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Companion planting means planning your garden to take advantage of the protective or growth enhancing characteristics that some plants have for other plants. In other words, fruits and vegetables have natural "friends" that may repel insects, attract pollinators, or add nutrients and growth enhancers to the soil. Learn to identify the good and bad "companions" and you can increase the bounty from your garden and add a new dimension to your gardening experience.

Aphids are one of the most common pests in the garden. Attacking everything from broccoli to roses, aphids can inflict serious damage on many flowers and vegetables. Ground cayenne peppers mixed with water and strained makes an excellent spray to deter aphids. You can also repel aphids by interplanting members of the onion family in your garden. Chives, onions, and garlic will repel aphids on roses, broccoli, cauliflower, and other plants succeptible to aphid damage. Additonally, onions and chives will repel the carrot fly. Plant garlic and onions near your lettuce and rabbits will avoid that area of your garden. A basic spray can be made by crushing three or four garlic bulbs and soaking them in two tablespoons of mineral oil for 24 hours. Add a pint of warm water, strain the mixture, and use it to spray where insect pests are doing the most damage. While members of the onion family seem to be particularly beneficial to roses, you should never plant onions, chives, or garlic near beans plants.

Bush beans, however, should be planted in alternate rows with potatoes. These plants will provide mutual protection against the Mexican bean beetle and the Colorado potato beetle. Beans, along with peas and potatoes, may also be planted near corn. Peas help enrich the soil by "fixing" nitrogen. Pea vines should be plowed under each year or added to your compost bin.

Other vegetables that produce well when interplanted with corn include cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash. Cucumbers and squash like the partial shade provided by the corn and they provide heavy vines, which in turn help deter racoons from damaging the corn. Cucumbers will also grow well when interplanted with sunflowers. If cucumber beetles are a problem in your area, plant radishes among the cucumber plants.

Do not plant tomatoes near corn since these crops share some of the same insect pests. Tomatoes can be successfully planted near celery, carrots, leaf lettuce, and members of the cabbage family. To deter flea beetles on tomato plants, spray with tea made from mint or catnip. Pour a cup of boiling water over four or five fresh mint leaves, cover, and allow to steep for five minutes. Cool and strain the tea, then spray the leaves infected by flea beetles.

Aromatic plants like peppermint, dill, rosemary, sage, and geraniums also benefit members of the cabbage family (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi) by helping to repel the cabbage butterfly. An infusion made by steeping a handful of cedar needles in a quart of boiling water will rid cabbage plants of cabbage butterfly larva.

In addition to being an attractive (and edible!) plant, nastursiums also repel a wide range of harmful insects. Marigolds planted in your garden this year will eliminate nematodes from the soil next year. Planting flowers among your vegetables will help attract bees to pollinate your crop.

Mulching plants in your garden helps conserve moisture and enriches the soil, but when using an organic mulch, you should be aware of the potential effects of the mulch you choose. Pine needles make an excellent mulch for azaleas, rhododendrons, and gardenias, but never use them in a compost bin or around vegetables. Pine needles contain compounds that inhibit growth in non-acid loving plants. Also, never use black walnut leaves in mulch or compost because of growth inhibiting compounds.

By applying these few simple rules to your garden plan, you can take advantage of the potential of companion planting to maximize your harvest.