The Basics of Building a Symbiotic Garden

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If you want to cultivate a well-growing garden without a lot of human intervention, then striving for symbiotic harmony is a great approach.

When you think of symbiotic relationships, what comes to mind? You can think of our little fish friend from Finding Nemo. Clownfish and anemone have symbiotic relationships.

Planting mates with vegetables and herbs is also considered a type of symbiosis.

Ready to demolish the process and find harmony in your garden? let’s get started.

What does “symbiotic” mean, exactly?

In simple terms, symbiosis means that two species live together for a long time and affect each other’s lives. There are three types of symbiosis and when people say the word symbiosis to themselves they actually refer to symbiosis mutuality, in which both species benefit from the relationship. It differs from symbiotic parasitism (or simply parasitism), in which one species benefits at the expense of another.

The third type is communalism, in which one species benefits and the other neither gains nor harms.

That said, in this article, we are going to use “symbiosis” when we actually mean symbiosis reciprocity because that is the more common definition for the term.

Here are some examples. Aphids feed on plants but do not provide anything beneficial in return. Conversely, to keep wolves close to wolves is rancor communalism.

Building a Symbiotic Garden
Building a Symbiotic Garden

As for symbiosis reciprocity? Think about planting tomatoes with basil. Nutrients in the soil secrete tomatoes that help the basil to thrive, while basil attracts beneficial pollinators and drives away the tomato worms.

Both have the advantage of being a housewife, so to speak.

Example 1: Mycorrhizal fungi

As “nemo” and anemone benefit from each other, let’s take a look at mycorrhizal fungi and how it makes symbiosis with plants.

These fungus friends wrap themselves around the roots of plants and are rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. This fungus is particularly beneficial for corn, squash, cucumbers, nightshade, allium, lettuce, herbs and carrots.

In turn, these plants emit sugars as sugars, to which the fungi feast. In fact, it is the only food source of fungi, making it an ideal form of symbiosis. Both species thrive for the other without any downside: just happy times all around.

It is important to note that there are doing Some situations in which fungi benefit from plants in contrast.

For example, some fungal species are completely dependent on plants for their carbon regeneration, whereas only plants provide minimal nutrition in return. Like wheat and some related cereal crops. [1]

Most plants will benefit from mycorrhizal mildew, but it is important to note that for example, some such as beets do not benefit.

This is why it’s important to do research before planting anything, so you don’t waste an insane amount of time trying on pair species that don’t play well together.

If you really want a healthy garden that is teeming with mycorrhizae, consider a no-dig, low-til, haggelculture, or lasagna garden setup. This allows the beneficial fungus to flourish, instead of expelling it from its cozy, earthen house and dying from exposure to the sun.

Example 2: companion planting

It is one of the best and easiest examples of symbiotic gardening. Best of all, you can adapt it to any gardening location in any climate.

companion planting

If you have planted three sister-type Permaculture gardens, then you are already familiar with three-types of symbiosis. Each of these plants benefits from the proximity of the other, none of them suffer or suffer.

Alternatively, if you are not yet familiar with the concept of companion planting, read some online articles and / or grab some good permaculture gardening books.

Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and make an afternoon to research all about it as it is an essential element of gardening.

One book I would recommend adding to your reading list is Teaming with Nutrients by Jeff Lowenfels. When you’re with it, you can also pick up his other books, Teaming with Microbes, and Teaming with Fungi.

All these aspects of symbiotic plantation farming are included, including working with species that are generally considered “difficult”.

As an example of this, I and my partner want to cultivate black walnut trees on our land. But they release a chemical called juglone, which is toxic to most other plant species.

However, papava fruit bushes are immune to this substance and thrive near walnuts. In turn, they attract beneficial pollinators, and their dropped leaves act as a natural mulch, maintaining moisture around the roots of the walnut tree.

It is a perfect example of symbiotic gardening.

Example 3: Salmon and Blueberry

For our third example, let’s take a cue from Nemo and look at symbiosis that can occur in an aquaponics setup.

A salmon fish farm may have blueberry bushes around the perimeter or cross the tank. The roots of blueberry bushes get entangled in water to absorb the nutrients created by salmon.

These nutrients come from sloshing waste of salmon in water. Blueberries become healthy by feeding the bushes, and they clean the water that live in salmon.

The bushes also dropped their berries in the water, which the salmon were quite lured into. These fish benefit from the nutrients in the berries, and they really love their taste. We can hardly blame them, right?

These two species benefit from each other rapidly. And blueberry sauce is delicious on cooked salmon as well, but it’s more about them than us, spontaneous?

Example 4: Bird Feeder and Bird Bath

Okay, now you are probably wondering what to do with symbiosis gardening on earth bird feeders and baths, but hear me out.

When we are living with nature and working in harmony, we accept that all types of species are integral to harmonious balance.

Having wild birds around the property does not mean that you will be happy to listen while you are outside. They are wonderful allies, and by friendship with them, your garden will thrive as a result.

Bird Feeder and Bird Bath
Bird Feeder and Bird Bath

Suppose you keep your birdbath and feeder full and healthy. It attracts all sorts of species in your garden location. They are not just moving from feeders: they are also hopping around your plants and buildings.

Jays, magpies, and crows’ family members like to eat juicy small wasp larvae. They will take down the paper wasp nests and clean them. As a result, you will not suffer wasps all summer long.

Smaller species such as reins, sparrows and other finches like to feed on beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. They will gladly feed them to your cabbage and so on.

Japanese beetles will dig into mud to produce mid-size species such as robins and thrushes to eject grubs such as larvae.

As you can see, attracting these animals to your garden is an ideal form of symbiosis. Your plants will flower, birds will feed well, and the cycle will rotate.

As a note, remember to hang feeders in trees, where birds will feel safe from predators such as hunters and other raptors.

The same goes for the birdbath. Find them in the nook where the birds will not get attacked from above. Keep them where birds can easily see ground-based predators such as cats, foxes, etc.

Make sure you work with the land you have

Many of us try to force our gardens to make the food we want to eat, rather than adopting our growing and eating patterns on the land we are on.

This fully counteracts the notion of symbiosis gardening.

symbiosis gardening

We want to live in harmony with our land and have a wazir for it, can’t beat it and torture it, so it will perform the way we want it to.

I have had the privilege of cultivating gardens in many different environments. I have learned to tell Bhoomi what he needs and that he loves best and adapt it accordingly.

If you are growing a garden in a dry environment like I did in rural California, choose the species that do best under those conditions. They will potentially have a lot of beneficial pollinators, so focus on companion planting with species that help them retain moisture.

Alternatively, if you have found an allotment garden somewhere in northern England, choose hardy species that can protect each other and provide important nutrition.

Select the heirloom species reared in your area. Or, try to get some lovely seeds from northern France, southern Germany, or southern Scandinavia. Everyone should work in that environment.

Whenever possible, grow plants that have been cultivated in your area, or at least in conditions that match the climate of your land.

It includes sun, mud and rain. Mediterranean plants will do well in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, while northern and eastern European plants will do well in Minnesota, North Dakota, and parts of Canada.

Spend time on your ground, just sit with him, observe him and pay attention to what he is telling you. You will be amazed at Eden when you can approach farming as a friend instead of conquering the land.


  1. Wright DP, Read DJ, Scholes JD. Mycorrhizal Sink Strength Influence Whole Plant Carbon Balance of Trifolium Repens L. Plant, Cell and Environment 19982188191

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