Community Garden. And excess food is often given to a local food bank.
Lakes Park is also home to the 18-acre Botanic Garden and the Children’s Discovery Garden, where more wonderful plants can be enjoyed. Volunteers are always welcome to help maintain the grounds of the Community Garden and the Children’s Discovery Garden.
Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and regular contributor to TOTI Media.
The interspersing of flowers and veggies in the garden beds at Fort Myers’ Community Garden of Lakes Park has many benefits, including attracting pollinators.
These flowers help repel insects and attract pollinators to “companion” garden beds at the Community Garden of Lakes Park. They also provide lovely aromas.
Lovely flowers and veggies are grouped together in collective beds at the Community Garden of Lakes Park. And many of the gardeners also add a little whimsy.