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Intercropping, Companion Planting, and Intensive Gardening

Intercropping is the growing of plants in a close physical and temporal proximity, usually done for the purposes of increasing yield.

Given the small dimensions of our garden plots, there are obvious benefits to planting closely:  using space efficiently cuts down on weed growth, helps shade the soil and prevent moisture loss, and of course lets you grow more plants.  The simplest ways careful planning can help your garden are straightforward.  Plants need a certain amount of space for their roots to grow, and will compete with each other for nutrients and water if their 'root zones' overlap too much.  Some plants have deep and narrow root systems, while others have broad and shallow ones - alternating between the two can permit closer spacing than would be possible normally.  Plants also tend to block light, most especially beneath their leaves and to their northward side (in the Northern Hemisphere); this is frequently undesirable, but it can also permit growing shade-tolerant plants that enjoy cool weather well into the summer months.

But there are subtler considerations, too.  Many people believe that plants can influence each other's growth in ways beyond simple competition for resources, encouraging or harming the development of other plants.  Taking advantage of these supposed interactions is called companion planting.

The following links discuss the basic principles of intercropping and companion planting, provide recommendations for good and bad companion plants, and briefly touch on the scientific justification (or lack thereof) for many of the traditional claims.

Cass County Extension List of Companion Plants