My grandfather used to tell me that before pesticides were used, many plantation workers here in Hawaii used to plant rows of lemongrass in between their crops. Workers would walk up and down the fields hitting the lemongrass plants with a bamboo stick. Supposedly, this helped to release the lemongrass fragrance which deterred pests.
To use pesticides or not? It’s one of the biggest decisions any gardener has to make. The most effective pesticides often contain synthetic chemicals which are believed by many to be toxic when handled or ingested by humans. A study done by the University of Florida outlines some of the dangers of handling pesticides. Although there is a lot of heated debate over whether or not pesticides that contain chemicals can actually harm the human body, I think many of us will agree that it’s best to stay as “natural” as possible. One way we can do this is by using companion plants for a pest free garden.
Companion plants are plants that are used to for the benefit of other plants. Companion plants may help to repel pests, attract pollinators, help filter sunlight, and provide wind protection. Today we’ll be discussing five companion plants that help to repel unwanted pests!
Read about using garden bugs to your advantage – Beneficial Bugs
“The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant which lures pests into it’s slender tubular leaf.”
5 Companion Plants For A Pest Free Garden
Aside from it’s cooking properties, lemongrass is also used in many fragrance products including deodorant, soap, perfume, and essential oil. It turns out that the wonderful citrus scent is produced by a chemical called citral. Citral has antimicrobial properties and is also toxic to insects. A study by John Daniel Gumban found that a piece of candy coated in lemongrass oil was left untouched by ants. A few inches away was the same type of candy but without the lemongrass oil. That piece was covered in ants.
Lemongrass also keeps mosquitos away through another powerful chemical, citronella. Citronella is a chemical found in many plants but is particularly strong in lemongrass. It’s pungent citrus scent works by masking scents that attract mosquitos such as lactic acid in humans and livestock. Mosquito repellents often contain a citronella like scent as the active ingredient in repelling mosquitos.
2. Mosquito Plant (Pelargonium Citrosum)
The mosquito plant (Pelargonium Citrosum) is often mistakenly called “Citronella”, so much so it has acquired the nickname “Fake Citronella”. The leaves of this plant have a rough texture and when broken, give off a scent similar to that of citronella. Much like citronella, this scent has a repelling effect on mosquitos and can act as a good companion plant to help keep your garden mosquito free. Plant in pots and place outside your doors and windows to help keep mosquitos outside of the house as well.
Be careful when planting, you’ll want to choose a spot where there is a lot of room for this plant to grow. It will branch out horizontally and will cover a lot of your garden if not pruned regularly.
Chrysanthemums have beautiful flowers but they also have insecticidal effects which makes them a great addition to your garden as a companion plant. Chrysanthemums repel roaches, silverfish, ants, ticks, spider mites, and other critters. This is attributed to a chemical found in chrysanthemums called pyrethrum. This ingredient is toxic to many insects which is why pyrethrum is a constant ingredient in many pet shampoos and indoor sprays.
Plant some chrysanthemums around the border of your garden for a great looking design and effective insect control.
Another companion plant that serves aesthetically as well as functionally, are marigolds. Marigolds are effective in repelling aphids and mosquitos. Look to plant them around the border of your garden or in between crops. The roots of the marigold are also beneficial to the soil because they produce nematicides which is a chemical compound that kills nematodes. This can have a positive effect on your whole garden!
One downfall of the marigold plant is that it is susceptible to fungus and root rot. To prevent root rot, avoid over-watering and keep the plant in full-sun. If fungus starts to become an issue you can try some of The Urban Farmer’s natural essential oil recipes which you can mix yourself.
5. Pitcher Plants
If you’re looking for a more aggressive approach to pest control, look no further than the pitcher plant. The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant which lures pests into it’s slender tubular leaf. Microscopic hairs within the tube are slippery and point downwards to form a slope which the trapped bug can’t escape. At the bottom of the leaf is a pool of water which drowns the pest. The pitcher plant then digests the carcass.
Likely victims include snails, beetles, slugs, and ants. Like chrysanthemums, the pitcher plant also contributes aesthetically to your garden. They have a beautiful tubular shape and come in a variety of colors and patterns. This exotic plant is surely something to be considered.
Author: Brennan Young
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