The Garden Muse — Good companions in the garden

Published 4:41 pm Saturday, May 7, 2022

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I often have people ask me what I do in my gardens to keep the pests out. My immediate response is most often in the form of a question. I usually need to ask what they mean by the word ‘pest.’ My mind wonders, are they referring to the myriad of wildlife in the area, deer, fox, raccoon, possum etc. or the dreaded moles and voles, stray dogs and cats perhaps? Most often they are inquiring about Insects. The list of insects, beetles and spiders that will inhabit a garden can seem endless and appears to grow larger every year.

I do not automatically consider ‘bugs’ in my gardens as pests. I am a natural/organic grower and ever since I stopped using the chemicals and poisons, I have not had any bug related problems or catastrophic infestations in my gardens.

So, the simple answer to how I keep the pests (garden insects, beetles, spiders, and the like) out of my gardens is I don’t.

I practice “Companion Planting” in all my gardens. Companion planting benefits are numerous it improves plant and soil health and protects from pests. What I have learned is, if there exists a balanced ecological environment in the garden the ‘good’ bugs will keep the ‘bad’ bugs in check and there is no need to dust, spray or sprinkle anything in the garden. The beneficial insects and pollinators benefit immeasurably from the practice of companion planting also.

I plant radishes around my cucumbers to deter the flea beetles. I plant Genovese basil around my tomatoes, there is a list of pests that do not like the oils in basil and it protects the tomatoes. I rarely find tomato horn worms on my plants and when I have the parasitic wasps has found it first (this is a good sign of ecological balance.) I plant carrots under the tomatoes, they appreciate the shade that is provided to them in the sweltering summer afternoons. I plant radish, nasturtiums and marigolds around the squash, all help to repel the squash bug. I plant bush beans with my strawberries because they are ‘nitrogen fixers’ and in turn feed the strawberries.

Companion planting works just as well in the flower garden too. I surround my flower beds with daffodils. They bloom in the early spring and keep the voles out of the flower beds. I also plant chives around the rose bushes, my roses have never been happier.

Many charts and lists on companion planting can be found online and many seed companies are now providing information on the practice. Good companions are the key to a balanced healthy eco system in the garden.

Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbal enthusiast, Writer and Fiber Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@