Lettuce Companion Plants | Good and The Bad

Lettuce growers everywhere will have no hesitation in telling of the many virtues of growing this vegetable garden staple. There is a lettuce variety for everyone regardless of gardening prowess, climate or those who are short on growing space. 

However, to really improve the chances of a successful, healthy and tasty lettuce (Lactuca sativa) crop then it’s a good idea to try companion planting. 

The well-being of your garden environment can be enhanced by choosing a good planting combination. However, there can also be detrimental effects when choosing a bad planting combination which can make companion plant choices hard.

In this article, I will be setting out the differences between a good and bad companion plant for lettuce, as well as explaining why this approach to gardening can be so beneficial for all growers. 

What is Companion Planting?

Companion planting is the process of growing different plants next to each other with the goal of enhancing the growth of one or both plants. It is a common gardening technique which is renowned for its many benefits which when practised correctly can enhance size and yield thanks to the boost in plant health and vigour.

Companion planting is a completely organic method of gardening. It can greatly improve all aspects of biodiversity by attracting beneficial pollinators and natural predators negating the need for pesticides. 

It can also improve growing conditions for many different plant species which will naturally provide bigger healthier crops with much larger yields. A classic example of companion planting is known as ’The Three Sisters method. This method was developed by Native American Tribes and has been in use for centuries

Even today, gardeners replicate ‘The Three Sisters’ approach by using sweetcorn, beans and squash as companion plants to enhance their harvest. 

The end result is that each plant benefits the other without any direct competition. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which benefits the squash and sweetcorn plants. The sweetcorn plants provide natural support for climbing beans to cling to as they mature. Finally, squash plants use their large leaves to shade the soil, retain moisture and also act as a weed suppressant for all plants.

Companion planting in raised beds
Companion planting in raised beds

Benefits Of Companion Planting

Companion planting is a tried and tested gardening technique with lots of positive benefits. This completely organic growing method allows the gardener to maintain a natural balance simply by growing plants in harmony together to benefit one or both plants. 

Using certain plant combinations means it’s possible to keep pest attacks to a minimum, prevent disease and aid plant growth.

Some other benefits of companion planting are:

Pest Management: Companion planting is becoming more appealing for gardeners who wish to support and encourage the natural ecosystem which surrounds us in an organic and natural way. It is a great way of sustaining biodiversity whilst keeping pest populations to a minimum without the use of chemicals. 

Choosing companions with a strong fragrance such as herbs or plants from the allium family – namely scallions, onions or garlic, can help mask the scent of the main crop diverting unwanted visitors away. 

Other plants can be used as trap crops with the sole purpose of attracting pests such as aphids onto that sacrificial plant luring them away from more precious edibles.

Improved Soil Health: Nutrient-rich growing conditions are key to having happy healthy plants and fortunately companion planting is a great way to achieve this. 

Plants from the Fabaceae family – such as peas, beans or legumes are known to fix much-needed nitrogen in the soil which naturally improves the nutrient quality of the growing environment benefiting all neighbouring plants.

Improved flavour: Homegrown produce is well known for having more flavour than its shop-bought counterparts. However, there are some companion plant combinations which can improve the flavour of homegrown staples naturally. 

For example – It’s common knowledge that basil and tomatoes make a perfect partnership on a dinner plate, but they also make great companions in a garden bed too. 

When grown next to one another the fragrant herb will improve the taste of tomatoes as the fruits ripen with the added advantage of being able to harvest both the basil and tomatoes simultaneously at meal times.

Considerations When Selecting Companion Plants

Although there are many advantages to some planting combinations, there are also some plant partnerships that just don’t work. 

Before choosing companions keep in mind the size of the garden being used and how much space the potential plant combinations will need to successfully grow to maturity. Consider the growing conditions available and whether the chosen plants are likely to thrive in such an environment. 

It’s worth thinking about whether the plants have similar requirements with regard to how much sunlight they need. If one plant has a preference for shade and the other enjoys full sun – successful growth can only be achieved for one plant in the companionship. 

Companion plants are hugely beneficial when used as trap crops. But, it’s worth remembering that growing plants which are susceptible to the same insect attack – when grouped together – all plants become vulnerable to said pest. This can increase the chances of an attack on one or both plants

Best Companion Plants for Lettuce

Best Companion Plants for Lettuce

Some of the best companion plants for lettuce are fragrant or very strong-smelling plants such as alliums and herbs. These assist in the avoidance of pest attacks. 

Keeping lettuce plants ‘safe’ in this way can avoid the need for pesticides and will encourage a more sustainable and organic way of gardening. 

Most varieties of lettuce prefer temperatures of around 60°F and 65°F both to germinate seeds and to grow successfully. 

If temperatures in your climate zone are consistently above this or during warmer spring and summer months, interplanting tomato plants with lettuces will provide shade to protect delicate leaves and help reduce the likelihood of bolting.

It is also possible to enhance the flavour of lettuce plants using some companions. Interplanting strongly scented plants such as herbs amongst lettuces will not only give added protection against pests but will also improve the taste of lettuce leaves too. 

Here are some good companion plants to try growing with lettuces:

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Turnips: This fabulous root vegetable makes a perfect companion. They act as a trap crop, attracting aphids and steering them away from lettuces. 
  • Carrots: Whilst there is no direct pest/disease control or flavour benefit here, using carrots will help to utilize growing space much more efficiently. Carrots have deep roots whereas lettuce plants are very shallow-rooted. Growing them together means neither will disturb the other as they mature. This helps to maximise crop yield in a smaller space.
  • Tomatoes: Although these are delicious summer fruit and very rewarding to grow, they are slow to mature and take up lots of space. Interplanting with lettuce means space can be better utilized. The tall, vining nature of tomatoes also means that delicate lettuces will receive shade during hotter periods.
  • Onion, garlic and other alliums: With their strong fragrance, plants from the allium family make a fantastic companion. They help to deter pests such as aphids or butterflies who are looking for the perfect green leaf to lay their eggs. 

Herbs and Flowers

  • Basil: Using basil can help improve the flavour of lettuce leaves. Not only that, the strong aromatic fragrance is a good distraction for pests.
  • Chives: Thanks to their extremely powerful scent chives will deter pests by masking the natural scent of the lettuce plants. Their beautiful purple flowers are also a magnet for passing pollinators drawing them into the garden and increasing biodiversity.
  • Nasturtiums: The colour and scent of nasturtiums are irresistible to aphids which makes them a perfect partner to lettuces. They act as a trap crop by attracting aphids to themselves and away from the lettuce. They also make a great weed suppressant thanks to their sprawling foliage. This provides shade helping to keep lettuce plants cooler and the soil moist.
Nasturtiums - Lettuce Companion Plants
Nasturtiums

Bad Companion Plants For Lettuce

So-called ‘bad companions’ for lettuce can have very damaging effects on plant health and should never be used as companion plants. 

Some bad companion plant examples for lettuce that should be avoided are:

  • Blueberries: These are acid-loving plants, whereas lettuces prefer neutral soil. This conflict of soil pH will prevent both plants from being able to effectively absorb the nutrients they need to thrive. This can lead to stunted growth and chlorosis.
  • Brassica plants: Plants in the cabbage family make terrible companions because they release chemical compounds into the soil that adversely affect lettuce plants and can also reduce germination rates of directly sown seeds.
  • Fennel: Much like brassica plants – fennel releases a chemical in the soil which inhibits the growth of neighbouring plants – including lettuces – resulting in slow growth.

For more information on lettuce plant growing, here’s a link to Iceberg Lettuce Growth Stages.

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.