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Best Companion Plants for Lemon Trees

Best Companion Plants for Lemon Trees

The best companion plants for lemon trees will attract pollinators and predatory insects. Bees and butterflies help pollinate the tree, resulting in larger harvests. Beetles, flies, and wasps attack common citrus pests. The best companion plants for attracting these insects are herbs and flowers.

Citrus trees are susceptible to a wide range of pests, which leaves many homeowners overwhelmed looking for a solution to protect their juicy harvests. With more gardeners looking for pesticide-free solutions, homeowners are hesitant to spray chemical after chemical onto their trees.

Pesticides also have the unfavorable side effect of eliminating beneficial insects, including honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, and flies. These pollinators play a vital role in lemon production, meaning chemical control often results in a bug-free, fruit-free ornamental landscape plant.

However, not all herbs and flowers are beneficial, and not all thrive in the same climate zone as a lemon tree.

Before you turn your lawn into a forest of herbs and flowers (although, nobody’s stopping you- that would be amazing), it’s important to understand exactly what a companion plant should do.

What is a Companion Plant?

Companion plants are any plant used to benefit another plant. 

Companion plants serve five basic functions:

  • Improve pollination
  • Repel pests
  • Improve soil
  • Conserve water
  • Suppress weeds

For lemon trees, the most important companion plants are those that attract pollinators and repel pests. Soil improvement, water conservation, and weed suppression are more important in vegetable gardens and landscape beds.

See our complete guide to companion planting for fruit trees.

Companion Plants that Increase Pollination in Lemon Trees

Lemon trees are dioecious, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs on the same tree. Some trees have separate male and female flowers, while others have perfect flowers- or, flowers that contain both male and female parts.

Dioecious plants are pollinated easier than monoecious plants (plants that are either entirely male or female). Wind moves the branches and disturbs the flowers, causing pollen to fall onto the stigma and fertilize an egg, which results in fruit.

While wind pollination will result in a fair amount of fruit, insect pollination greatly increases harvests. Bees and butterflies actively move pollen from flower to flower as they feed on nectar, which results in much higher pollination success.

The easiest way to attract pollinators to your lemon tree is to plant a lot of flowers nearby. 

The bright, colorful flowers of zinnias, daisies, marigolds, sunflowers, etc. are neon signs for beneficial bugs, and the attractive scent of lemon flowers will encourage a pollinator feeding-frenzy.

Lemon trees bloom in spring and/or fall, so use companion plants that bloom during the same time. 

Plants that attract butterflies and bees can help to increase pollination of lemon trees.

Companion Plants that Attract Pollinators

Lemon trees grow in zones 9-11 in the United States. Therefore, you should choose companion plants that thrive in these same zones. Companion plants are only beneficial if they are healthy; plants growing outside their climate zone will be stressed and may attract pests. (Note: see our tips for growing lemon trees in zone 6 for some great out-of-the-box solutions those those who don’t live in zone 9-11).

The following is a list of plants that attract bees and butterflies in zones 9-11:

Bottlebrush 

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Shrub

Light: Full sun

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Zone: 8-11

Blooming Season: Spring

Flower Color: Red, purple, pink, white, green, yellow

Bottlebrush varieties range from dwarf shrubs to small trees, with a wide range of colors available. This shrub tolerates poor soil, drought, and mild salt spray, which makes it a good candidate for lemon trees along the coast.

California Lilac

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Shrub

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 8-10

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Blue, purple, white

California lilac is a coastal perennial that tolerates poor soil, salt spray, drought, and extreme heat. This shrub is deer resistant and creates a beautiful display of full, sweet-smelling flowers throughout the growing season.

Ice Plant

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Ground cover

Light: Full sun

Zone: 5-10

Blooming Season: Spring-Summer

Flower Color: All

Ice plant is a drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant ground cover with colorful aster-like flowers. This is a perfect addition to containers and raised beds as it will drape over the side like a colorful carpet. Or, plant it directly in the soil and let it spread; this plant is hardly picky about soil conditions.

Bigleaf Lantana

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Shrub

Light: Full sun

Zone: 10-12

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Red, orange, purple, pink, white, green, yellow

Lantana is a powerhouse for attracting bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. The flowers will produce small fruits, which attract birds and small mammals. The aromatic leaves are a natural pest deterrent and are naturally resistant to deer and rabbits. Lantana spreads easily by seed, and once it is established, it requires little maintenance.

Echinacea

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Herbaceous Perennial

Light: Full sun

Zone: 4-10

Blooming Season: Late Spring-Late Summer

Flower Color: All

Echinacea, or coneflowers, are a family of shrubby perennials with large, brightly colored flowers. Flat flowers with a pronounced center make it easy for bees and butterflies to land and feed on the nectar. Coneflowers prefer average soil and moisture, although they tolerate drought for short periods.

Mexican Bush Sage

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Shrub

Light: Full sun

Zone: 8-10

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: Purple & white

Mexican bush sage looks similar to lavender, and is an absolute must in a butterfly garden. It is deer, rabbit, drought, and salt resistant, and tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. However, this shrub doesn’t attract as many bees, so you should pair it with other companion plants.

Calendula

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Orange, yellow, pink, white

Calendulas are bright, warm flowers that look similar to daisies. Also known as pot marigold, these flowers attract pollinators as well as predatory insects, and they repel pests. The flowers are edible, and the seeds are prolific enough to create a non-invasive stand each year. Calendulas do not handle intense heat, so you should plant them in cool microclimates and keep them watered.

Cosmos

Classification: Annual (2-8) Perennial (9-11)

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 8-10

Blooming Season: Spring-Frost

Flower Color: Red, purple, pink, white

Cosmos are a beautiful, dainty flower that attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. They bloom during the entire growing season, and they tolerate extremely poor soil conditions. Cosmos are drought tolerant, but may require some shade in extremely hot climates.

Borage

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: Purple & white

Borage is an herb with a fresh, cucumber flavor. It is a self-seeding annual, but hardly aggressive or invasive. Bees absolutely love this fuzzy plant, as well as butterflies, hummingbirds, and many predatory insects.

Hyssop

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 5-10

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: Pink, purple, yellow, red, orange, white

Hyssop is another flavorful herb that does double-duty as a haven for pollinators. Long, slender flowers attract bees and butterflies- especially monarch butterflies. Hyssop tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, and is drought, rabbit, and deer tolerant. These plants are perennials and will spread via seed.

Yarrow

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 3-9

Blooming Season: Spring-Summer

Flower Color: Pink, purple, red, orange, yellow, white

Yarrow is a medicinal herb with large, umbrella-like flowers perfect for bees and butterflies. This herb is also known to host ladybugs- a powerhouse among predatory insects. Yarrow tolerates drought, rabbits, deer, and poor soil. 

Oregano

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright/Woody

Light: Full sun

Zone: 4-10

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: White, pink, purple

Oregano is a popular herb that also happens to be a favorite for bees and butterflies. Some species of oregano are purely ornamental, while others are useful in the kitchen. However, all species are excellent for attracting pollinators. Oregano is deer and drought resistant, and can tolerate poor, rocky soil. This herb performs best in dry climates and may have problems in humid areas.

Sunflower

Classification: Annual/Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: Red, orange, yellow

Sunflowers come in a range of colors and sizes, but they are all good choices for companion plants. These plants prefer rich, moist soils, and taller varieties may need staking or protection from the wind. 

Zinnia

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: All

Zinnias are one of the most rewarding flowers you can grow. Scatter a seed packet and let mother nature do the rest. Zinnias prefer rich, moist soil, but they are extremely heat and drought-tolerant. 

Bee Balm

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 3-9

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Red, pink, purple, white

Bee balm is extremely attractive to bees (shocker, right?). Flowers offer multiple deep, tubular flowers filled with nectar. Bee balm prefers rich, moist soil, but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions as long as it drains easily. 

Plants such as eucalyptus and citronella deter pollinating insects and should not be planted near lemon trees.

What Not To Plant Near A Lemon Tree

Most flowers and herbs either attract pollinators or, at the very least, are neutral. However, there are a few plants that may actually repel bees and butterflies, and you should take care not to plant them too close to your lemon tree.

Wormwood

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 4-8

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: Insignificant

Wormwood is a powdery, silvery plant that is mildly toxic to humans. The flowers are small and insignificant, and many gardeners prune them off to encourage more foliage. This plant may grow in some areas of zone 9, but it is rare in the regions where lemons thrive.

Eucalyptus

Classification: Evergreen Tree

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 8-11

Blooming Season: Spring

Flower Color: White

This aromatic tree has beautiful, silvery foliage and a pleasant, fresh scent. However, it is this scent that may also deter pollinators and other beneficial insects. Eucalyptus trees are prized specimen plants in many southern landscapes, and removal may not be possible or necessary. Plant herbs and flowers near lemon trees but as far from eucalyptus as possible.

Citronella

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 9-12

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: Purple, pink, white

This aromatic geranium is a common landscape plant due to its ability to deter insects. However, this ability has been greatly exaggerated, and while it may ward off a few wasps or mosquitoes, it has almost no effect on bees and wasps. Plant a few near your outdoor living space, if desired, but avoid planting a large stand near lemon trees.

Companion plants such as cilantro and fennel are known to repel pests and can help to prevent infestations in your lemon tree.

Companion Plants that Deter Pests from Lemon Trees

There are three types of companion plants for fighting pests:

  • Aromatic plants that deter pests
  • Trap crops to lure pests away from more desirable plants
  • Plants that attract predatory insects to feed on pests

Lemon trees battle many pests, including aphids, scales, mealybugs, and whiteflies. While companion plants aren’t 100% effective at keeping pests at bay, they are an important part of creating a self-regulating ecosystem.

It’s important to note that it takes two things to attract predatory insects:

  • Specific plants
  • Pests

When you rely on companion plants to keep pests in check, you have to tolerate small pest populations to provide food for the predatory insects. A successful companion garden will keep pests under control- not eliminate them.

Plants that Repel Pests

Aromatic plants naturally repel pests and attract pollinators. Many herbs and flowers that attract bees and butterflies will also repel harmful insects. 

Feverfew

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 4-9

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: White

This extremely aromatic perennial contains pyrethrin- a natural insecticide. While this plant is mainly used to deter biting insects, like mosquitoes, ticks, and ants, it will also repel many plant pests like aphids and some beetles. 

Alliums

Classification: Annual/Perennial

Growth Habit: Bulb

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 4-10

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Purple, pink, white

Alliums include many aromatic bulbs, including onions, garlic, and chives. Ornamental alliums can also deter pests, although they are not as effective. These pungent companion plants are excellent repellents for aphids, weevils, and spider mites.

Cilantro

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 4-11

Blooming Season: Varies

Flower Color: Pink, white

Cilantro is a flavorful, delicate herb that repels aphids and spider mites. In warm climates, cilantro should be planted in the fall, because it does not tolerate extreme heat or humidity.

Fennel

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 4-9

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: Yellow

Both the herb and the root vegetable have a distinct, anise-like scent and flavor. This strong scent is what helps deter aphids, spider mites, and other garden pests. Plant fennel in moist, rich soil.

Plants that Trap Pests

Trap crops are another common way to use companion plants for pest management. In this case, the goal is to plant crops that are much more desirable to common insects than the plant you are trying to preserve.

Trap crops are most often used to attract aphids. These pests produce a sticky substance on plants that attract even more pests, so keeping aphids under control will help prevent a wide range of insects from feeding on your lemon tree.

Nasturtiums

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Spreading

Light: Full sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: All

This trailing, prolific annual is a magnet for aphids. If the aphids don’t destroy too much of the plant, you can use the leaves and flowers in salads for a fresh, peppery zing. Plant nasturtiums far enough away from your lemon tree to keep aphids from migrating.

Sunflower

Classification: Annual/Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: Red, orange, yellow

In addition to attracting pollinators, sunflowers are excellent trap crops for aphids. Their strong, durable stems and flowers make them capable of surviving large aphid infestations, and they naturally attract predatory insects like ladybugs and wasps to keep them from spreading to other plants.

Nettle

Classification: Annual/Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 3-10

Blooming Season: Spring-summer

Flower Color: Purple, pink, white, yellow

Nettles are a risky, but rewarding, companion plant. Stinging nettle is a common medicinal herb, but the hairy stems cause a burning sensation when they contact skin, so these plants are often reserved for growers practicing natural medicine. However, they are a wonderful trap crop for aphids early in the season, and then in the summer, they become a magnet for ladybugs. 

Plants that Attract Predatory Insects

While many insects prey on pests, there are a few powerhouse bugs that gardeners have come to love (or, at least tolerate):

  • Spiders
  • Ladybugs
  • Green lacewing
  • Hoverfly
  • Praying mantis
  • Parasitic wasps

These insects feed on pests, and while certain plants can attract them, it’s the pests that keep them around. The goal is to maintain a healthy population of predatory insects that keep pests from taking over.

The most common pests for lemon trees are:

  • Scales
  • Spider mites
  • Aphids
  • Mealybugs
  • Leafminers
  • Whiteflies

(source)

Many predatory insects are more beneficial during the larval stage than during the adult stage. Ladybug larvae can eat 10x the number of aphids as the adults. Parasitic wasps lay eggs inside pests to use them as a food source. You may not notice these beneficial bugs, but if you see a consistent population of adults, rest assured there are many more juveniles hard at work. 

Angelica

Classification: Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 3-10

Blooming Season: Summer

Flower Color: White/Green

Angelica is an herb with a distinct licorice flavor. The large blooms blend into the foliage, but provide a resting place for butterflies, parasitic wasps, praying mantis, green lacewings, hoverflies, and ladybugs. Butterflies feed on the sweet nectar, while ladybugs prefer abundant pollen inside the many flowers.

Dill

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 2-11

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: Yellow

Dill is a large, delicate herb with fragrant flowers and unique flavor. Like most herbs, dill is an excellent companion plant for attracting ladybugs, parasitic wasps, praying mantis, green lacewings, hoverflies, and butterflies. Dill thrives in almost any soil type, and it may become invasive if you don’t cut off the deadheads in the fall.

Statice

Classification: Annual/Perennial

Growth Habit: Upright

Light: Full sun

Zone: 8-10

Blooming Season: Summer-Fall

Flower Color: Pink, Purple, Red, Orange, Yellow, White

Statice is a short-lived perennial that attracts many predatory insects with its papery, delicate flower clusters. This plant is popular as a dried flower, and it makes an attractive addition to the companion garden. Statice is salt tolerant and low-maintenance, which makes it perfect for coastal areas.

Sweet Alyssum

Classification: Annual

Growth Habit: Creeping

Light: Full sun/Part sun

Zone: 3-11

Blooming Season: Spring-Fall

Flower Color: White

This dense, low-growing groundcover is absolutely packed with small, white flowers that attract butterflies, parasitic wasps, ladybugs, green lacewings, and other beneficial bugs. Use sweet alyssum in hanging baskets, planters, or as a groundcover near the edge of your companion garden.

In addition to the plants listed above, the following flowers and herbs will attract pollinators as well as predatory insects: (link to above listings)

  • Calendula
  • Alliums
  • Cilantro
  • Cosmos
  • Fennel
  • Feverfew
  • Yarrow

If your companion garden space is limited, these are by far the most beneficial plants you can grow. 

How to Plant Companion Plants

Even one flower or herb will help attract a few bees or ladybugs, but the true power of companion planting is in creating a diverse ecosystem with many different beneficial plants.

Plant as many different plants as possible. Mix herbs and flowers together into a few different companion gardens near the dripline of your lemon tree. This will attract pollinators to the outside of your tree-where the flowers are- and create a barrier between pests and the interior of your tree.

Set out a few shallow water dishes. Pollinators and predatory insects are more likely to make a home in your companion garden if it’s a complete ecosystem. A clean, accessible water source not only makes the garden homier for bugs, but it also encourages small, beneficial animals like toads and birds.

Use your vegetable garden as a companion garden. If you have limited space, use your vegetable garden as a home base for your companion plants. Plant herbs and flowers among your salad greens, tomatoes, melons, etc., to benefit your lemon tree as well as your veggies.

Treat your companion garden like a real garden. Beneficial plants only work if they are healthy. Most companion plants are low-maintenance, but if they are completely neglected, drought stress, weeds, and nutrient deficiencies will destroy your garden. When the plants are stressed, they stop attracting beneficial insects and begin to invite pests, which may quickly take over your lemon tree. Water regularly, weed and fertilize as necessary.

Lemon trees are a beautiful addition to a warm, southern landscape. Learn more about taking care of fruit trees by reading Do Fruit Trees Need Nitrogen?

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