While there are plenty of resources here at Our Inspired Roots on how to grow your own food, I haven’t gotten around to creating more specific permaculture-related content — particularly fruit tree guilds and apple tree guilds.
So when I met Elle from Outdoor Happens, a permaculture enthusiast, I knew she would be a perfect guest contributor! Enter Elle…
Visualize an apple orchard: Dozens of trees organized into perfect lines.
But what if I told you that by surrounding an apple tree with dozens of edible plants, you could increase the health of your tree, increase yields, and minimize maintenance?
Have I piqued your interest? If so, let’s discuss apple tree guilds.
What is a Fruit Tree Guild?
Succinctly put, it’s a balanced ecosystem built around a central fruit tree where each plant serves an important role in the overall health, productivity, and sustainability of the system.
The 6 Functions of Plants in a Fruit Tree Guild
There are six critical roles that plants play in a fruit tree guild:
These plants suppress weed growth and combat surface evaporation. Essentially, they are a ground cover.
Often chosen for their blooms, these plants attract beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs, soldier beetles, and hoverflies, as well as predatory insects. Did you know that one ladybug larva can eat as many as 40 aphids in an hour?
Repellers tend to be fragrant herbs and flowers that repel pests like aphids, codling moth, plum curculio, and Japanese beetles.
Mulchers are used to increase the nutrition of the soil using the chop and drop method. As the leaves and stalks decompose, they return nutrients to the soil. Given that you have enough mulchers, you won’t need to add fertilizers and composts. The system will build nutrition in the soil at the same rate that it uses it.
Accumulators tend to have deep root systems. They draw minerals from far below and store them in their leaves. When those leaves are chopped down and allowed to decompose, the minerals are added to the top layer of soil where they can be more easily accessed by plants with shallower root systems.
These plants pull nitrogen from the air and fix them into the soil. This allows other, nearby plants to more easily access nitrogen in the soil.
As you build your guild, you will want to make sure that plants from each category are represented.
The exact choices that you make will depend on personal taste, climate, and the amount of space you have.
A successful apple tree guild can be comprised of many different combinations of companion plants.
My personal preference is to plant predominantly edibles, but some gardeners like to focus more on flowers, which can make a fruit tree guild so beautiful, it’s worthy of the front yard where it can be appreciated by passersby.
5 Tips for Choosing Plants in Your Apple Tree Guild
- The more diverse your system, the more likely it is to succeed. So, don’t rely on just one type of plant from each category. Plant diversity. This increases the odds of at least one species from each category thriving.
- Imagine what the guild will look like in several years when the plants are more mature. If you plant too densely, you’ll need to do some pruning or it will be difficult to access the tree later.
- Consider size. The guild below a thirty-foot standard apple tree would be much larger than the guild below a dwarf variety of apple tree that only grows ten feet tall.
- Work with your climate and choose plants that are naturally inclined to thrive in your zone. Remember, the plants in your guild will live there year after year. If you pick a native plant that can withstand the typical storms in your climate, you won’t need to worry so much about sheltering them through the harsher months.
- Layer the height of the plants in your guild. It’s not only beautiful to look at, it increases the harvest, and the plants often coexist quite nicely. One apple tree guild might incorporate a dense groundcover of strawberries, a border of pest-repelling walking onions, lush rhubarb leaves (which makes an incredible mulch), bee-attracting bunches of lavender, and the nitrogen-fixing, ever-attractive scarlet runner bean.
Choosing Plants for Your Guild
Here are some of the best plants to grow in your apple tree guild (get a downloadable version for free).
|Chives||✔||Aphids + Japanese Beetles||✔|
While apple tree guilds take a bit of thoughtful planning and hard work up front, as the system ages and becomes more established, you’ll find yourself with a perennial bounty of food, a beautiful space, a sustainable ecosystem, and increasingly less maintenance to do.
The earlier you start, the closer you are to reaping the joys of an apple tree guild. So, what are you waiting for?
Have you considered planting an apple tree guild? Which plants are you leaning towards using?