Do you remember the movie “Mean Girls”? The characters were popular and pretty but not so nice. Let’s be honest – we all know a few mean girls. It happens in high school, in adulthood, and in the garden.
Yes, plants can be bullies too.
Of course, there are aggressive and invasive vines and shrubs that will take over the garden in a season. Oh, just like the Mean Girls, these plants can be beautiful and charming, all the while doing damage to the garden. These plants are greedy and will rob other plants of space and even steal their food from the soil to promote their own growth.
Family feuds exist in the garden – legumes versus onions – a family feud older than the Hatfields and McCoys. When legume family members, including beans and peas, move into the Onion family’s turf, things get ugly. The onions, including garlic, chives, and leeks, produce a substance that will kill the good bacteria needed for the bean roots to thrive.
Keeping up with the Jones or a (not) so friendly competition happens in the garden. Tomatoes and corn are both delicious, but they are very competitive. Both crops are heavy feeders, meaning they use much of the soil’s nutrition to grow and produce a bountiful crop. When grown near each other, the soil will likely not support both, so the harvest will decrease.
This is an example of why crop rotation is important to maintain healthy soil and productive plants. Different plants use different nutrients from the soil. By rotating where crops are planted each year, the soil has time to replenish and rebuild.
The plants that party together grow together. The tea-totaler does not want to hang out with the daily drinker. Choose plants that need the same level of moisture in the soil.
Plants that require almost daily water will not get along with plants that need drier soil. Overwatering may cause roots to rot.
This is true for plant neighbors in a garden bed and plants combined in a container. Know the plant’s needs for sun and water, then place them together based on what they need to thrive.
The “Odd Couple” was a TV show. Messy roommates are annoying. Sunflowers are a good example. As the plants grow and create those big beautiful yellow flowers, they also drop seeds. The seeds release toxins that can stunt the growth of potatoes and pole beans.
This can come in handy if planted on the edge of the plot; the dropped seeds create a natural clean border by killing weeks. Sunflowers are amazing, but give them a foot of space away from other plants.
There is always one mother hen. Everyone needs a friend who is thoughtful and concerned, but overprotective friends are no fun. In the housing market, mature trees are a selling point. Trees are great. I will never disagree. They provide shade, beauty, and are home to many creatures on our property.
Gardeners know that the leaf canopy we crave for shade on a hot summer day often keeps plants from growing underneath. The deep and widespread tree roots can also fight other plants for nourishment from the soil. Of course, plants grow under trees, but it can be challenging to find the right combination.
Just like in the movie ‘Mean Girls’ grow up and find their true selves. When given the proper companions and conditions, plants will do the same. With a little research gardeners will be rewarded with plentiful crops and colorful flowers. It’s all about learning ways to get along with each other.