Creating a Fruit Tree Guild


Are you looking for a way to reduce pests and increase nutrients to your fruit trees?

If so, you might want to look into creating a fruit tree guild. I’ve been bitten by the permaculture bug this year, and I am fascinated by the concept of creating a food forest around my home.

There are books written about permaculture and it doesn’t happen overnight. One of the techniques I’m going to implement this year is creating guilds around our struggling fruit trees. It’s tough to get them established around here because our soil is so poor, the wind literally beats them to death, and the water is less than ideal. We’ve lost a couple of trees to fire blight, and the ones remaining aren’t going to win any blue ribbons. It’s time to step up the game.

Benefits of Fruit Tree Guilds

A fruit tree guild is basically bringing in a variety of plants to fulfill various requirements of the apple (or pear or whatever) tree. Grass, on the other hand, competes directly with it because the root levels are at about the same level as the feeder roots of the apple. Plus, grass (as in lawn turf) doesn’t bring anything to the situation. It just is. A guild has a wide variety of plants, and each have multiple functions.

For example, one of the choices for close to the trunk are bulbs, particularly daffodils because they keep grass out and a lot of animals don’t like to eat them. Last year we had a terrible time with voles chewing the bark off of trees and shrubs; daffodils at least put up some sort of barrier that they might avoid. It’s recommended to also plant bulbs (you can include alliums, too) in a circle around the tree following the dripline of the branches. The good thing is the foliage dies back in the summer, and it doesn’t compete for moisture from the tree.

What to Plant Around Trees

When you’re thinking of a permaculture setup, you want to be mindful of the big picture. Everything works together. Many of the plants are used to loosen soil, bring nutrients to the area, offer habitat for beneficial insects or food for birds (which in turn eat other insects that may not be beneficial). Once you start thinking about how its all interconnected, it really makes sense.

So besides the bulbs (which is a good thing my bulb numbers are increasing exponentially around here and I was wondering where I was going to move them) under the trees, I’m going to seed dill and cilantro. Of course, I use both of these in the kitchen, but their umbrella-type flowers are also great for parasitic wasps and other good guys. I’m also going to plant yarrow (another pest repellent plant), as well as a butterfly bush, Perovskia, salvia and borage to encourage pollinators.

A must have for a fruit tree guild is comfrey. The taproot goes a long ways into the soil, and does not compete at all for nutrients. It also brings up minerals, such as calcium and potassium, that are typically out of reach of the tree. When I chop off the leaves of the comfrey, and allow it to compost back into the soil, the tree will be able to utilize the minerals.

Nifty, huh? Dandelions, chicory and plantain do the same.

Finally, I also need to include those plants that fix nitrogen. As Toby Hemenway said in his book, Gaias Garden, Since all important nitrogen is so freely available from the air, it seems silly to be constantly lugging bags of it into our gardens. Amen, brother. Ill plant beans, fava beans, peas and alfalfa to remedy the situation. Everything Ive been studying makes sense to me, so Im anxious to implement it!

Meet Amy Grisak

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