A fruit tree guild is an ancient technique where mutually beneficial species are planted around a fruit tree to create a thriving, supportive mini-ecosystem.
Fruit tree guilds consist of several layers that can be made up of edible plants, shrubs and climbing plants that co-exist under and around the fruit tree.
There are many benefits to planting a fruit tree guild:
If you’re new to permaculture then a fruit tree guild is a great place to start. You can have stand alone fruit guilds or link them together with fruit bushes and other trees to form a food forest.
There is no precise recipe for a successful fruit tree guild. It’s about finding the right combination of plants for your space.
There is however a basic fruit tree guild design that works well in home gardens…
You’ll want to avoid overplanting and causing an imbalance so it’s helpful to choose plants that serve multiple functions.
How you plant a fruit tree guild will depend on the space you have available.
Firstly, you’ll want to choose a tree that works both in terms of size but also climate.
If you have a small garden then choose a dwarf fruit tree or small berry bush as the central element to your guild.
A combination of trees works well as it will prevent a single disease spreading easily between trees. For example you could choose a combination of apple, plum, cherry, peach, hazelnuts (cobnuts), sweet chestnuts, walnuts.
Your guild will consist of a group of companion plants that work together to support your fruit tree. The aim is to try and recreate a forest-like, naturally sustaining environment where the plants thrive.
Try and choose plants that serve more than one purpose, like garlic chives which will repel pests, prevent grass creeping into your guild and they’re edible.
Along the ‘drip-line’ you can plant grass-suppressing bulbs which will help to stop grass moving inside your guild and competing with your trees roots.
Daffodils are a good option if you have issues with deer as they dislike them. If you prefer to plant an edible then plant garlic chives or Egyption Onions. Avoid mixing edibles with daffodils which are poisonous.
Inside the drip line scatter a mix of plants that will soon be buzzing with bees and drawing nutrients from deep in the ground.
Experiment with different mixes until you find something that works in your space.
Choose plants that perform the following roles:
Nitrogen-fixing plants have a crucial role to play in your fruit tree guild. Using plants to keep nutrients cycling within your guild will mean that you won’t need to buy fertilizers.
Nitrogen fixers have a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with bacteria or fungi found in the soil that take nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen that other plants can use.
Types of nitrogen fixers:
1. Actinorhizal plants partner with a group of antinobacteria called Frankia. These include:
2. Legumes partner with rhizobium bacteria which form nodules on the plant’s roots. They turn nitrogen gas in to nitrates to feed the plant, which then makes the nutrients available to other plants via its leaves and annual root replenishing cycle.
Nitrogen Fixing Legumes include:
Dynamic accumulators use a deep tap-root to access nutrients that other plants can’t access. Their long roots mean that they aren’t in competition with other plants and they are able to harvest otherwise inaccessible nutrients.
Take Comfrey for example, although the plant only reaches around 2 foot it’s roots can actually reach 5 foot below ground in search of nutrients. The nutrient packed leaves can be chopped down and used as a mulch around your tree guild.
The leaves also make brilliant organic natural fertilizers for your crops.
Every Dynamic Accumulator will draw specific nutrients from the soil and concentrate them in their leaves.
Experiment with plants to see what works best with your tree and what nutrients it needs.
Dynamic Accumulators: borage, comfrey, chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettle, strawberry, sorrel, vetch, supine, tansy.
Ground covering plants will suppress grasses and weeds that compete with trees for nutrients and water. They will also help to retain moisture and build soil structure.
Suppressors are especially important in young tree guilds as they will be more susceptible to drying out and competition from weeds.
Suppressor Plants: red clover, squash, pumpkins, rhubarb, strawberries, nasturtiums.
Manu plants will attract beneficial insects to your garden. The Insects are beneficial either because they hel to pollinate your plants (often needed to make them fruit) or because they eat pests that damage crops.
Attractor Plants: You can plant edible herbs like Fennel, Dill, Lavender and Coriander or flowers like Salvia, Sunflowers and Yarrow.
Some plants can be used to repel certain pests because they dislike their scent.
Choose repellents carefully as they tend to repel beneficial insects as well as bad bugs for the garden.
Pest Repellents like daffodils can work well around the edge of your fruit guild if you have a problem with deer.
Pest Repelling Plants: onions, garlic, daffodils, marigold, nursturtium.
As your fruit tree grows you can adapt your guild to meet the changing needs.
Now it’s your turn to get creative with your fruit tree guild!