When I got my first fig tree, I made sure to give it prime real estate in my backyard. I planted it in a spot with good sun exposure, plenty of space, and well-draining soil. But once it was in an ideal location, the next step was adding some companion plants for my fig tree – particularly edible ones (read this article for even more ideas).
With space being at a premium in my landscape, I wanted to find ways to utilize the area around the fig tree for as many edible companion plants as possible. My vegetable garden never seems to have enough room for everything I want to grow, so what better way to maximize space than to create an edible landscape?
Here’s a list of some helpful fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow well near fig trees. Your garden is about to become more delicious.
1. Strawberries (Alpine or Woodland)
Strawberries (particularly alpine or woodland varieties, also known as wild strawberries) are perfect for planting under and around the canopy of a fig tree. Woodland strawberries are well-suited for the dappled shade that occurs under a mature fig tree. They quickly spread into a dense mat, helping to shade the soil and suppress weeds.
The small white flowers of a strawberry plant will attract pollinating insects. Alpine or woodland strawberries are delicious right off the plant, or they can be macerated with a little sugar to bring out the juice. Place a couple of stepping stones among the plants so you can easily harvest figs from the tree without stepping on any strawberries.
Blackberries are known to grow well near fig trees (as well as other fruit trees). The flowers will bring pollinating insects to the bush and surrounding plants. Blackberries ripen in mid/late summer, which will attract birds that can help deter harmful insects. Blackberry bushes have shallow roots; plant them at least 10 feet away from fig trees so they aren’t competing for space or nutrients.
(Another reason not to plant them TOO close to your figs…you don’t want the birds snacking on blackberries and then coming back for a fig dessert.)
Elderberries have been found naturally growing near fig trees. They are multipurpose plants, with edible flowers and berries that have many culinary and medicinal uses. Their tiny white flowers are great for bringing bees and butterflies around. If you don’t mind sacrificing a few berries, elderberry plants can attract birds, deterring harmful insects.
Another bonus to elderberries is that they thrive in both sun and shade, and they prefer slightly acidic soil – just like fig trees. Similar to blackberries, elderberry shrubs have shallow roots, so plant them far enough away from fig trees that both plants have room to grow.
Garlic is a great all-around companion for many plants, fig trees being no exception. Garlic is a hero plant at deterring pests, including aphids, spider mites, Japanese beetles, fungus gnats, ants, and snails. It’s not a picky grower, tolerating various soil types. Garlic accumulates sulfer as it grows, which acts as a natural fungicide, protecting the plants around it from fungal diseases. It can even ward off deer and rabbits.
Garlic prefers a sunny location, so it would grow best outside of the fig tree’s canopy. Keep garlic away from beans, peas, sage, and parsley, as it can inhibit the growth of those plants. Try growing garlic near chamomile, rue, or tarragon (all good companion plants for figs), as they can help garlic grow better, or try interplanting garlic among leafy greens.
Lettuce and other greens can work well as a living mulch under the dappled shade of fig trees, particularly those grown in pots. It can help the top layer of soil retain moisture and protect it from heat. (See this article for other ideas about what to plant with potted figs.)
Lettuce can also be a water and fertilize indicator, especially for potted figs; when the greens start to wilt, you know it’s time for a drink. And since lettuces are light feeders, there will be no competition for nutrients in the soil.
Amaranth is another great versatile companion plant in the garden. It is highly ornamental, coming in shades of fuchsia, orange, pink, peach, red, and many others. Its seeds and leaves are both edible and highly nutritious.
Amaranth is a host for beneficial predatory insects which feed on the bad ones. It can even work as a “sacrificial” plant, attracting aphids and other harmful bugs to itself, keeping them away from your fig trees.
Beans and other legumes are great companions for fig trees. They are classified as nitrogen fixers, meaning they pull the nitrogen they need from the air and break it down into a form that can be absorbed by other plants through the soil.
Growing beans nearby can have great benefits for fig trees. Not only do the flowers attract pollinators, but the plants benefit the soil – and, of course, the beans taste great.
Peas are also legumes, and therefore have the same nitrogen-fixation benefits as beans. Peas can be grown for eating, of course, but they also work well as a cover crop under fig trees. They can help suppress weeds, attract pollinators, and add nitrogen to the soil.
If you were to grow one type of edible companion plant for your fig trees, choose herbs. Mediterranean herbs like oregano, thyme, and lavender thrive in similar conditions as fig trees, enjoying heat and well-drained soil, and they won’t compete with figs for nutrients.
Strong-smelling herbs, such as rosemary or mint, are great for repelling unwanted insects. Chives are in the same family as garlic and therefore have similar benefits when planted near fig trees (in addition to having beautiful flowers).
Keep in mind that certain herbs can grow aggressively – particularly mint, thyme, and lemon balm – so plant these in containers. You’ll still get the benefits from the herbs, without them spreading where they aren’t wanted.
These are some of the best herbs to grow near fig trees:
- Lemon Balm
What NOT to Plant Near Fig Trees
Avoid planting any members of the nightshade family close to fig trees. Eggplants, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, goji berries, and tomatillos fall in this category. These plants are notoriously disease-prone, and they can pass infections through the air or soil to nearby plants.
Root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, or potatoes, are also a bad idea to plant near fig trees. The shallow roots of the fig tree don’t appreciate competition for space or nutrients with root vegetables.
In general, try not to overly disturb the soil around fig trees, especially when planting near the base of the tree. Perrenial plants are great, such as strawberries, because it means you only have to dig once. It is best to add companion plants when you first plant the fig tree, giving the plants a chance to establish before the fig’s roots have spread too far.
For comprehensive information on what to plant (or not plant) near fig trees, read Fig Companion Plants: What to Plant and What to Avoid.