One of the projects that we have completed in several different locations is a fruit tree guild. Often fruit trees are planed in orchards with grass underneath. Grass will compete with the trees for nutrients and will need additional nurturing requirements and produce less fruit. A fruit tree guild is where you underplant the tree with plants that nurture and benefit the tree and will have a beneficial relationship. What does this mean… more fruit and less work!
What do you need to support an apple tree?
- To attract beneficial insects
- Plants that cover the ground as a living mulch
- Deep rooted plants that will mine nutrients
- Nitrogen fixers
- Pest repellents
The apple tree is the central element in our guild and all other plants will work to benefit the tree. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t also benefit other plants in the guild, it is just how you design your guild.
We will plant our garlic in a circle along the drip line of the tree. Garlic is a grass suppressor, it acts as a pest repellent, a food crop and a nutrient accumulator.
You can use onions, leeks and chives instead of garlic.
Better known as Marigold. You must get Pot Marigold as Common Marigold is toxic. Pot Marigold is edible and medicinal. It also benefits the tree in several ways. It attracts insects, it is a pest trap and is also a mulch.
Bee balm works as a pollinator attractor, it is edible and has medicinal uses and adds a beauty and fragrance to the guild.
Comfrey is a soil builder and has very deep roots. It is a nutrient accumulator and can be used as a mulch simply by chopping it down. It provides a place for insects to stay (air B & B style without the cost) and also attracts pollinators. It is also medicinal.
You could use dandelion, rhubarb or artichoke as an alternative.
Try different varieties and use it like a ground cover. It can also be a green mulch. And who doesn’t love a strawberry but it is also a pollinator attractor. Alternatives you could use are white clover, wood sorrel, creeping thyme and carpet raspberry. I have grown carpet raspberry and it is so different seeing it run across the ground and produce mini raspberries.
I love seeing peas climb an apple tree and then when ripe you tell the kids to pick the peas from an apple tree. Peas are an edible crop, nitrogen fixers and attract bees.
When building your guild don’t over plant. You could be thinking I will plant white clover and the strawberries but immediately these will start to compete as ground cover. Best to leave it as one ground cover plant but maybe plant out 3 or 4 varieties of the same plant. Remember your goal is to get a balance of plants that will act as attractors, mulchers, nutrient miners, nitrogen fixers and pest repellents. Check your list of plants and if you’re missing a variety go and find some more plants to fill in the gap.