Written by David S.
Inter-planting is a newer gardening philosophy where you mix plant types rather than growing rows or blocks of the same type of vegetable. It is easy to adopt this way of planting to include flowers too. Inter-planting is the modern version of companion planting, and using this method of growing is an excellent way to reduce pest issues, soil health issues and increase crop yield. Keep reading as we walk you through inter-planting, how it works, and how to set up your garden to include this growing technique.
Inter-planting and Sustainable Gardening
Mixing plants in a bed can be beneficial for the plants. One example is planting onions with carrots. The onions are shallow-rooted vegetables, and carrots have a long taproots. These two plants work well together because they are not competing for nutrients in the same root area. The most significant benefit of planting onions with carrots is that onions repel carrot flies. If you have experienced an infestation of carrot flies, you know why that is important. The carrot fly larvae tunnel into the carrots ruining the crop.
Sustainable gardening is about growing more food in the same space and keeping your garden productive year-round. Inter-planting allows you to use the most garden space. You tuck smaller plants under larger ones or add more plants when space becomes available. Using inter-planting helps to increase the yield for a bed or container. Consider growing:
- Parsley under bean plants
- Basil next to tomatoes
- Trailing herbs such as thyme around the borders where tall plants grow.
- Marigolds scattered about your garden beds also help to ward off pests.
- Onions next to squash plants can help prevent flea beetle infestations.
It is good to make a list of short plants — flowers and vegetables — and keep it handy for filling in the spaces around plants. Some short flowering plants to consider include:
- Alyssum — small and trailing, alyssum is a beautiful flowering plant for attracting bees to your garden. Alyssum can help increase pollination for many flowering vegetables.
- Viola — are beautifully small and bright and will attract beneficial pollinators. Viola bloom early, so you attract early season pollinators too.
- Garlic — is not specifically short but has short roots and takes up little space. Garlic, onions, chives are all excellent options for keeping insect pests out of the garden.
- Strawberries — if you want a low-growing fruit that takes up very little room, strawberries are it. The bonus is that they do well in dappled light, and it is a pleasant surprise to find a ripe strawberry.
The short of it is that there are many small plants that you can tuck into a garden bed or container. Some of these plants help drive off pests; they also help save water as they act as living mulch.
Inter-planting as Succession Gardening
Succession gardening is planting a smaller amount of a crop and then planting it again four weeks later. As the first planting matures, the second is developing, and you have another harvest-ready crop in 4 weeks. Succession planting is a fantastic way to keep your garden in production all year.
When you approach succession gardening using inter-planting, you plant your next crop between the current crop. Then, as you take out the old crop, the new crop is ready to enjoy the sunlight. The option also works well for no-dig gardening.
What Do You Gain by Inter-planting?
There are a handful of benefits to inter-planting. They include:
- Bigger Garden Yields — due to fewer pests and more pollinators.
- Fewer Garden Chores — tucking smaller plants into smaller spaces means fewer opportunities for weeds to grow. Also, the denser packed plants help reduce water evaporation, which is essential in a low-rainfall environment.
- Natural Pest Control — Companion planting is a beautiful way to prevent pest issues; when you use inter-planting, you can increase the number of companion plants giving the garden even more protection.
The Secret to having a successful garden always comes down to soil health. Inter-planting and companion planting are two tools that help to improve soil health. First, you can mix plants into spaces, whereas you’d have one plant-type growing there in traditional gardening. With inter-mixing, you can add nitrogen fixers, such as peas and beans to condition the soil as your garden grows. There are a few products that will help you create healthy soil. Those include:
- Soil Development Products — these include aggregates such as perlite or vermiculite, coconut coir, sand, and even gravel. We use these to change the texture of the soil. Sandy soil needs more organic matter, and clay soils need more aggregates.
- Organic compost — is one ingredient in a rich, loamy soil. Most vegetables thrive in rich, loamy soil that is also well-draining. You can make compost yourself, but it can take 1-2 years to create quality soil. As you work on that process, consider a bag or two of commercial compost. FoxFarms, Black Gold, and EB Stone are the three top brands of organic compost. A good tip for using compost is to top-dress your planters with compost. The organic matter will hold water near the surface and can act as a mulch.
- Mulch — Mulch is a beautiful way to introduce a humus layer of soil into gardening. Mulch will slowly break down and add nutrients to the soil. As it undergoes that process, it protects the top layer of soil by holding in moisture. Moisture is essential in keeping beneficial organisms near the soil’s surface. Mulch is a slower way of adding organic matter to the soil, which can help with drainage. Replace mulch as needed.
Inter-planting is one of the modern ways that ease the burden of gardening. The more you experiment with how you grow plants, the easier it becomes to grow a sustainable food forest or a couple of staple herbs. The last tip is to think about what you love to eat and grow the ingredients in those foods. Those options range from home-grown curries to robust sauces and secret ingredients, which create the perfect dressing. Gardening is another way to remove the supermarket flavoring in foods and ignite a love of healthy eating, delightful tastes, and family favorites.
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