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From leaf lettuce to romaine, lettuce is most widely planted salad green in the United States. Lettuce (scientific name Lactuca sativa) is quick to plant, and simple to harvest. If you’re planning on planting some lettuce, try out companion planting to help maximize the efficiency and health of your garden.

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What Is Companion Planting?

Companion planting is a time-tested gardening method that enriches and protects vulnerable crops. Farmers and gardeners plant specific crops near each other in order to deter pests, attract beneficial insects, and stimulate growth.

What Are the Benefits of Companion Planting?

Companion plants will either help a specific crop grow or will grow better beside a specific crop, and can do many support jobs in the garden:

  1. Repel insect pests. Cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, Mexican bean beetles, carrot flies, cabbage moths—all kinds of pests can plague vegetable gardens. Many companion plants (like marigold flowers, catnip, and rue) repel specific pests and should be planted near certain crops to keep them pest-free.
  2. Attract beneficial insects. Pollinators like bees and ladybugs can use a little encouragement to visit vegetable gardens and pollinate the crops. Gardeners often plant attractive plants like borage flowers to encourage pollinators to visit.
  3. Improve soil nutrients. When crops grow, they take up valuable nutrients from the soil—leaving the gardener to do a lot of work at the end of the season to renew the soil’s nutrients. However, there are many companion plants (like bush beans and pole beans) that add nutrients like nitrogen back into the soil, helping keep other plants healthy.
  4. Encourage faster growth and better taste. Many companion plants (like marjoram, chamomile, and summer savory) release specific chemicals that encourage faster growth or better taste in the plants around them.
  5. Provide ground cover. Plants that spread low across the ground (like oregano) serve as a blanket over the soil, protecting it from the sun and keeping it cooler for plants that benefit from lower temperatures.
  6. Provide necessary shade. Plants that grow tall and leafy (like zucchini and asparagus) can provide welcome shade for sun-sensitive plants beneath them.
  7. Serve as markers. When growing slow-growing plants, it can be difficult to tell where the rows will be while you’re waiting for the seeds to sprout. Gardeners often use fast-growing plants (like radishes) interspersed with the slow growers in their rows to delineate where the slow growers will be.
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16 Companion Plants to Grow Alongside Lettuce

Here’s a quick companion planting guide to help you decide what to plant alongside lettuce—from veggies to aromatic herbs to flowers:

  1. Asparagus. When growing asparagus, you should leave a little of the crop to continue growing in your garden to allow the plant to store energy for next year. These leftover asparagus plants will grow tall and spread out fern-like leaves—which are an excellent source of natural shade if your lettuce plants are getting too much sun in the afternoons and starting to wilt.
  2. Beets. Beets are a root crop, which means they utilize underground space to grow their produce, while lettuce plants have very shallow roots and grow their crop above the soil. This means that beets and lettuce can be planted very close together because they don’t compete for the same area—plant them together to maximize your garden space.
  3. Calendula. Calendula is a companion plant to lettuce in a peculiar way: it attracts slugs, which are one of the biggest dangers to a lettuce crop. Plant calendula away from your lettuce rows to attract slugs away from your lettuce.
  4. Carrots. As a root crop, carrots utilize underground space to grow their produce, while lettuce plants have very shallow roots and grow their crop above the soil. Plant carrots and lettuce close together to maximize your garden space.
  5. Chervil. Chervil is a great slug repellant and will keep lettuce-eating slugs away from your crop.
  6. Chives. Chives can act as a “barrier plant” against aphids. Plant chives between the rows of your lettuce crop to deter aphids from getting to your lettuce leaves.
  7. Cilantro. Aromatic herbs do a great job of warding off pesky insects and attracting beneficial ones. Plant the fragrant coriander (also called cilantro) beside your lettuce to deter pests.
  8. Eggplant. Eggplant is a summer crop, thriving in weather conditions that would be far too hot for healthy lettuce—plant eggplant near your growing lettuce so that it can take over the space after your lettuce harvest.
  9. Garlic. Garlic can act as a “barrier plant” against aphids. Plant garlic between the rows of your lettuce crop to deter aphids from getting to your lettuce leaves.
  10. Mints. The aroma of different mint plants (including hyssop and sage) will repel slugs, which are a dangerous pest to growing lettuce.
  11. Melons and squash. If you’re growing baby lettuce, it’s a very fast grower, while melons and squash take much longer to spread out. If you plant baby lettuce beside slow growers like melons and squash, you’ll be able to harvest it just as the slower plants are ready to take over its space. It’s a great trick for maximizing the space in your garden.
  12. Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are pretty flowers that attract aphids. While this may seem counterintuitive, many gardeners plant nasturtiums a short distance away from their vegetable garden to attract aphids away from their crops.
  13. Onions and shallots. As a root crop, alliums like onions and shallots utilize underground space to grow their produce, while lettuce plants have very shallow roots and grow their crop above the soil. Plant onions and lettuce close together to maximize your garden space.
  14. Parsnips. As a root crop, parsnips utilize underground space to grow their produce, while lettuce plants have very shallow roots and grow their crop above the soil. Plant parsnips and lettuce close together to maximize your garden space.
  15. Radishes. Fast-growers like radishes can help you mark rows of slower-growing lettuce—just plant a few radish seeds along the lettuce row and the radishes will germinate quickly, showing where the row of lettuce will eventually grow. At the same time, lettuce can improve a radish crop, keeping them softer and more delicious longer into the summer.
  16. Turnips. Turnips naturally repel aphids, which can do serious damage to lettuce leaves. Plant turnips near lettuce to deter aphids from your lettuce crop.

Plants to Avoid Growing With Lettuce

Just as there are good companion plants to grow beside lettuce, there are also plants that will struggle nearby lettuce—or will inhibit your lettuce from growing properly. Lettuce doesn’t grow well near:

  • Crops in the cabbage family. Try to avoid growing lettuce next to broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, or kohlrabi—while some varieties of lettuce may help these cabbage-family (brassicas) crops to grow, these plants have particular root secretions that can prevent lettuce seeds from germinating.
  • Fennel. Fennel is a garden crop that doesn’t play well with most other vegetable garden plants, so it’s not recommended for most home gardeners. While it can attract beneficial insects, it can actually serve as an inhibitor to the growth of most other plants—stunting them or even killing them completely.

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Think Like a Pro

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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