Lettuce has been a garden staple for ages. Today’s cultivars were bred over time from bitter, prickly wild lettuce to the sweet or crunchy varieties we know today. Grown as an annual, lettuce is of the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable, but sometimes for its stem and seeds as well. As growing lettuce takes practice to perfect its place in the garden, finding the right lettuce companion plants will help you achieve great garden success!
Popular lettuce varieties include both heading and looseleaf growing habits. A head variety grows upright with dense leaf structure typically resulting in a whole head for harvest while looseleaf grows on a stem with individual leaves harvested over the plant’s growth cycle. For growing in your garden, there are plenty of varieties to choose from such as iceberg, romaine, crisphead, or butterhead. Looseleaf colors range from light green to burgundy and bronze. Speckled or solid in appearance, lettuce adds beautiful variety to your dinner table.
Growing lettuce in a companion planting system offers not only great variety for your dinner salads but also dense nutrition. The darker lettuce varieties offer significant health benefits as they contain valuable antioxidants. Hydrating, vitamin-rich, and fibrous, growing lettuce in companionship with other good companion salad staples in your garden is an easy way to give back to yourself, your family, and the vegetable garden.
What Is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is a method of gardening that considers the benefits of individual plants as part of the whole garden. It takes into consideration how plants interact with one another to provide success for any gardener hoping for bountiful harvests. For example, trellising vining varieties of beans, peas, or cucumbers over leafy greens protect them from the summer heat, or planting an edible flower like marigolds among your tomatoes can stave off root-knot nematodes in your soil. Oregano and thyme are delicious garden herbs that also grow as ground covers or living mulch that suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.
Though its individual benefits are still debated, a well-known value of companion planting is through ecosystem development for the garden. Practicing this method will not only support yourself but also the environment. Attract beneficial insects by interplanting with herbs, flowers, and vegetables while giving your space a beautiful presentation over conventional row planting. This method works to diversify your diet while also encouraging it in your garden.
Good Lettuce Companion Plants
Depending on the season, great companions to grow with lettuce include root crops like radish, carrot, parsnips, or beets. Taller varieties of flowers or vegetables are great options, as well as aromatic herbs and alliums. Whether you are looking to deter a pest, grow lettuce out of season, or attract beneficial insects to your crop, there is a companion for you!
In the fall season, growing your root or allium crops among your lettuce will help you care for your greens until the winter season. When summer heat gives way to cooler daily temperatures but pests remain present, radishes planted near the greens will grow quickly and attract aphids away from your lettuce, thus serving as a trap crop without affecting the radish root. Beets and carrots are also great options for maximizing your harvest per square foot as they grow below ground. They can be closely planted with lettuce which has shallow root systems without directly competing for water or nutrients. To complete your salad garden, grow fragrant onions, leeks, or garlic to repel or confuse caterpillar pests typically attracted to leafy greens.
Planting edible flowers like marigolds is a great option for attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs or to deter root-knot nematodes which will burrow into the root systems of your lettuce and affect their ability to properly take up water or nutrients. Calendula adds additional benefit as a medicinal plant while luring slugs away from your greens, a well-known lettuce pest.
Throughout the late spring and summer season, your leafy greens will need protection to grow best, including spinach and arugula. They can be grown out of season if planted among those companions that will provide shade for them. For example, plant them under sprawling eggplants and tomatoes or taller herbs such as dill and parsley. The latter will not only protect them from the mid-day sun but also serve as host plants for swallowtail butterflies. Bush beans work with specific nitrogen-fixing bacteria present in the soil making them a great garden companion for leafy greens as this is a nutrient essential to green growth. Cucumbers are heat lovers and commonly trellised to save space in gardens allowing you to plant your leafy greens below them in the summer maximizing your growing room. Doing this can provide you with a successive harvest of leafy greens throughout the seasons.
What Not To Plant With Lettuce
Not all plants are great companions for your garden, with some actually deterring the growth of others. Those that should not be grown among lettuce include cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, romanesco, and mustards. These vegetables are known as Brassicas and are part of the cabbage family of vegetables. They emit a chemical compound through their root systems that reduces the germination rates of lettuce seeds. Fennel is an example of an herb that is known to deter the proper growth of many garden staples and should be provided its own space in the garden away from your salad garden.
Considering the growing needs or conditions of many plants can also help organize them into great growing companion families. Shade or sun requirements as well as soil moisture needs and pH levels all come into play when grouping your garden companions. For example, planting lettuce below your blueberries would not work as they have competing soil pH levels. Blueberries prefer acidic soil while lettuce needs neutral to slightly alkaline soil in order for nutrient availability needs to be met in each plant. Understanding the soil texture, drainage, and amount of organic matter present for your companion plants will also serve to prepare you before planting together into your garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can lettuce and basil be planted together?
A: They can be, but basil does not offer any particular aid to lettuce or vice versa.
Q: Can you plant lettuce in the same place every year?
A: While it’s absolutely possible to do so, a safer technique is to practice crop rotation. This reduces the likelihood that pests that directly attack lettuce will try to establish permanent residence there. Crop rotation also enables you to have an ever-changing landscape in your garden, plus you can use it to improve your soil. For instance, after a crop of lettuce is done, you could plant pole beans that add nitrogen back to the soil.
Q: Can I plant lettuce with potatoes?
A: The shallow roots of lettuce plants make it less likely to compete with your potatoes for soil nutrients. However, most people hill up the area around potatoes to get a larger crop. Your lettuce plants would rapidly end up surrounded by piles of soil or straw, making it difficult for them to do well in your vegetable garden. So while they’d make good companions in one way, they may not end up being the ideal companion plant choice!