Apple tree companion plants

Guide to Care and Planting of Fruit Trees

Place trees in a position that has direct sunlight for at least half the day and protection from strong winds. Water thoroughly.

If possible, site preparation should begin 6 months prior to planting. The following points should be considered:
1. Fence off the proposed Orchard
2. For poor soil (i.e. less than 1 metre of top soil and not of a sandy nature) Deep Ripping is advised to improve drainage (rip to a depth of at least 45cm). The last Ripping should be down the slope, as deep as possible to help sub-soil drainage. Erosion control will prevent washing out of furrows.
Diversion Drains at top of orchard site are recommended.
3. If soil is too shallow, mounding of tree rows will improve drainage as well as increase depth of topsoil.
4. Green Manure Crops improve the organic matter content of soil and can be ploughed in approx 1 month prior to planting.
5. Wind break trees are very important and should be planted before fruit trees. Windbreaks should be planted along south, west and east sides of orchard, leaving the north side open.

Trees can be planted out at most times of the year, provided the following points are followed:
1. Planting hole – if soil is not well drained it is advised to make a circular mound 1.5 metres across and 20-30cm high. This can be achieved by bringing outside loamy soil to the planting site or alternatively mound existing soil. Do Not plant trees in holes in heavy clay soils as the hole will act like a sump and hold excess water.
2. Watering – trees should be watered thoroughly several hours before planting to moisten the root ball. Planting trees out with the root ball dry or partially dry will result in roots being damaged. The site should also be thoroughly watered the day before planting.
3. Planting – make a hole in the soil or mound twice the width of the pot and the same depth as the pot. Remove the tree from the pot and lightly tease roots down side of the root ball and loosen any matted roots at base of root balls. Fill in soil around roots, making sure not to plant root ball any more than 2cm lower than it was in the container. Trees will suffer if planted too deep. Soil should be firmed down well after planting. At least 20 litres of water should be applied to each tree to settle in soil around roots. A saucer shaped depression 50cm in diameter will help hold water when watering in.
Applying a Slow Release Fertilizer at planting will help the young trees off to a good start. This can be applied by
scratching into the surface around the young tree. One of the following or a mixture can be applied. Blood & Bone, Dynamic Lifter, Osmocote, Nutricote or Nitrophoska
If mixture is applied, reduce quantities of each proportionally. If soil is acid also apply dolomite or lime.
5. Staking – trees are better off not staked, but if needed, two tomato stakes on each side of tree (30cm from tree) will support tree by using old pantyhose or similar material.
6. Mulching the trees with old straw, hay etc, will stop soil from drying out, heating up, stops weeds from germinating and also adds valuable organic matter. Do Not apply mulch against trunk of tree as Collar Rots may occur. Trees that are susceptible to frost damage are better off without mulch during the winter months, the reason being that bare soil kept moist will absorb heat during the day and radiate this heat at night reducing severity of frost.
7. Grow Bags placed over young trees will give protection during the winter months and allow an early growth in spring. They also protect trees from wildlife.

1. Weed Control – Most important if trees are to grow quickly. Weeds shouldn’t be allowed to grow within one metre of the tree for the first year. After this keep area out to the drip line (i.e. width of foliage) free of weeds. Mulch will control most weeds.
2. Fertilising- trees will respond to feeding. How often and how much fertiliser to apply will depend on soil type and the trees requirements (refer to DPI ‘Ag Facts’ for specific requirements). If you do not want to use chemical fertilisers consider applying one or a combination of organic fertilizers (e.g. poultry manure, rock phosphate, blood and bone etc).
3. Mulching – the use of Organic Mulch is very important for healthy trees. Any organic material can be used, e.g. Lawn clippings, weeds, straw etc. Hay, especially soybean stubble or lucerne hay is excellent. As the mulches break down they will feed the tree with valuable nutrients.
4. Watering-Setting up a permanent under-tree sprinkler irrigation system is well worth considering. Frequency and amount of watering will depend on a number of factors, but a good watering once a week is a good guideline.
5.Desuckering – remove any shoots coming from below graft on grafted trees while trees are young. The removal promotes growth of grafted variety only.
6. Pruning-Fruit trees need pruning to produce good crops of fruit as well as keep trees to a manageable size. Most deciduous fruit trees in particular need annual pruning. Pruning also invigorates the tree and encourages new fruiting wood for the following year

Mulch Your Fruit Trees!

Mulching is an easy way to cut down on water loss by plants and soil, as well as to slowly add nutrients back into the soil. Mulches come in organic and non-organic forms; and they affect soil acidity, water retention ability, and nutrient levels—all things that are important to good plant health. Healthy plants are best equipped to survive the drought conditions that we often have.

When considering whether or not to mulch around your plants or trees, some factors to consider are the following:

Cost: What is the least expensive mulch available in your area? You might live next to a dairy, stable, or chicken farm, which could provide a very cost-effective manure. In the Willamette Valley, straw is an easily obtainable mulch. Rice and buckwheat hulls are sometimes available, while most people have a ready source of grass clippings or leaves.

Soil Acidity: Whatever you put on your soil will affect its acidity later on. Mulches that are acid include oak leaves, peat moss, and pine needles. Non-acidic mulches are rice hulls, corncobs, grass clippings, sawdust (elm, hemlock, and locust), and leaves (except oak). Some inorganic mulches that will not affect soil acidity are black plastic, and weed-barrier cloths

Other things to consider when mulching are appearances, fire hazard (hops are the most fire resistant of the organic mulch), durability, and avoiding weeds and disease. Grass clippings will decompose the fastest, while wood chips usually last a couple of years. There is always a danger of introducing diseases, so knowing where your mulch is coming from will ease your concern. Using organic mulch that is weed free or has composted to a temperature of 130-140 degrees will cut down on weed problems from within.

Applying a mulch properly will cut down on problems later on. A mulch needs to be put on at a depth of 4 and ½ to 6 inches for maximum moisture retention. Summer mulching around fruit trees is great for water conservation, but in the fall the mulch should be pulled away from the trunk to prevent damage from mice or other rodents. If mildew or fungus problems arise, remove the mulch and allow the sun to shine on the soil for a couple days. This will kill the disease spores. Then mulch with fresh material

Pome News, Summer 1993 Issue

Most of us mulch our fruit trees. We mulch for weed suppression, moisture retention, and to protect the tree from mowers and string trimmers. All of these are important, but to your fruit trees, how you mulch is important – it can actually affect how productive your fruit trees are.

Fruit trees depend on a symbiotic relationship with beneficial microbes – specifically a group of mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi form an essential partnership with the roots of the fruit trees. They assist the roots in gathering nutrients and water. In return, the fungi are supplied with food in the form of carbohydrates that the plant produces through photosynthesis. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Fruit trees that live in soils that are “fungi-dominant” are healthier, use available nutrients more efficiently, are more productive, and have less of a tendency toward alternate bearing.

So what does this have to do with mulch? Your mulch has a significant effect on the microbial makeup of the soil. If the mulch ring is too small, or if you aren’t mulching with the right materials, your soil doesn’t have the building blocks of a healthy fungal colony. Fortunately, this is easy to correct, and the results are almost immediate.

Make that mulch ring bigger
The size of the mulch ring really matters. Fruit tree roots that are covered by turf are living in a “bacteria-dominant” soil. Turf prefers this condition and turf maintenance practices favor it.

In addition, the fertilizer that you put on the lawn is probably not the right kind, the right proportions, or the right frequency for your fruit trees. Turf grasses require nitrogen in amounts that can be detrimental to fruit trees by encouraging them to spend their energy in producing vegetative growth rather than setting fruit buds.

Expanding the mulch ring to at least the drip line of the fruit tree will correct both of these issues. Having a cover of mulch under the entire canopy of the tree will encourage and support a healthy fungal colony. The majority of the feeder roots of the fruit tree are in this area. They will respond to the more fruit tree appropriate nutrition you provide in this zone.

Choose the proper mulch
There are a couple of mulches that will support a fungal soil environment. Fallen tree leaves, shredded native mulch, or a mix of the two are readily available and do the job. Shredded native mulch is material that has been generated from limbs that are usually less than 4” diameter, twigs and leaves. It is recently living material that is high in nutrients that support both soil microbes and the macro-organisms, like earthworms. Fallen tree leaves are rich in minerals. Trees are great mineral extractors and 50% – 80% of the minerals end up in the leaves. As they break down in your mulch ring, these minerals are returned to your soil, and therefore to your fruit trees.

Mulch should not exceed 4” – 6” deep after it has settled. If you are using fallen tree leaves, or a mix of leaves and native mulch, this may mean that you start with a layer that is 8” – 12” deep. It will reduce in volume within a couple of weeks. Keep the mulch pulled back several inches away from the base of the trunk of the tree. The only mulch I use pulled right up to the trunks and stems of plants is pine straw. It “breathes” and does not cause any issues. I often put a “donut” of pine straw right around the trunk and then finish mulching with fallen tree leaves. This suppresses weeds beside the trunk, and keeps a nice, neat appearance.

All mulch should be applied evenly under the entire canopy. No piles or “mulch volcanoes” please!

Inoculate your soil
A fungal colony can be established faster if you inoculate your soil before you mulch. There are several ways you can do this, but here is an easy way with locally available materials:

1.) Remove existing mulch and all turf grass from the trunk all the way to the drip line, at least. A foot or so farther would be better.
2.) Rake loose topsoil away, especially if it is heavy clay or deficient in organic matter. It’s alright if you reveal a few of the roots here. The next step will address this.
3.) Replace the removed top soil with Arbor Gate Organic Soil Complete over the entire new mulch ring. You can top dress as much as 1” – 1 ½” deeper than the original grade. This blend has all of the components that will stimulate the establishment and growth of a mycorrhizal fungal colony. You do not have to work this into the soil. Nature will do the work for you over the next few months.
4.) Broadcast Arbor Gate Organic Blend at the rate suitable for the type of fruit, time of year, and age or size of the tree. In addition to its nutrients, this slow release organic fertilizer contains eleven species of mycorrhizal fungi and the microbial food to support them.
5.) Place your mulch material evenly over the new mulch ring. The initial depth will depend on the materials you have chosen, but should be the same depth all across the ring. If you are using just native mulch, you can apply 4” – 6” which will settle a bit in a few weeks. If you are using just fallen tree leaves, you can apply as much as 10” – 12”. This will soon settle to about 4” – 6”. If you are using a mix of the two, you will have to play it by ear depending on the ratios of each. Your resulting mulch depth after settling should be 4” – 6” under fruit trees; deeper than in your perennial beds.
6.) Foliar feed your tree with a sea-based, mineral rich liquid product. This will provide minerals that will translocate from the leaves to the roots, sending signals to the microbes and kick starting the partnership. It’s good for the trees anyway. I like to use a hose end sprayer to make quick work of it. While you are at it, spray the new mulch bed down with the solution, too.

This technique is a “top down” soil improvement method that really works. It will make a difference in the overall performance of your fruit trees for years to come. You will need to maintain a constant mulch ring around the trees and continue regular applications of Arbor Gate Organic Blend as your slow release organic source of nutrition. The fungi (and their friends) will do the rest!

Companion Plants for Fruit Trees

May 25, 2018 OGW Growing GuidesDesignfruitsgrowing guidepermacultureshrubs

Companion Plants for Fruit Trees fill ecological niches.

So, here you are with your new baby fruit tree, maybe you picked it up locally or received it in the mail. After all that winter planning, you picked out just the right spot so that it can grow into a beautiful fruiting specimen. Now, it’s finally time to plant!

You grab your shovel, maybe a pickaxe depending on where you live, a few soil amendments. Off to dig that mighty hole your new fruit tree will call home. With great care the soil is put back in the hole, gently you apply a thick organic mulch, water it in. Repeating the process until all your trees are in the ground.

But, when you stand back somehow it looks…rather disappointing. Just sticks with a few side branches sticking out of the Spring mud. You notice that 8-15 feet of barren ground between all those trees, it will take some years before the tree mature and their canopies fill in to fully soak up all that great sunlight. Surely, there must be some other way. Let’s fill up this empty space – companion plants for fruit trees to the rescue!

Which companion plants are the best has been hotly debated amongst gardeners for decades. There’s plenty of room to experiment. But, what is for sure is that good companion plants are the ones that are beautiful, ecology enhancing, soil building, pollinator attracting, drought tolerant, dynamic accumulating, pest predator attracting, and more. A list of beneficial plants could fill many a page, but we’ve come up with a list of our absolute favorites based on their ease of cultivating and their benefits to the young orchard.

Nitrogen Fixers

The first group of companions most home orchard and permaculture folks think of are the mighty nitrogen fixers. A special group of plants that are able to turn atmospheric soil nitrogen (N2) into a form of nitrogen that can be uptaken by plants (Ammonia – NH3 and Ammonium – NH4) through a symbiotic relationship that occurs in their roots with certain bacteria.

Many of the most known nitrogen fixers are in the Fabaceae or Pea Family. These associate with Rhizobia bacteria in root nodules. But, there are also many in other families, such as our native Red Alder, Garrya, Willow, Sea Buckthorn and Elaeagnus, or the Ceanothus genus that instead associate with Frankia and other bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form. For our needs, it is one of the most useful adaptations in the plant kingdom . Prior to the chemical fertilizers, farmers and gardeners alike relied heavily on the nitrogen fixing powers of these plants. But instead of going down that rabbit hole, let’s list some of our favorite nitrogen fixers in the perennial garden…

  • Baptisia australis, also known as Blue False Indigo, is like the Danny DeVito of perennial nitrogen fixers, growing only 3-4 feet in height but is incredibly deep rooted. This prairie native is so vigorous, more often than not, we have to cut the pot off the plant because it’s vigorous root system has made it impossible to get out of the pot otherwise! It is not the most multifunctional of nitrogen fixers but it can be used to make an indigo dye, bees love the flowers, and last season’s flower stocks and seed pods are beautiful in winter. Blue False Indigo deserves to be lifted from its benchwarmer status on the nitrogen fixers all star team to a full time starter.
  • Lupines! Who doesn’t love Lupines? They hold the spring rain water droplets on their leaves like the precious jewels each drop truly is! Their large spikes of pea flower towers in mid-spring are a cause for pause and wonderment. Yeah, we love Lupines in all their various cultivated forms. Deep rooted, drought tolerant, and tolerating a wide range of soils, Lupines always deserve a place beneath your young fruit tree especially in drier climates.
  • Ceanothus, also known as the California Lilac, is an impressive genus that comes in many forms from ground covers and tiny shrubs all the way up to a large shrubs, there is surely a Ceanothus variety out there that will fit the bill and it seems the nursery industry finds new varieties to introduce almost every year. This genus might be exclusively useful to all of us here on the West Coast as most are not hardy below USDA Zone 7 but there is not a flower more enticing in the entire Apiary Candy Shop than the Ceanothus flower. Its drought tolerance, compact evergreen foliage and variety of forms place it as a perennial starter on the Nitrogen Fixers All Star Team.
    • Vandenberg has dark green crinkled leaves and beautiful fragrant blue flowers in late spring and grows 3-5 feet tall by 4-6 feet wide
    • Julia Phelps Ceanothus has been one of the more popular Ceanothus for the past 50 years and continues to be one of our favorites!
    • Midnight Magic is the perfect Ceanothus for small spaces or a low growing hedge. Compact dark evergreen green leaves contrast beautifully with the fragrant blue flowers. Midnight Magic grows to only 3 feet high and spreads 5-6 feet.
    • Centennial Ceanothus this ground cover is a multi-functional and extremely tough plant. Centennial Ceanothus explodes with blue flowers in late spring as hundreds of its tiny blue blossoms open up, much to the delight of bees that seem to cover every blossom. If that weren’t enough, Centennial is also a nitrogen-fixing and drought tolerant evergreen. A truly wonderful plant for a permaculture guild planting or as a companion plant to one of your young fruit trees.
  • Sea Buckthorn! Yes, you can have your nitrogen fixer and eat it too. We have gone on and on about the abilities of sea buckthorn to heal degraded soils and grow in the most gravelly nutrient deficient of soils, but suffice to say Sea Buckthorn really is a mighty vigorous nitrogen fixer with incredibly nutrient dense fruit and leaves as well. Plant it between your fruit trees and reap a wonderful harvest of sea berries until the canopy closes in on them at which time you can cut them down and get that big old boost of nitrogen in the soil. Dig up the suckers and repeat on a new planting area!
  • Goumi! The more humble and equally as handsome cousin of the sea berry in the Elaeagnaceae Family, Goumi is one of the more well behaved fruiting nitrogen fixers, can tolerate a wider range of sunlight conditions and has some of the most unique fruit you will ever taste. It tastes like it sounds, goumi-ish! The dormant twigs are a gilded and speckled Winter pleasure. In the early Summer, red fruit hanging from the shrub must have surely been placed their overnight like a hundred little ornaments hung by an army of fruit bearing elves and fairies.
  • Autumn Olive is similar in some ways to goumi, but with a tarnished reputation on the east coast, Autumn Olive grows larger with a more slender leaf shape and produces smaller but equally tasty fruit. Amber is a personal favorite here at the nursery and is proof that gems do grow on trees…nitrogen fixing trees!
  • Silverberry is the elegant evergreen matriarch of the whole Elaeagnaceae family, boasting evergreen, or rather ever-silver foliage year round. Silverberry is unique in that it flowers in October-November and ripens its fruit overwinter to be eaten in mid-Spring! How wild is that! Not as cold hardy as goumi, or autumn olive, but it makes a great hedge. Try alternating Pineapple Guava and Silverberry for the ultimate nitrogen fixing, fruit producing evergreen hedge!
  • Crimson Clover– If all this perennial nitrogen fixing sounds like too much work or if you’re the type that can’t bear to cut down a plant in the name of ecological succession than perhaps the annual nitrogen fixers are more up your alley, Crimson Clover makes the top of the list for its ability to fix boatloads of nitrogen per acre and it’s incredibly ornamental flowers, and maybe most importantly how easy it is to manage. Unlike it’s cousin the Dutch White Clover that doesn’t know how to take a hint when it’s time for it to leave, Crimson Clover with gracefully bow out after its spring flower show if mown down before it sets seed. Or let it go to seed and repeat its beautiful dance next year. With anything in the Pea Family, try a Rhizobium inoculant boost to insure your young plants have their bacterial companions alongside them at the time of planting.

Dynamic Accumulator Companion Plants

What exactly is a dynamic accumulator? You can think of them as deep soil miners that send their vigorous deep root system far below the depth where most plants send their roots, bringing to the surface nutrients that have slipped down through the soil horizons and concentrating it in their leaves. Over time, these types of plants rejuvenate soil by pulling up more and more nutrients and creating humus around their root zone.

The most famous of these is Comfrey and has long been touted as the best plant choice for “chop and drop” mulching, where you simply chop its abundant foliage back a few times per year and use that as a nutrient rich, weed suppressing mulch. Comfrey also has many medicinal and therapeutic uses and is an incredibly multi-functional plant. It has gotten a bad rap for its ability to rapidly spread via seed, but the varieties we carry cannot produce seed and are much more manageable.

One such plant is the Bocking 14 Russian Comfrey which is a clumping variety which can only be spread if you till and spread the roots through the soil. For a more aesthetic garden look, consider the gold leafed Variegated Axminster’s Gold Comfrey. It looks like a soft leaved hosta, and though it is not as vigorous as the Bocking 14 Russian Comfrey, it still has all the same wonderful properties. If you wish to remove comfrey after your fruit trees are established a thick sheet mulch will easily do the trick and you can take great joy in knowing that your comfrey plant’s root mass will act as a deep soil compost for your fruit trees.

Chives and perennial onions are an often overlooked companion plant. They are not only easy to grow, but many are worthy additions to the kitchen. Carpets of these plants may confer some immune system benefits to surrounding plants. Their beautiful small flowers provide nectaries for many beneficial insects including tiny harmless parasitic wasps that hunt pest insects. Many onions often intermingle very well with other forbs planted in the understory.

Globe Thistles (Echinops ritro) and Green Globe Artichokes and Purple Italian Artichokes are huge clumping plants that produces tons of biomass, habit for beetles, and are great insectaries – while pulling up nutrients from great depths with their huge taproots! All the power of soil building properties of thistles but with without the spines. Plant these giving them plenty of space to flop around.

Yarrow is our other most revered soil miner! This plant can be found growing in lawns and fields nearly all over the temperate world and the reason for this is that it loves growing in disturbed soils. Like a diligent soil repairman, yarrow sends its deep roots into even the toughest rocky soils. Many new cultivated forms have been selected for their graceful foliage and flower colors, so you can now customize your ecological plantings. Yarrow is also a beneficial insectary plant as well as a useful medicinal herb.

Time to Go Get Planting

This is a short coffee-fueled morning rambling of some of our favorite companion plants chosen for their multifunctionality, ease of cultivation, and beauty in the landscape, but many other species can fit the bill as a companion plant. Water needs for your site may increase but by planting a diverse array of ground covers, small shrubs, and herbaceous perennials you bring in all sorts of beneficials to your site which decreases weed pressure by filling up the empty spaces.

Go out and experiment, try all sorts of new plants between your fruit trees and other plantings. Plant up those edges and borders. If the hydrozones are managed correctly, drought tolerant and xeriscaping plants will thrive amongst your more water thirsty fruiting plants. Don’t be afraid to cut things out if they get overcrowded. Study nature and copy examples you see using analogous plants of your choosing. Try alley cropping with vegetables. Create different patterns, textures, and smells! And plant more Monkey Puzzle trees – they are long-term human companion plants. Your grandchildren will thank you!

10 Companion Plants for the Orchard

(To download this information with diagrams, click here.)

Companion plants encourage natural processes that benefit overall health and vitality of fruit trees. This means less work lugging around sprayers, buying fertilizer, spreading compost and worrying about pollination. These plants help us do the work and they do it well.

Companion plants play important roles in the orchard as:

  • Living Mulches produce large quantities of organic matter that can be cut back to decompose around tree bases, enriching the soil.
  • Dynamic Accumulators have long taproots that bring up minerals from deep subsoil. Cut foliage throughout the season to break down around trees, creating dark nutrient-dense soil.
  • Nitrogen-Fixers transform nitrogen from the air to the soil where it can be absorbed by tree roots.
  • Beneficial Insect Accumulators contain nectar sought by predatory insects (aka beneficial insects, including braconid wasps, syrphid flies, and lacewings) that feed on fruit-tree pests. BIAs also attract orchard pollinators.
  • Pest Confusers have bitter aromas that deter and confuse insect pests from eating fruit.

When planting in your orchard consider:

  • Once established, companion plants do not require a lot of care; they will do fine on their own.
  • Planting companions in groups, masses or hedges is often more effective than planting individuals. Think nature!
  • Plant woody shrubs and beneficial insect accumulators along orchard borders where they can flower and thrive undisturbed out of the way of the mower. Others such as Living Mulches, Dynamic Accumulators and herbaceous Nitrogen Fixers can be placed closer to the trees. Cut them and let the foliage decompose to nourish feeder roots.

Here are our top 10 companions. Don’t limit yourself—there are many more! Where noted, these are available from Fedco Trees (FT), Fedco Seeds (FS) or Fedco Bulbs (FB). Those not offered by Fedco can be found elsewhere, often by the side of the road or in your own backyard.

  1. Comfrey Symphytum officinale Dynamic Accumulator rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium when cut to the ground for mulch; makes a mineral-rich foliar spray. Predatory pest habitat. Nearly impossible to eradicate: plant it where you want it forever, 4–15′ from tree trunks. (FT)
  2. Daffodils Narcissus spp. Deter mice and voles from girdling tree trunks. Plant in a tight circle (bulb to bulb) about 12″ from tree trunks. (FB)
  3. Dogwoods Cornus spp. Beneficial Accumulator increases braconid wasp populations to parasitize numerous pests such as apple maggot flies, moths and caterpillars. (FT)
  4. Horsetail Equisetum arvense Dynamic Accumulator extremely rich in silica. The cream of the crop when it comes to making tea for foliar spray. Promotes strong and healthy cell growth in fruit, considered anti-fungal. Don’t let it get too close to the garden or you’ll never get it out. Often found in the wild.
  5. Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis Pest Confuser with bitter aroma, long used as a companion plant in gardens and orchards. (FT)
  6. Chives Allium schoenoprasum Help prevent scab. Make into tea and use as a foliar spray. Groundcover and aromatic Pest Confuser. (FS)
  7. Siberian Peashrub Caragana arborescens Nitrogen-fixing woody shrub can be planted alone or as a border. Prune it back to the base and use for mulch. (FT)
  8. Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata Beneficial Accumulator provides nectar for adult syrphid flies whose larvae eat huge quantities of aphids. Predatory pest habitat. Will thrive in the shade of mature trees. Start from seed, available in the trade.
  9. Tansy Tanacetum vulgare Pest Confuser with strong aroma of camphor, deters codling moth and borers. Toxic if eaten. Often found in the wild.
  10. Yarrow Achillea millefolium Living Mulch rich in copper, nitrogen and phosphorus. Also very beneficial for adding minerals to the compost pile. (FS, FT)

Don’t limit yourself—there are many more! To download this information with diagrams, click here.

For hundreds of years farmers have used companion planting as a method to help improve their yields and get the most out of their fruit trees. This organic solution does far more than simply prevent pests from eating your fruit. Certain plant combinations serve a whole host of benefits including increased pollination, weed prevention and improved soil nutrition. Additionally it is a great way to cover the space under a fruit tree offering more colour and variety to your garden!

The Basics

As fellow gardeners I’m sure you recognise it is important to try and keep a natural balance, even in your garden. A key premise to companion planting is trying to avoid monocultures by planting a variety of different plants together. Among other things, you make it difficult for pests to find their desired food and spread amongst your crop.

For the Love of Fruit

Many people believe that it is difficult to grow anything under a tree. However, there are a great variety of plants which naturally thrive in this space. With that being said it is important to remember that if your fruit tree is trying to establish itself it is important to water it regularly, especially if you plan on planting more plants around it.

Fruit trees constantly come under attack from various pests because of their delicious fruit. They also require extra levels of potassium to help stimulate bud and fruit growth. If you want to avoid using chemical fertilisers or pesticides here is an essential list of companion plants for your fruit tree:

  • Chives – The scent of chives provides a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects and yet is attractive to the more beneficial pollinators. Additionally chives have been known to prevent apple scrab which is a notorious scrounge of apple fruit. A cautionary note is that chives are aggressive growers and so they will require maintenance to stop them invading the entire bed.
  • Nasturtium – A real favourite in the world of companion planting. This is a great plant to lure away aphids and particular caterpillars from your trees. It is a sacrificial crop. Nasturtium requires minimal nutrients, sun or water and so is brilliant for diverting pests while keeping your fruit tree strong. It has also been known to repel codling moth, a particular scrounge of apples.

Nasturtium in bloom

  • Fennel – This plant is fantastic for attracting pollinating and predatory insects. Hoverflies, ladybirds and parasitic wasps all love fennel and they love aphids and caterpillars even more. Plant this in your garden to help wage a natural war against these pests. Fennel can of course also be used for cooking and has been known to carry medicinal properties.
  • Dill – Very similar advantages as fennel; it attracts a host of predatory and pollinating insects… and it can also be used in cooking. Win win!

A Hoverfly resting on a Dill plant.

  • Comfrey – Not only has this plant been used medicinally by people for nearly 2,500 years it is an amazing miner of soil providing nutrients for your tree! Being a deep-rooted plant it draws nutrients from the soil and then can be cut back and the clippings used as an organic mulch. Comfrey is drought, frost and pest resistant and grows well in partial shade so is perfect for the space under your tree. I would recommend trying to plant the ‘Bocking 14’ variety developed by organic pioneer Lawrence Hills. ‘Bocking 14’ being sterile won’t self-pollinate and spread all over your garden.
  • Chamomile – This beautiful flower deters pests with its strong scent while drawing in pollinators. Being drought and frost resistant and also not afraid of a little shade makes it perfect to plant around a tree. If suffering from a pest infestation a triple strength chamomile tea can be brewed and used as a spray for the affected area.


  • Daffodils – Flowering early in the season daffodils are perfect for bringing in and supporting those pollinating insects. For a splash of spring colour plant in a circle around your tree at around 1ft from the base.
  • Lavender – Truly a favourite amongst all pollinating insects, including and especially bees; it’s strong scent also confuses pests. Lavender not only looks great in your garden but can be used for various DIY product such as soaps or teas. Or you can simply pick it and put it into a bowl for around the home to create a calming aroma.

Some bees thoroughly enjoying the pollen rich Lavender flowers

Understandably when it comes to food, especially food you’ve devoted labour and love to, you are cautious about spraying it with potentially harmful pesticides or even using fertilisers. Companion planting therefore offers an age-old organic method to ensuring healthy fruit trees while adding a touch of vibrancy and colour to your garden. You may also end up with some extra herbs to liven up your dishes!

Liam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

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Apple Tree Companions: What To Plant Under Apple Trees

It happens time and time again; you wait patiently for the apples on your tree to ripen enough to pick, then you wake up one morning to find that deer beat you to those apples. With proper use of apple companion plants, however, those deer may have gone elsewhere for a midnight snack. Continue reading to learn what grows well with apples and help fend off these and other would-be intruders.

Apple Tree Companions

For centuries, European gardeners have maximized the space in their gardens by growing fruits, veggies, herbs and ornamental plants in combinations that benefit each other. Dwarf fruit trees are grown on espaliers surrounded by companion plants that deter pests and help each other grow. These gardens are also planned out in succession so that something is always ready to harvest or in bloom. Not only useful but also aesthetically pleasing to the senses.

Good companion plants help deter pests, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and also help the plants grow to their full potential. Companion plants can help conserve moisture and keep weeds down; they can also be used as living mulches that are cut back and allowed to decompose around tree root zones for added nutrients. Some companion plants have long taproots that reach deep within the soil and pull up valuable minerals and nutrients that benefit all the plants around them.

What to Plant Under Apple Trees

There are several different plants that are beneficial apple tree companions. The following plants include apple tree companions that deter pests and enrich the soil when cut back and left as mulch:

  • Comfrey
  • Nasturtium
  • Chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Artemisia
  • Yarrow

Daffodil, tansy, marigold and hyssop also deter apple tree pests.

When used as an apple companion plant, chives help prevent apple scab, and deter deer and rabbits; but be careful, as you may end up with chives taking over the bed.

Dogwood and sweet cicely attract beneficial insects that eat apple tree pests. Dense plantings of any of these apple companion plants will help keep weeds down.

Apple Tree Companion Plants You Need In Your Guild

Published by Corey Rametta on July 30, 2019July 30, 2019

Apple tree companion plants are a great way to maximize harvest, make use of space underneath your apple tree, and increase biodiversity in the soil and understory of your apple tree.

What Is An Apple Tree Guild?

An apple tree guild is a group of companion plants planted around the base of your apple tree that benefit the apple tree, and the plants surrounding it.

Companion plants are chosen based on the functions they can perform. Each companion plant performs one or more functions to benefit the apple tree, and the plants surrounding it by interacting with soil micro organisms, insects and animals to create a mini interconnected ecosystem of companion plants that would normally be found growing together, and help each other out by deterring pests, increasing disease resistance and increasing pollination rates.

The benefits of an apple tree guild are to maximize the productivity of the understory, maximize apple yields, reduce our workload, and reduce the amount of imported fertilizers and mulches to create a self-sustaining eco-system.

Apple Tree Companion Plant Functions

Companion plants are meant to provide multiple functions to benefit the apple tree and the other plants in the guild. The main functions we look out for are…

  • Suppress Grass and Weeds
  • Attract Beneficial Insects
  • Repel Damaging Insects
  • Provide Biomass for Mulch
  • Fertilize the Soil

Some companion plants are great at providing more than one function, so those are the plants we try to incorporate first.

1. Suppress Grass and Weeds

Suppressors are groups of plants whose function is to prevent grass and weeds from growing around the base of the apple tree and competing for important nutrients. Read our guide on apple tree feeder roots and why you should always prevent grass from growing around the base of an apple tree, especially for young apple trees.

Bulbed plants like garlic, onions and leeks, do a great job at repelling grass and weeds. Bulbed plants can be planted in a circle around the tree at the drip line. Their shallow feeder roots will outcompete grasses that try to invade, and by the mid summer heat the bulbs will slow their growth and go dormant and won’t rob the apple tree of its much needed water. Daffodils will also work – but are not edible – and have the added benefit of repelling pests such as deer and gophers.

Vining squashes, rhubarb, mint, creeping thyme, and white clover are also great at shading out the soil and preventing grass and weed seeds from germinating.

White clover is a multi functional plant providing more than one benefit to your apple tree guild by acting as a cover crop to suppress grass and weed seeds from germinating, attracts bees and other beneficial insects, and fixes nitrogen back into the soil.

2. Attract Beneficial Insects

Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects to your apple tree, which means more fruit production from increased pollination rates. A variety of beneficial insects – like predatory wasps – will ensure no single species of insect becomes a pest by controlling its population.

Choose plants that flower before and after your apple tree will. This will ensure the pollinators are not distracted during the apple trees flowering stage. Dill, fennel and coriander are great edible herbs that attract beneficial insects and birds to your apple tree guild.

Insects That Benefit Apple Trees

Lacewings feed on aphids, mites and other small insects and their eggs. Plant dill, angelica, fennel, coriander, queen anne’s lace, and yarrow to attract lacewings.

Lady bugs feed on much the same insects as lacewings, and are attracted to the same plants. Young lady bugs are black with orange markings, and can’t fly, and actually eat more insects than adult lady bugs.

Hoverflies look like tiny honey bees and feed on aphids, mealybugs and other small insects. Some of the plants that hoverflies are attracted to are lavender, mint, lemon balm, parsley, and thyme.

Parasitic wasps are tiny wasps that don’t sting. Instead, they lay their eggs in the bodies of pests such as moths, caterpillars, beetles and flies. As the eggs hatch, they feed off the pest from the inside out. Parasitic wasps are attracted to the same plants as hoverflies, so plant lavender, mint, lemon balm, parsley, and thyme for double duty – to attract parasitic wasps and hoverflies.

Tachinid flies are predators of caterpillars. They lay eggs on the body of the caterpillar. The larvae then suck the fluids from the caterpillar until it dies. Plant buckwheat, tansy and lemon balm to attract tachinid flies to your guild.

Pirate bugs, damsel bugs and big-eyed bugs feed on spider mites, leaf hoppers, aphids, and even small caterpillars. Plant alfalfa, spearmint, fennel and marigolds to attract these bugs.

3. Repel Damaging Insects

Repeller plants are the opposite of attractors, and repel harmful insects and animals. Nasturtiums are normally planted along side apple trees to repel a wide variety of damaging insects. Nasturtiums exude substances that repel pests, but have not been studied extensively.

Plants that Repel Damaging Apple Tree Insects

Chives are great at repelling Japanese beetles that eat your apple tree leaves. It has also been said that chives will help prevent scab when planted among apple trees.

Chrysanthemums planted near apple trees have also been known to repel Japanese beetles that can truly damage and defoliate your apple tree.

Garlic planted near apple trees help repels aphids. It also deters codling moths, Japanese beetles and plum curculio.

Marigolds planted around an apple tree can also repel rabbits – if that is a pest in your area. Rabbits can easily strip the bark off the base of the trunk of a young apple tree, opening it up to a host of other pests and diseases.

Wormwood planted around an apple tree can repel codling moth, which can ruin your harvest of apples as the larvae burrow into the apple to feed off its flesh.

4. Provide Biomass for Mulch

Mulch plants are usually broad leafed / soft leafed plants that have deep-tapping roots that reach deeper than other roots and mine for trace minerals and nutrients. They can be ‘chopped and dropped’ by cutting the leaves at ground level and laying the leaves around the base of the tree to decompose in place while also helping to retain moisture and provide nutrients to the tree and the surrounding plants as it decomposes. Read our guide on how to properly mulch an apple tree for best apple production.

Best Plants to Chop and Drop

Comfrey is one of the most popular ‘chop and drop’ plants for its hardiness and multipurpose-ness. A ring of comfrey plants around the base of the apple tree can be chopped three or four times a summer and left to decompose in place. The leaves from these plants add a huge dose of important minerals and organic matter to the soil to feed the soil life – which in turn suppresses diseases as the soil life competes for food and starves out the diseases. Comfrey also attracts beneficial insects to its flowers, its leaves are medicinal and make great teas – both to drink, and compost tea.

Siberian Pea shrub is also a great plant to chop and drop and has the added benefit of being a nitrogen fixer.

Artichoke, rhubarb, and clover work well also. Their broad leaves grow quickly and provide the biomass required to properly mulch your apple tree.

5. Fertilize the Soil

Accumulator plants increase soil fertility by mining nutrients with their deep taproots. They mine important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium and sulfur. Nitrogen fixers absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and deposit them back into the soil for other plants to use. Two types of plants that both fertilize the soil.

Accumulator Plants

Accumulator plants cycle nutrients from deep down in the soil and store them in their leaves. Once the leaves are chopped and dropped to decompose in place, those nutrients slowly become available to your apple tree and other shallow rooted plants. After several years, they would have mined all the deep nutrients and will slowly begin to decline. Either pull them out, or move them to another location to begin the nutrient cycle again.

Aside from creating biomass for chop and drop, comfrey, artichoke, and borage are great at mining nutrients deep into the soil and bringing them to the surface for the apple tree and surrounding plants to use once they are chopped and start to decompose. Other accumulators include borage, chicory, dandelions, plantain and yarrow.

Nitrogen Fixing Plants

Nitrogen fixers are plants that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and deposit them in the soil in nitrogen nodules, thus improving the soil fertility. Nitrogen is the second largest element required for apple trees to grow (besides water) and is a key element in photosynthesis. Many leguminous plants are nitrogen fixers and have symbiotic relationships with certain soil bacteria to release the nitrogen from the nitrogen nodules, back into the soil.

My favourite nitrogen fixing plants for placing next to an apple tree are sea buckthorn, goumi berry, fave beans and lupine – all of which have the added benefit of being edible. Other nitrogen fixers include white clover – which also acts as a perfect ground cover – peas and alfalfa.

What to Consider When Choosing Apple Tree Companions

The Landscape is important when choosing apple tree companion plants for your guild. Is your apple tree planted on flat terrain, or on a hill? Hilly terrain would benefit from deep-rooting companions like dandelions and comfrey to help stabilize the soil.

Is the soil always wet? Is the planting site in full sun? Think of companion plants that will do well with the landscape you are working with and the climate you are in. Try choosing plants that are native to your area.

Different Layers – Consider the different heights of the plants you are planning on planting. Do you have a diversity of ground covers, herbs, small bushes, vines, and roots?

When planting, make sure to leave enough room to harvest your apples as they ripen by picturing the full sized plants and how they will fit in the guild as they mature.

Plant Arrangement – take some time to figure out where everything will be planted, and try to picture how it will look once everything is fully grown and mature. Leave enough space between plants for them to thrive and mature without competing for space and sunlight.

Place deep rooting plants closest to the apple tree. They won’t compete for nutrients with the shallow feeder roots of the apple tree, but instead will mine nutrients from deep into the soil. Avoid planting plants that will need to be dug up and divided within the drip line of the apple tree. Digging within the drip line could damage the feeder roots once your apple tree becomes more established.

Combinations – try to combine a diversity of plants that will do well in your area, and that will satisfy one or more beneficial functions for the apple tree. Include multiple plants for each function to increase the chances of your apple tree guild working to its maximum effectiveness. Include a variety of food, flowers and herbs.

Choose plants to repel specific pests you may encounter, or attract predators for those pests.

Our Top 10 Cold Hardy Apple Tree Companions

In our climate, our apple tree guild consists of sea buckthorn, dill, borage, chives, artichoke, fave beans, angelica, mint, lemon balm and garlic. Each was carefully selected to perform a certain function for our apple tree.

We have compacted clay soil, so we chose borage and artichoke as our accumulator plants to mine nutrients deep into the soil, and help break up our compacted clay soil. The borage and artichoke both have secondary functions – borage is great at attracting beneficial insects and also works well in salads. Borage flowers are also edible and very sweet, and make a great garnish for a variety of dishes. Artichoke grows quickly and is great at providing biomass for mulch.

Next we chose fave beans and sea buckthorn as our nitrogen fixing plants. Fave beans are very nutritious and can be dried to last through the winter. Sea buckthorn is also a great perennial nitrogen fixing shrub that produces clusters of small orange berries once mature.

Garlic and chives are great at repelling grass and weeds and both help to repel aphids, Japanese beetles and plum curculio – three pests that can wreak havoc on our apple tree. Chives can also prevent scab on apple trees, but our primary focus is on repelling pests.

Angelica and dill are both used to attract beneficial insects. Whenever we can, we try to find perennial shrubs that can perform a function. Angelica is a perennial medicinal herb and along with the dill, will attract lacewings to help with our aphid problem.

Mint and lemon balm are also perennial herbs useful in attracting many beneficial insects to our apple tree guild.

And there you have it, our top 10 apple tree companion plants that you absolutely need in your guild. You can easily adjust your guild to include a few different plants in order to combat certain pests or diseases that are most relevant to your area.

Various plants can be planted around the fruit tree which help it to grow even better, give more production and has various other benefits. This is called companion planting or Guild planting. A fruit tree guild is the building block of an edible forest garden.

This lovely idea was given to us by Newquay Community Orchard and we now hope to do this around every fruit tree planted in the orchard.

Good companion plants help deter pests, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, provides more pollen & nectar for bees, and also help the plants grow to their full potential.

Companion plants can help conserve moisture and keep weeds down; they can also be used as living mulches that are cut back and allowed to decompose around tree root zones for added nutrients.

Some companion plants have long taproots that reach deep within the soil and pull up valuable minerals and nutrients that benefit all the plants around them.

Not only useful but also aesthetically pleasing to the senses.

The following plants include apple tree companions that deter pests and enrich the soil when cut back and left as mulch:

Companion planting at Newquay Orchard

  • Comfrey
  • Nasturtium
  • Chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Artemisia
  • Yarrow
  • garlic
  • Daffodil, tansy, marigold and hyssop also deter apple tree pests.

When used as an apple companion plant, chives help prevent apple scab, and deter deer and rabbits; but be careful, as you may end up with chives taking over the bed. Dogwood and sweet cicely attract beneficial insects that eat apple tree pests. Dense plantings of any of these apple companion plants will help keep weeds down.

Guild planting can also help you ensure that good levels of the nutrients all plants need are in the soil and available to the roots, especially nitrogen. The family of plants known as legumes, which includes peas and beans, has a symbiotic relationship with a certain bacteria in the soil that allows them to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere on their roots. This nitrogen also helps plants nearby to grow strong and healthy. Acacias planted near to fruit trees are another example of a guild that boosts nitrogen uptake.

An example of a guild working through time to improve nitrogen levels in the soil, is if you are trying to revitalize a piece of poor quality soil, perhaps one that has been used in intensive agriculture. When damaged bare soil is left exposed, the first plants that will colonize it are weeds such as white clover and dandelion. The former can fix nitrogen, while the latter has deep roots that break up the soil and access nitrogen and other nutrients lying further down in the soil profile. Allowing the weeds to grow helps bring nitrogen levels up towards the surface. You can then slash and mulch the weeds so that the nutrients are retained in the soil.

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