A polyculture is a diverse companion planting scheme which incorporates a number of carefully chosen plants.
In your garden, it is important to avoid mono-cropping. Just as on a farm, mono-cropping in a garden can increase the likelihood of pests and disease taking hold. And when you plant just potatoes in one bed, for example, and peas in another, you are not making the most of your space.
Companion planting, as you may be aware, is all about choosing two plant types that are compatible, like the same or similar growing conditions, won’t compete too much with one another, and can aid one another in different ways.
Companion plants might aid one another environmentally – by providing ground cover or shade, for example. One plant might also dynamically accumulate nutrients (nitrogen fixing plants, for example).
One plant may also aid another by attracting pollinators, or predatory insects, to increase the chances of effective pollination and/or keep pest numbers down. A companion plant might also aid another by repelling, confusing or distracting certain pests.
Polyculture planting takes this idea a little further. It is a kind of companion planting. But rather than just thinking about two different plants, you think about several – all of which can work together to create a thriving ecosystem.
A forest garden is a type of polyculture. But often, when we talk about polycultures, we are referring to groups of plants combined in annual/ biennial growing areas. In beds, raised beds, or even in containers, creating polycultures can increase yields, and give you the best chances of success.
One common example of a polyculture is the ‘three sisters’ planting scheme. In this scheme, corn, beans and squash are grown together. You might also add other plants into this combination – nasturtiums are one great example.
By thinking holistically, beyond the X likes Y and dislikes Z companion planting suggestions, you can find the best combinations of plants, and the best diverse planting schemes for your particular garden.
It should be noted that claims made for the benefits of plant combinations are not always founded in science. But there is no harm in experimentation. And even if the benefits are not always proven, anecdote and advice from experienced gardeners is a good place to start when planting polycultures for your garden.