Forget whatever you’ve heard about which plants ‘love’ which other plants. This isn’t Match.com for vegetables: There’s a science to it.
Before pushing that cart of vegetable seedlings to the checkout line, consider a stop in the seed aisle. On offer: potential organic pest control.
A packet of radish seeds could help fight the flea beetles on your new tomato transplants, and nasturtiums sown among your zucchini may limit the damage done by squash bugs.
Those are just two of the many strategic pairings suggested in Jessica Walliser’s book “Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden,” which takes a new look at a popular subject that has long relied on folklore and conjecture rather than research.
She knows that what you’ve heard about companion planting was probably which crop “loves” which other one, like some kind of Match.com for vegetables. Whatever you’ve heard, it probably didn’t include “tomatoes love radishes” or “zucchini love nasturtiums” — or more specifically, that certain insect pests of tomatoes and summer squash don’t love those things and can be thrown off course by them.
Ms. Walliser — a horticulturist, self-described “science nerd” and the author of two other books on garden insects — wanted to know which pairings would help control pests and improve pollination, providing those and other ecosystem services to desired plants. Not satisfied with anecdotal recommendations, she turned to the scientific literature.
Admittedly, other than a few studies at botanic gardens and university extension facilities that mimicked the smaller scale of home garden beds, most of the literature she found was derived from research in agricultural settings. Nevertheless, the insights represented a leap forward from folklore, so she dug in.
If one idea unites the partnership possibilities Ms. Walliser discovered, it is this: Whether in farm fields, home gardens or the natural landscape, diversity is a powerful tool. Monoculture — too much of any one thing — always leaves us more vulnerable to loss.
Rather than replicating the rigid, old-style rows of a farm field in your vegetable garden, Ms. Walliser recommends a modern, vibrant jumble of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.