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Selecting plants based on symbiotic relationships involves understanding how different plant species interact with each other to mutual benefit. This knowledge can come from new science or age-old practices. Say what you will about age-old wisdom, our ancestors used the scientific process to observe and test how nature interacts with itself. For instance, some Native American tribes are infamous for growing corn, beans and squash together because they create a soil and growing environment that allows all three plants (and even neighboring plants) to thrive.

Here’s how to choose plants based on symbiotic relationships:

  1. Research Plant Relationships: Learn about different symbiotic relationships that exist in nature, such as mutualism, where both species benefit, or commensalism, where one benefits while the other is unaffected. For example, some plants form beneficial relationships with certain fungi, bacteria, or other plants.


  1. Companion Planting: Explore companion planting, which involves planting different species together to enhance each other’s growth and health. Some plants release chemicals that repel pests or inhibit the growth of weeds, while others fix nitrogen in the soil or provide shade and support for neighboring plants.


  1. Nitrogen-Fixing Plants: Consider including nitrogen-fixing plants in your garden. These plants have symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use for growth. Legumes, such as peas, beans, and clover, are common examples of nitrogen-fixing plants.


  1. Mycorrhizal Relationships: Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with the roots of many plants, facilitating nutrient uptake in exchange for carbohydrates produced by the plant through photosynthesis. Choose plants that form mycorrhizal associations to improve soil fertility and plant health.


  1. Pollinator Plants: Select plants that attract pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds. These plants rely on pollinators for reproduction, while pollinators benefit from the nectar and pollen provided by the flowers. By planting a variety of flowering plants, you can support diverse pollinator populations and promote biodiversity in your garden.


  1. Pest-Repelling Plants: Incorporate pest-repelling plants into your garden to deter pests naturally. Some plants produce compounds that repel or confuse pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides. For example, aromatic herbs like basil, rosemary, and mint can help repel insects when planted near susceptible crops.


  1. Complementary Planting: Choose plants that complement each other’s needs and growth habits. For example, tall plants can provide shade or support for shorter plants, while groundcover plants can suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. By selecting plants with complementary characteristics, you can create a balanced and resilient ecosystem in your garden.


  1. Local Adaptation: Prioritize native plant species that have evolved alongside local wildlife and microorganisms. These plants are more likely to form beneficial relationships with native pollinators, fungi, and other organisms, supporting the overall health of your garden ecosystem.


  1. Observation and Experimentation: Pay attention to how different plant species interact in your garden over time. Experiment with different plant combinations and observe the outcomes to learn which symbiotic relationships work best in your specific environment.


By considering symbiotic relationships when choosing plants for your garden, you can create a thriving ecosystem where plants support each other’s growth and contribute to overall ecological balance.

Photo by @anniespratt on Unsplash

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