Trap crops: They’re the real deal, and they work


OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer


We hear a lot of talk around companion planting.

People love to talk about the three sisters – planting corn along with beans to climb up the corn stalks and squash to vine across the ground to suppress weeds with the beans providing nitrogen to support the corn’s growth. This is one version that works.

Some others work as well, but there is much research to be done on the merits of many companion planting plans that are circulating online and on social media.

Trap cropping is a type of companion planting that has lots of research that proves it works. It is not new. It has been done for years. But lately, it has been proven.

It is a version of proper use of the integrated pest management method we should all be using when growing a crop or garden and controlling the problem pests which attack.

Trap cropping is the practice of using decoy plants to draw harmful pests away from the main crop, reducing the effects of harmful insects on the desired crop or plant.

It is a way to cut down on the use of pesticides, to save money, time, and the impacts on the environment. This method may be used with field crops and the home gardener.

Trap cropping has many benefits. It helps increase productivity of and quality of vegetables. It encourages biodiversity in the garden while attracting beneficial insects. The use of pesticides (organic or nonorganic) can be reduced, thus environmental and economic benefits are realized for all.

The home gardener can use trap crops by planting around the perimeter of the desired crop. For example, plant-sucking insects are attracted to black oil sunflowers. Planting them close to tomatoes will draw the bad guys away from your tomatoes.

Aphids are a pest to many of our most popular vegetables. They secrete a honeydew-like substance which promotes sooty black mold and spread plant viruses. Planting nasturtiums close by will provide a food source for the aphids, thus reducing the damage to vegetables.

Cabbage plants are a favorite target for cabbage worms and the diamondback moth. Plant collards among the cabbage to attract those pests. Slugs and snails love to feed on our vegetables and hostas. Try planting chervil among the vegetables and hosta to reduce damage.

According to the University of Connecticut, even using a “tomato tea” may repel certain insects and, “enhance the effectiveness of a perimeter trap crop system.”

To learn more about trap cropping, go to

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