Companion Plants for Lemon Trees | Good and Bad

Lemon trees are both aesthetically pleasing and deliciously productive. You can easily grow this citrus as a lone specimen in your garden or home landscape. If you want to get the most out of your lemon tree as naturally as possible, though, I strongly recommend adding some companion plants.

The right companion plants can increase lemon tree productivity and health. They can also take some of the weight of fertilizing and pest control off of your shoulders.

In this article, I dive into some of the best companion plants for lemon trees and how to incorporate them into your garden plans.

What Is Companion Planting All About?

Companion planting is a holistic practice that aims to create beneficial relationships between two or more plant species. Or — in simpler terms — it means growing different plant species that help each other out in some way.

Many examples of companion planting feature popular garden vegetables and herbs. It’s common practice to grow basil and tomato plants together because the basil supposedly deters pests that target tomatoes. You may also be familiar with the Three Sisters gardening method, which puts corn, beans, and squash together to create a host of benefits.

Benefits of Companion Planting

There are many benefits of companion planting and which ones you enjoy in your garden will depend on the types of plants grown. In many cases, you’ll want to grow multiple companion plants to produce the greatest benefit overall.

Deter Pests: All fruit trees are vulnerable to pest damage. Pests can affect the leaves causing curling or spots, and they compromise flower buds, and fruit at nearly all growth stages. While pesticides will work in some cases, companion planting with the goal of repelling pests is a much more sustainable option.

Attract Pollinators: If there’s one reason to try companion planting around your citrus trees, this is it! Lemons and other citrus varieties need pollinators to produce fruit. The more pollinators you draw to your garden, the more likely your lemon trees are to be pollinated.

Bright, fragrant flowers are generally the best options for attracting pollinators. Do your research, though, because there are also a number of unassuming garden plants that bring in an incredible variety of beneficial insects.

Choke Out Weeds: Yes, weeds look bad but they also tend to steal resources away from desirable plants. Filling the space below a lemon tree with suitable groundcover plants will prevent nasty weeds from taking root. Think of this like a layer of diverse, living mulch.

Improve Soil Quality: In addition to choking out weeds, groundcover plants can maintain and improve the soil quality over time. Some examples of this include natural erosion control and moisture retention.

Certain companion plants such as beans and peas are even capable of fixing nitrogen in the soil that your lemon tree can then utilize for things like new growth and chlorophyll production.

Visual Appeal: Last but not least, companion planting is a great way to make your garden or backyard orchard look as beautiful as possible. Lemon trees can be very attractive on their own but it never hurts to add varying colors and textures to the space whenever possible.

Best Companion Plants for Lemons

Good lemon tree companions tend to be plants that enjoy warm weather, full sun, and fast-draining soil. Any plants that don’t share these needs will have a hard time thriving under the canopy of a lemon tree.

While you can grow any companion plant you want alongside your lemon tree, one of the most popular strategies is to incorporate other edible plants around the base. The end result is an all-in-one food garden that provides fresh citrus and herbs throughout the growing season.

Whichever approach you take, surrounding your lemon tree with complementary plant species will ensure you get the most out of all of that hard work.

Herbs

Rosemary: Rosemary is a herb that is accustomed to the same growing conditions as lemon trees. There are also many creative ways to combine the two flavors in the kitchen.

A key benefit of growing fresh rosemary is its strong odor. The odor may help disguise the scent of your lemon tree, as well as other flowering plants such as dahlias, protecting it from nearby pests.

Dill: Planting dill can indirectly benefit your lemon tree by attracting insects that prey on common pests. Of course, you can also utilize the dill itself in your culinary endeavors.

Chives: Chives give off a pungent odor that many damaging insects hate. At the same time, the purple flowers are beloved by bees and other pollinators. Growing chives underneath lemons may naturally decrease the number of pests on the tree while also improving pollination.

Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is known to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects — this may not benefit your lemon tree but it will certainly make picking those lemons a bit more enjoyable. 

As for how lemon balm can benefit the actual tree, this is another fragrant herb that draws in pollinator species from far and wide. It also attracts beneficial predators like the Tachinid fly that will help keep your lemon tree free of caterpillars and other pests.

Basil: For centuries gardeners have sworn by the pest control properties of basil plants. Although some such claims are likely oversold, it is true that basil contains strong essential oils that many pest species detest.

Cilantro: When growing herbs, you typically want as much variety as possible. Cilantro has many uses in the kitchen. Its flowers also attract pollinators that naturally control unwanted pests that target lemons and other crops.

Parsley: If you plan to use those lemons in any Italian dishes, I strongly recommend planting some parsley around the base of the tree. Like many of the other herbs I’ve already mentioned, parsley’s flowers draw in good insects that prey on the bad. This is another garden herb known to attract Tachinid flies.

Lavender: Lavender enjoys warmth and plenty of sunlight, making it an excellent companion for your lemon tree. These compact shrubs are incredibly tough and rarely fall victim to pests and general wildlife. The purple blossoms are extremely attractive to pollinating bees that will also probably pay your lemon tree a visit.

Annual and Perennial Flowers

Black-Eyed Susan: Plant black-eyed Susan near your lemon tree to attract hoverflies. These beneficial insects will target mealybugs and other pests that commonly feed on citrus.

Nasturtium: Nasturtium flowers are known to attract aphids better than most other garden plants. You may be wondering why someone would purposefully plant nasturtium near lemons or any other food crop. However, those aphids will be too busy living it up on the nasturtium plants to pay your lemon tree any mind.

Clover: Clover is a pollinator-friendly groundcover that is much more sustainable than turfgrass in most scenarios. If you want to plant something unobtrusive and low-maintenance below your lemon tree, a native clover species is a great option.

Clover is also a wonderful garden companion because it belongs to the legume family. According to New Mexico State University, legumes make up the majority of plants that fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.

Scented Geranium: Scented geraniums are members of the Pelargonium genus whose leaves give off strong aromas when disturbed. Planting these bright flowers near your lemon tree can have a variety of benefits, including drawing in more pollinators and distracting pests with their sweet scent.

Borage: While technically a culinary herb, you won’t find borage in most modern kitchens. Its sweet-smelling flowers draw in a variety of pollinators and other beneficial insects. 

Ornamental Allium: Ornamental alliums are closely related to onions, garlic, and chives but aren’t edible. Instead, they’re grown for their large, (normally) purple flowers. Though you can’t eat these alliums, they offer the same benefits in terms of pest control.

Comfrey: This wildflower is a fascinating case study in companion planting. Comfrey is a deep-rooted plant that takes in nutrients many others are unable to reach. Meanwhile, its leaves break down extremely quickly, creating a natural layer of nutrient-dense ‘mulch’ on the soil’s surface.

Potential problems with comfrey include its tendency to spread and choke out other plants. While this shouldn’t be a big concern when growing it around a lemon tree, you can opt for a variety of sterile seeds to prevent unwanted spreading.

Yarrow: Yarrow is widespread around the world — it grows natively in all temperate regions — and requires little to thrive. It’s a wonderful companion plant in part because it won’t compete with fruit and vegetable crops for resources.

When left alone, the yarrow tends to grow a couple of feet tall. However, I’ve also learned that you can mow this perennial intermittently to turn it into a spreading groundcover.

Another incredible thing about yarrow is its proven ability to attract ladybugs and lacewings. Both of these insects prey on aphids and would be happy to clear your lemon tree of any pesky visitors.

Lupine: You might be surprised to learn that lupine flowers belong to the legume family. This means that they help fix nitrogen in the soil while also drawing in pollinating insects.

Lupine isn’t super fond of the heat, so consider using your lemon tree’s canopy for midday shade. Established plants are relatively drought-tolerant and unlikely to compete with your lemon tree for moisture. Lupine readily self-seeds from year to year.

Bad Choice of Companion Plants for Lemon Trees

Avoid growing plants with high moisture needs too close to your lemon tree. These plants will likely compete with the tree’s root system for water and other key resources.

While you can safely grow chives and ornamental alliums underneath a lemon tree, I don’t recommend growing bulbous vegetables like onions and garlic. It’s easy to disturb the lemon tree’s roots when harvesting these plants.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.