We have several citrus trees in our backyard, including lemon, orange, tangerine, and lime, and while they’re doing well, we’re looking at ways to increase their pollination and therefore—fruit yields. This brought us to look at companion planting. So, what are great companions for citrus trees?
The best companion plants for citrus trees include wildflowers, nasturtium, lavender, rosemary, and chives. Ideally, companion plants attract pollinators, build soil, repel pests, and are visually appealing. Depending on their shade tolerance, some plants can be planted under the tree itself.
So, while these plants make good companion plants for citrus trees, what exactly do they do to help, and what are some other plants we can use? Let’s take a closer look.
Companion Planting Pro Tips (Before You Start)
Companion planting is selecting specific plants to place together for benefits such as increasing pollination or controlling pests. Sometimes these benefits are one-sided, while others are mutual.
A famous example is The Three Sisters—planting corn, beans, and squash together. The corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb, the squash provides a ground cover, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Plus, all of them provide food!
Here’s how to get the most from companion planting:
- Find your USDA hardiness zone
- Select plants that do well in your zone
- Choose the plants that fit each niche or layer in the graphic above (canopy, understory, herb layer, etc.)
- Plant support species first to establish a microclimate and build the soil. For example, before planting fruit trees, grow nitrogen-fixing trees, shrubs, and flowers. Plant one nitrogen fixer for each productive plant (such as fruit trees or berry bushes).
Now, let’s take a look at the best companion plants, their benefits, and other tips to place them in your garden.
Wildflowers are one of the best companion plants for citrus trees, mainly because they attract a variety of beneficial insects, such as pollinators. These pollinators include bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
The wildflower’s variety of colors is visually appealing to pollinators and provides a good mix of nectar they can use as energy.
So, which flowers are classified as wildflowers?
Wildflowers are defined as any flower that has not been genetically manipulated (source).
- Bee Balm
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Purple Coneflower
- Meadow Cranesbill
- Black-Eyed Susan
The increased pollination from wildflowers is important because even though most citrus trees are self-pollinating, they can still benefit from cross-pollination. In summary, they have fewer dropped fruits and sometimes even larger fruits.
If you’d like more information on citrus tree pollination, make sure to check out my recent post: citrus tree pollination and its benefits.
This aromatic plant makes a great companion for almost anything, including citrus trees. They’re a hardy perennial and have a high resin content, meaning their leaves and flowers are usually too tough and oily to be of interest to pests like deer, rabbits, or squirrels.
Their fragrant purple flowers also attract beneficial insects like bees, which are one of the best pollinators around.
Lavender is known for repelling ticks and fleas due to its strong oils, and may even drive away mice and rats too. Both of these plants like hot, dry conditions, which makes them good choices for gardens that experience intense summer heat.
Rosemary usually blooms early, around the same time as citrus trees. This is a huge benefit to the pollination of citrus flowers.
Plants like rosemary and lavender also have relatively short roots, which is good since deeper roots can compete with the citrus tree’s shallow roots.
Like lavender, rosemary also prefers hot and dry conditions. This makes them perfect for growing with citrus trees in places like California. On the other hand, the frequent rain might be a bit harder to grow rosemary in climates like Florida.
For this reason, consider planting rosemary on mounds (around the citrus trees) to increase their soil’s drainage.
Comfrey is one of the most popular companion flowers at the moment because not only can it be used to attract pollinators but it grows incredibly fast and tall—eventually falling over and making a great mulch for other plants.
This mulch then reduces evaporation, provides protection from the elements, and adds nutrients to the soil.
Comfrey also fixes nitrogen in the soil. Because of this, comfrey is a great plant to use for growing in and improving poor soils.
So, if you need more pollination, mulch, or nitrogen in your garden, grow comfrey!
For best results, plant comfrey next to fruit trees like citrus, as well as vegetables like asparagus. However, comfrey grows well with just about any plant.
Keep in mind that while comfrey doesn’t have any foes, it can grow and spread aggressively. Because of this, many gardeners prefer to grow Russian comfrey due to it having sterile seeds.
To see more companion flowers, check out my other post: The Top 10 Companion Flowers for Gardens, Vegetables, & More.
Nasturtiums are edible, beautiful, and fast-growing. They’re great companions for citrus trees because they attract pollinators and attract aphids away from the tree.
I once had aphids on my Kaffir lime tree and they were a pain to deal with (I finally found that spraying them with a light jet of water knocked them off and they haven’t come back since). At the time, it would have been good to know that nasturtiums would have helped too!
Nasturtium’s flowers come in a wide range of colors, and their sand-dollar-shaped leaves are attention-grabbing. They also have no problem growing in poor soil—as long as it drains well.
Because they vine quickly along the ground, they’re an amazing ground cover. As a result, it protects the soil with reduced evaporation and provides a habitat for beneficial garden life.
You can interplant nasturtiums with any plant on this list for added color by your citrus tree. However, avoid planting nasturtiums with cauliflower and squash as they can compete.
6. Alliums (Chives, Garlic, and Onions)
The allium family, including chives, garlic, and onions, have natural anti-fungal properties. For example, when chives are interplanted with apple trees, they help prevent the fungal disease called scab (source). Since citrus trees are similarly vulnerable to fungal infections, planting chives nearby should also help deter fungal infections.
Alliums are also great at repelling certain pests such as aphids, mites, maggots, as well as rabbits and deer. They’re so effective at this that some deterrents are even made from them (source).
Additionally, allium roots are relatively shallow, growing to a depth of 12-18″. This makes them good companion plants since they won’t interfere or compete with the citrus tree’s shallow roots.
Chives also bloom in spring and summer with beautiful purple flowers, which attract pollinators. They’re easy to care for, and have a ton of uses in the kitchen!
Alliums have many companion plants, but avoid planting them with legumes and other alliums.
For more pest-repelling companion plants, visit my other post: 7 Companion Plants That Repel Pests
7. Cover Crops
Many legumes such as clover, peas, and runner beans (along with some grasses) are also called cover crops as they are great pioneer plants for depleted soils.
Cover crops are used to improve soil health by slowing erosion, retaining water, preventing weeds, and controlling pests and diseases. They’ve even been shown to increase crop yields.
In the drought of 2012, corn and soybean farmers reported a 9.6-11.6% yield increase when they used cover crops, likely due in part to the cover crop’s ability to add 50-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.Source
These cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil by promoting beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it into the soil as nitrates for other plants to use (source). This is incredibly valuable for citrus trees as they typically require double the nitrogen compared to other fruiting trees.
Like comfrey, you can mulch cover crops for even more nitrogen and other nutrients (as well as reducing evaporation), and many cover crops provide a good source of biomass and food.
With cover crops such as clover, you can even grow them in-between the citrus trees and run livestock through the alleys. Your livestock gets free food, many pests are deterred, and your citrus trees get an amazing fertilizer in the form of manure.
8. Mexican Sunflower
Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia diversifolia) attract pollinators like crazy and grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9 and above, so they’re great to plant with your citrus trees. This flowering plant grows to a height of 4-6 feet.
I first heard of Mexican sunflowers from Pete Kanaris at Green Dreams Farm. He claimed that, when mulched, it the same amount of nitrogen pound for pound as chicken manure. Because of this, they’re often called green manure. And based on his backyard food forest’s growth, I’d say that it’s clearly working!
To see Mexican sunflower mulch in action, check out this video by Pete.
9. Hibiscus (Roselle)
Hibiscus are flowering plants that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, making them easy to grow as companion plants for citrus trees. Most varieties of hibiscus grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-12.
Hibiscus benefits citrus trees mainly by attracting pollinators.
There are many varieties of hibiscus, ranging from small plants to woody shrubs and small trees. However, the most popular is Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called roselle. This plant is best known for a red and tart herbal tea made from its flowers. Another common name for hibiscus tea is carcade (source)
If cared for well, a hibiscus plant can grow up to 8 feet (source), so plant them near your citrus trees (and not under!).
You may be thinking, “How did a weed make this list?”. But what is a weed other than a plant we think we don’t want?
The reason why we see dandelions growing everywhere is that it’s one of the first plants in ecological succession. In other words, it grows because it’s taking advantage of damaged soils, and is trying to improve them. As a result, dandelions roots are great at fixing nitrogen in the soil, similar to comfrey.
Also like comfrey, dandelions naturally protect soil from erosion and extreme temperatures, and generally—are a highly effective mulch.
For all of these reasons, dandelions make a great companion plant for citrus trees (especially lemon, orange, and lime trees).
As a bonus, dandelions also have edible leaves and flowers and are commonly made into many homemade products.
Other Flowering Companion Plants for Citrus Trees
Along with the flowering plants mentioned above, you can plant some of these flowers to draw pollinators to your citrus trees and promote a good harvest:
Since avocado trees have similar needs as citrus trees, they happen to share many of the same companion plants. If you’d like to see more companion plants that would also work for citrus trees, check out my other post: The 10 Best Companion Plants for Avocado Trees.
Where Do You Plant Citrus Tree Companion Plants?
For companion plants that need more sun, such as wildflowers, lavender, and rosemary, consider planting them outside of the canopy. Others such as nasturtiums and chives prefer partial sun and can be planted underneath the citrus tree.
Companion plants can generally either be planted next to or underneath citrus trees. The two main factors are how much sun or shade the companion plants need, and the size of the citrus tree.
Generally, younger citrus trees can compete with other plants as they’re establishing their root base. Once citrus trees get to be 3 or more feet tall, you can start planting companion plants underneath. Just make sure to keep the companion plants at least one foot away from the tree’s trunk.
What Not to Plant Near Citrus Trees
When planting near citrus trees, avoid plants that have deeper roots as they can compete and even damage the shallow citrus tree roots. These plants include tubers and root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots, along with other fruit trees.
While most fruit trees have 90% of their roots in the first 2 feet of soil (source), they do have a few deeper roots that can compete with citrus trees. For this reason, plant other fruit trees 18-25 feet away.
If you’d like more information about the spacing of citrus trees, you can check out my other post: How Far Apart To Plant Citrus Trees.
Can Potted Citrus Trees Have Companion Plants?
For potted citrus trees, it’s generally not a good idea to plant a companion plant in the same pot. Doing so can harm the growth of the potted citrus tree due to root spacing. Potted citrus trees have a limited amount of soil and need to be repotted in a larger pot (with fresh potting soil) every 3-5 years.
While it’s not a good idea to pair citrus and a companion plant in the same pot, you can definitely use a pot for each plant and keep them close to each other. There’s no minimum distance to maintain here. However, avoid touching the two plants together since mold or disease can spread from the soil or the leaves.