Planting under citrus trees | Flowers, herbs and perennials

You can successfully plant annual flowers, herbs and perennial shrubs under or near your citrus. Plant outside of the root zone and give your citrus the space to spread its roots. Try planting in a box or pot on top of the soil around citrus trees to reduce the competition for water and nutrients.

This article will explore everything you need to know about planting under citrus trees at home to successfully grow companion herbs and flowers.

What to know before planting under citrus trees

Citrus trees will grow well with lots of plants but there are some tips to know before you plant directly under your citrus trees.

Give the citrus space

Citrus trees love nearby plant companions but they will need space for their roots. Citrus trees will grow most of their roots in the first 2 feet of soil and most of their ‘feeder’ roots there too. This means that they will hate competition with anything planted in their root zone.

You can imagine the root zone of the citrus trees to be beneath the outer branches of the tree. If you draw an imaginary line underneath the outer leaf line then you will get an idea of where the roots are.

Plant any new plants outside of this root line to give your citrus the space it needs to grow roots and absorb nutrients and water.

New growth on my happily growing lemon tree. It has been raining which is why the leaves are covered in water.

Prepare the soil

The key to planting flowers, herbs or perennial shrubs underneath or very close to citrus is to prepare the soil well first. While citrus hate competition they can grow well next to other plants if the soil is high in nutrients, drains well and is watered regularly.

Before planting my new lemon tree I added a whole bag of aged cow manure to the soil. This added both organic matter and nutrients and led to the lemon tree tripling in size over fall.

This also allowed me to grow a range of annuals next to my lemon tree including violas as well as herbs such as thyme and society garlic.

My lime tree is happily forming fruit planted next to senetti (purple flower) and clivia.

Plant annuals

Annuals are the perfect plant to grow under or near your citrus trees.  This is because they will grow for a season and can be removed allowing more roots for the citrus tree to grow.

Planting annual flowers like viola during fall will give you a colorful display over the winter months and early spring. In warmer climates these annuals will die off over summer and can be removed to give your growing citrus more space.

Tiny viola seedlings have grown into huge plans however their root system is still away from the lemon tree.

For more tropical regions viola can actually grow as a perennial but you can always remove them earlier if you want to give your citrus space.

Over summer you could plant basil or parsley near your citrus to get delicious summer herbs from your space. I have also grown creeping thyme because the root system stays in a small area while the thyme can cover the surface of the soil.

This keeps the roots away from the citrus while still providing a beautiful, edible garden.

Creeping thyme is the perfect ground cover near citrus as its roots stay small while it can happily fill the space with green.

Fertilize the plants together

Adding additional fertilizer to an area that contains a mix of plants is essential to make sure they are all fed. Like a mini food forest, each plant will benefit each other but will need extra nutrients if they are planted in a small space.

Pelleted chicken manure is the ideal slow release fertilizer perfect for citrus, herbs and flowers. This mild organic fertilizer is perfect in spring and fall and will add back nitrogen to your citrus to encourage more leaf growth.

While plants might compete for nutrients if the levels in the soil are low, slow release fertilizer can top up the levels and prevent the plants from fighting for what is there. All of these plants can grow happily near each other if they are fed well.

I use pelleted chicken manure around my citrus and annual flowers.

Beware of the roots

When planting anything under or near your citrus tree you will need to take care not to disturb the roots. Only dig outside of the area underneath the tree canopy to avoid disturbing delicate citrus roots. I like to plant new citrus and annual flowers at the same time so I know exactly where the roots of the citrus end.

While citrus purists will leave a large amount of room around their citrus for root growth I have experimented successfully with growing flowers and herbs closer. All of these plants are thriving together and eventually the annual viola will be removed to allow the citrus more room to grow.

What can be planted under citrus trees

Some of my favorite plants to grow under citrus are annual flowers, herbs and society garlic. A trick that I had used to grow some wildflowers was to place a box on top of the soil filled with the seeds. In a few months the box is filled with flowers which are not taking nutrients away from the lime tree.

This box is filled with wildflowers which can grow without competing with the nearby lime tree,

The lime is still growing fruit and I have covered a bare patch of mulch underneath my plant. I have also planted clivias nearby as they get shade from the lime and orange tree planted nearby.

I have also planted salvia, creeping thyme and a little further away have planted African daisy to attract bees to pollinate my orange tree.

Great companions for citrus that I have grown at home include:

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Lavender
  • Alyssum
  • Salvia
  • Clivias (if there is shade)
  • Senetti
  • Society garlic
  • Thyme.

Allow the space if you have it but if not, try a mini food forest where are range of flowers and herbs are planted together with citrus to drive away pests, attract pollinating insects and keep cats out of your garden.

Quick Tip: Since planting society garlic in my yard I haven’t seen any neighborhood cats lurking around.

Planting under citrus trees | Summary

Planting under citrus trees is a great way to increase the biodiversity in your garden to naturally keep away pest insects, attract pollinators and create your own food forest at home. I have had great success with companion planting thyme, society garlic and violas with my new lemon tree and all are thriving.

The key tips to successfully planting under citrus is to improve the soil first with aged cow manure, feed everything regularly with pelleted chicken manure and water it all well. Annuals can be removed after they have had their season to give a growing citrus more room to spread their roots.

Happy growing.