We have several citrus trees such as lemon, orange, tangerine, and lime, and while they’re doing well, we’re looking at ways to increase their pollination and therefore—fruit yields. I heard a good way to do this is by planting companion plants around the trees. Not only should they help with pollination, but they can also help fix the soil and repel certain pests. So, what are the best companion plants for citrus trees?
The most common companion plants for citrus trees include wildflowers, nasturtium, lavender, and rosemary. Ideally, companion plants attract pollinators, build healthy soil, repel pests, and are visually appealing. Depending on their shade tolerance, some plants can be planted under the tree itself.
So, while plants such as wildflowers and rosemary 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 further look.
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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.
- Bee Balm
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Purple Coneflower
- Meadow Cranesbill
- Black-Eyed Susan
Even though most citrus trees are self-pollinating, they can still benefit from cross-pollination. In summary, they can have fewer dropped fruits and sometimes even larger fruits. If you’d like more information on the pollination of citrus trees, make sure to check out my recent post on citrus tree pollination and its benefits.
This aromatic makes a great companion plant 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 in climates like Florida. For this reason, consider planting them on mounds around the citrus trees to increase their soil’s drainage.
True comfrey is an important plant in herbalism and traditional medicine, which often uses dried or ground-up portions of its root to treat stomach aches and toothaches.
But another variety called Russian comfrey is useful in the garden, too. The main benefit is that its long taproot breaks up soil and brings nutrients up from the lower soil.
Additionally, comfrey leaves are extremely rich in nitrogen, which makes them a great mulch. Its leaves are also a good trap for slugs and other insects, which prefer to dwell within its cool leafy depths instead of other plants in your garden.
Comfrey even attracts pollinators with its blue-purple flowers. This makes comfrey a multipurpose companion plant for citrus trees.
However, keep in mind that comfrey is a vigorous perennial and is hard to remove once it is established, so place it well!
Nasturtiums are edible, beautiful, fast-growing, and are great companions for citrus trees because they also attract aphids away from the tree.
They 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.
You can interplant nasturtiums with any plant on this list for added color and interest by your citrus 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!
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Chives, like garlic and onions, have natural anti-fungal properties. Since citrus trees are vulnerable to fungal infections, planting chives nearby will support a fungus-free environment.
They’re 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 garlic.
Additionally, chive roots are relatively shallow, growing to a depth of 12-18″. This makes them a good companion plant 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. They’re easy to care for, and have a ton of uses in the kitchen!
Legumes such as clover, peas, and runner beans are great nitrogen fixers for citrus trees and provide a good source of vegetation (as well as food). They’re great at taking the nitrogen from the air and storing it into the soil. Like comfrey, you can mulch legumes for even more nitrogen and other nutrients.
With legumes such as clover, you can even run livestock through your orchards to keep the growth down, while providing great fertilizer for your citrus trees in the form of manure (just make sure the livestock aren’t consuming too many legumes as it can create imbalances in their diet).
Clover is also a great cover crop, which is a good first step in restoring depleted land. Cover crops are valuable in that they add nutrients and water back into the soil as well as attract beneficial insects and soil life.
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. Just make sure to keep the companion plants at least 2 feet 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, they do have a few deeper roots, such as a taproot, 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 Your 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 finite amount of soil, and need to be repotted into a larger pot 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 since mold or disease can spread from the soil to the leaves.
Other Flowering Companion Plants for Citrus Trees
In addition to the flowering plants mentioned above, you can plant some of these flowers to draw pollinators to your citrus trees and promote a good harvest: