Last week we talked to our local Permaculture group, & put together these notes for them. Seemed like a good idea to put them in here too. Some thoughts on Companion planting with herbs, & using herbs as sprays & deterrants: Haven’t put in recipes for sprays, too much to write, I’m sure they’re easy to find. Anti-social plants, which inhibit the growth of those nearby: Wormwood, Southernwood, Rue, Fennel. Couchgrass excretes a growth inhibiting hormone from it’s roots which affects other plants. I know you won’t choose to plant couch in your garden, but when planting young plants, it’s probably worth trying to clear it as much as possible.

Plants inclined to spread, even when you think you won’t let them: Mints, Tansy, Yarrow, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Perennial Nettle, Horseradish & Comfrey. The latter 2 will grow from the tiniest bit of root, so once planted they are very hard to eliminate.

Plants like Borage self seed like mad, at least these pull out easily. St John’s Wort, Lemon Balm & Garlic Chives & some other herbs tend to self seed prolifically, it’s worth dead heading them, or cutting them back once they’ve flowered to avoid getting taken over.

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Goodies to plant here & there: Nasturtiums, Alliums, (garlic, chives, garlic chives) English Marigold (Calendula), French Marigolds ( Tagetes sp.)

Traditional combinations: Basil & Tomatoes, Savory & Beans, Borage & Strawbs, Corn & Cucumbers, Onions & Carrots. It makes sense too, to plant small patches of Cabbages etc, with pungent plants nearby, to mislead the Cabbage Whites which find their way to our Brassica by smell, or the butterfly equivalent.

Attracting insects:

Any Umbellifera, carrot flowers, Alyssum, Phacelia attract parasitic wasps, which parasitise Cabbage White Butterflies.

To attract bees, also other pollinators like Drone Flies & the little black native bees, plant Borage, Honeywort, (Cerinthe major) many of the herbs like Thymes, Oregano, Rosemary etc.

To encourage Butterflies: we all know about Swan Plants for Monarchs. Stinging Nettles are the host plant for Yellow & Red Admirals. Groundsel & Cineraria feed the striped orange & black caterpillars of the Magpie Moth, & Ragwort feeds caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, which leaves you in a quandry, whether to leave Ragwort to grow, or pull it out. Well I guess the answer is to cut off the flowers. The Cinnabar moth is a bright cerise & black moth, both are diurnal ie they fly during the day.

Mulches: Oak leaves help to keep away the slugs & snails, you can try putting used coffee grounds around tender seedlings too, don’t forget to leave some bricks or tiles around for the Thrushes to use as anvils.. Pine needles provide an acid mulch which is appreciated by Tomatoes & strawberries. If we can get them, we like to mulch with Pea Hay or Lucerne so we are feeding up the soil as well as all the other benefits of mulching.

Compost: A number of herbs are used biodynamically, or as teas or leaves added to compost, all of which warm & speed the composting process, or add valuable nutrients. Don’t forget to wilt or rot down comfrey, & avoid using the thick flowering stems, which will grow. Yarrow, (Achillea millefollium) Comfrey, Valerian, Nettle. Elder trees are reputed to help the compost heap if planted nearby, perhaps their shade helps, & they can be kept pruned to a modest size.

Liquid Fertilisers: Comfrey, Stinging Nettle, Dandelion all contribute useful nutrients, look out for those Rat-tailed Maggots!

Plants for sprays: just because they’re plants, it doesn’t mean they are all non-toxic. Rhubarb leaf, or Tobacco sprays for example have withholding period of several weeks. Garlic spray is probably the most well known & easiest spray for aphids & other suckers. Pyrethrum is easy to grow & is effective, this is available in most plant shops now as an organic spray too.

Dried Equisetum & Chamomile flowers can both be made into sprays to discourage Mildew, & damping off.

Cuttings: we don’t do it now, but for a few years we used willow twigs as a growth promoter for cuttings. You fill a jar with willow twigs & water & leave overnight. Then stand the cuttings in this solution for a few hours before putting into potting mix. Hard to say how effective it is, but worth a go for plants which are hard to get started.

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