My uncle in Florida is growing lots of fruit trees (including banana, avocado, and dragonfruit) and he’s looking at growing mangos next. But first, he wanted to know the ideal companions for mango trees to get the best growth and fruit. To help him out, I did some research. Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for mango trees are pigeon peas, vetch, ginger, turmeric, and nasturtium. Ideally, select companion plants that provide mango trees with benefits such as fixing nitrogen, increasing pollination, and creating partial shade—especially when the mango tree is young.
So, while these are some of the best companions for mango trees, what benefits do they bring exactly, and what are some other companions? Let’s take a closer look.
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Benefits of Companion Planting
Companion planting is selecting specific plants to place together to achieve benefits, such as increasing pollination or repelling 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 a list of the benefits that gardens gain from companion planting:
- Boost Pollination
- Repel Pests
- Prevent Weeds
- Fix Nitrogen
- Amend the Soil
- Protect the Soil
- Reduce Evaporation
- Provide a Living Trellis
- Maximize Space
- Produce More Food
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of companion planting, check out my other post: The Top 10 Benefits of Companion Planting.
1. Pigeon Pea
Pigeon pea is an amazing choice for a mango companion plant as it’s a perennial leguminous shrub native to north-eastern Africa or India. This tropical, protein-rich plant can reach between 3 to 12 feet tall (source). As a legume, it’s amazing at fixing nitrogen in the soil.
Because pigeon peas are a midstory plant, they’re ideal for shading the soil around mango trees—which regulates soil and root temperature. Ideally, plant the pigeon peas on the west side of mango trees to shade its soil from the hot, afternoon sun.
As with most tropical plants, aim to prune pigeon peas back during the fall and winter, when the understory and ground cover plants can use more sunlight. Pigeon pea cuttings are also highly nutritious for other plants and make a great mulch.
Vetch is an interesting legume as it’s actually a ground cover, providing mango trees with amazing benefits such as increasing water retention, regulating soil temperature, and preventing soil erosion. Like pigeon pea, vetch is also a legume, so it’s highly beneficial at fixing soil nitrogen.
This ground cover is incredibly easy to grow and thrives when planted near swales—channels of still-water that capture rainwater and soak it into the ground.
Generally, swales are a great water retention method for tropical and subtropic climates but avoid using them in cooler, rainy climates (such as western Oregon). In these cooler climates, the soil has reduced evaporation and can easily become waterlogged. Instead, use swales that are slightly off-contour or draining.
To learn more about swales and planting tropical fruit trees in vetch, check out this video by the Weedy Gardener.
3. Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger and turmeric go hand in hand as they’re closely related and both native to the tropics. Since the tropics contain many bugs and pests, ginger and turmeric have adapted to fend them off, making these plants some of the best pest repellents and natural defenses in the garden.
They also team up to improve soils for mango trees and other plants.
The results showed that intercropping turmeric and ginger with patchouli can improve soil microbial abundance, diversity, and community structure by boosting the number of dominant bacteria, and by improving soil bacterial metabolism and the activities of soil enzymes.PubMed
Ginger and turmeric also grow in the same niche (herbaceous or understory layer), so interplanting them is fairly straightforward as they won’t compete. For best results, plant these ginger and turmeric just outside of your mango tree’s canopy.
Other companion plants for ginger and turmeric are pigeon pea, kiwi, and bananas.
Most people I know have never heard of nasturtium, but when I show them a picture they quickly recognize it.
Nasturtium is often believed to be a weed, likely because it grows quickly and horizontally along the ground. However, this is what makes nasturtium such an ideal ground cover (again, helping mango trees by reducing evaporation, regulating soil temperature, and preventing soil erosion).
Another reason why it’s great as a mango companion plant is because it attracts pollinators and its edible flowers have nectar that’s sweeter than most others. This is since it’s made from highly concentrated sucrose instead of glucose or fructose. As a result, it’s a highly desirable plant for pollinators.
Fun fact: nasturtium’s long flowers evolved alongside the hummingbird’s long tongue (source).
Aside from providing ground cover and pollination, nasturtium has another benefit in companion planting—it attracts pests such as aphids and cabbage worms away from other plants (source). In this way, you can think of nasturtium as a “trap” or “sacrifice” plant. It’s also pretty durable when it comes to pests, so you shouldn’t have to worry about nasturtium becoming damaged.
However, if your nasturtium starts to get overrun with pests, plant dill, calendula, and cosmos nearby to help deter them. For more info about these companion plants and others that repel plant pests and diseases, check out my other post: 10+ Companion Plants That Prevent Pests and Diseases.
Avoid planting nasturtiums with squash and other vining plants since they can easily get tangled and compete. However, nasturtium’s shallow roots also mean that it’s not difficult to remove if you decide to part ways with it.
So, if you’d like a ground cover that attracts many pollinators (especially hummingbirds), plant nasturtium!
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, meaning its roots attract beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it as nitrates in the soil, ready for plants to use (source). As mango trees are fairly heavy feeders of nitrogen (their primary nutrient), nitrogen fixers like comfrey are incredibly useful.
As a result of its nitrogen-fixing properties, comfrey is a great choice to use for growing in and improving poor soils.
In his book, Peter Wohlleben Professional German forester, The Hidden Life of Trees, calls these nitrogen-fixing plants pioneer plants. Pioneer plants pave the way for more sensitive plants, such as mango trees. This process of support species leading to more productive ones is called ecological succession.
Comfrey grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3-9, but it will grow pretty much anywhere. It also prefers a soil pH of 6.0-7.0 (which is a great overlap with mango trees!).
For best results, plant comfrey next to mango trees, as well as vegetables like asparagus. However, comfrey grows well with just about every 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 its sterile seeds.
So, if you need more pollination, mulch, or nitrogen in your garden, grow comfrey!
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What exactly are 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
Wildflowers are an amazing addition to your garden, especially if they’re within range of your mango trees. Ideally, this is around 25 feet or closer, but no more than 50 feet away as it maximizes the chances pollinators will visit both the wildflowers as well as your mango tree’s flowers.
And even self-pollinating fruit trees benefit from cross-pollination.
All varieties of apple trees require some cross-pollination for fruit set. Even though some varieties are listed as self-fruitful, they will set fruit more heavily and more regularly if they are cross-pollinated.Washington State University
These varieties of wildflowers are especially appealing to pollinators and provide a good mix of nectar and pollen they can use as sugar and protein.
Wildflowers also attract beneficial insect predators such as birds, ladybugs, and beneficial wasps, which naturally keep pest populations down.
Any of the above wildflowers will work great as a companion plant for just about any fruit, vegetable, or herb plant. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to explore other wildflower varieties!
To see more companion flowers, check out my other post: The Top 10 Companion Flowers for Gardens, Vegetables, & More.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Similar to vetch, sweet potatoes are an amazing perennial ground cover (annual in temperate climates).
Since sweet potatoes are not related to regular potatoes (part of the nightshade family), their leaves are actually edible.
Sweet potatoes are also easily propagated as you just need a single stem or slip (either from the tuber or vine). As long as you have decent, loose soil, and moderate watering, you’ll have tons of sweet potatoes ready to harvest in a single season.
Keep in mind sweet potatoes can compete with other vining plants or ground covers like jasmine if they’re both near each other and grown in the same niche. For this reason, consider growing sweet potatoes as a ground cover and other vines on a vertical trellis.
Speaking of jasmine, this hardy subtropical plant can grow in USDA zones 7-10, but it’s ideal to use in tropical and subtropical climates (zones 9-11, source). Because of this, it’s great to pair with tropical plants, which of course include mango trees!
Jasmine’s two biggest benefits are providing a ground cover and pollinator attractor.
Generally, jasmine is a choice companion plant to use in the vining and ground cover niches. It helps tie in other companions such as overstory, midstory (like mango trees), and understory plants—filling in the gaps of sunlight left by these plants’ canopies.
Its vining nature allows it to spread horizontally along the ground, reducing evaporation and regulating soil temperature. On the other hand, its strong-scented flowers attract tons of pollinators and beneficial insects including butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and ladybugs.
Keep in mind that jasmine grows vigorously, so it can compete with other ground covers or vining plants.
Some companion plants for jasmine are clematis, bamboo, hibiscus, and citrus trees.
9. Mexican Sunflower
Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia diversifolia) attract tons of pollinators and grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9 and above, so they’re great to plant with your mango 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.
Like most, if not all, of these companions, bananas are also from the tropics. Banana plants provide young mango trees with an overstory layer, which is great at providing them with partial shade during the intense summer heat in the tropics.
Since banana plants only take 9 months to fruit and die after fruiting (they have new “pups” from the root-base that sprout constantly), banana plants are an amazing source of biomass and mulch for mango trees.
Pro-tip: it’s a common practice to have banana pups growing at different stages to quickly replace the main banana plant after harvesting.
Simply chop and drop the main banana plant when it’s done fruiting and place it as a mulch at the base of your mango tree. Keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the tree’s trunk as it can introduce mold.
Remember to avoid pruning canopies during tropical springs and summers when understory plants need the most protection from the heat.
What Not to Plant with Mango Trees
While the companion plants on this list can be densely planted with mango trees, avoid planting different fruit trees nearby as they can compete. Aim to keep them at least 10 to 15 feet away. Also, avoid planting tomatoes near your mango tree as they can introduce diseases such as Verticillium wilt.
Where to Buy Companion Plants
Generally, you can find these companion plants at your local nursery. However, lots of nurseries have had reduced availability over the past few years. Because of this, many gardeners have found that online nurseries such as Fast Growing Trees have more selection, good prices, and healthy plants.
And I’ve also found this to be the case—I’ve ordered several fruit trees from Fast Growing Trees, including apple, fig, and cherry, and all plants were delivered swift, neat, and healthy (see below).