Starting a fruit tree guild sounds complicated but it’s actually quite simple and very rewarding. A fruit tree guild is simply a mini ecosystem growing at the base of the tree that provides benefits to the tree.
The plants growing at the base of the fruit tree are always good companions and thrive in their close-knit environment. Check out this general guide to starting a fruit tree guild so your trees will produce better fruits and the space under the trees will be utilized for growing produce also.
What is a Fruit Tree Guild?
A guild is a grouping of plants that supports the center fruit tree so it can produce a maximum harvest. The plant grouping will also benefit in some way from the fruit tree and/or each other.
Guilds are frequently used in permaculture environments so growing space is used efficiently and the need for chemical fertilizer and pesticides are eliminated.
Start With a Fruit Tree
Start your guild with a fruit tree or two. The type of tree and number of trees will depend on the amount of outdoor space you have and what you wish to accomplish. Always keep in mind how large the tree is expected to grow, and plan accordingly.
Select your tree(s) and plant them as your first step towards creating a beneficial guild.
Create the Fruit Tree Guild
Now that the tree(s) have been selected and planted, you will want to prevent weeds from growing underneath it, you will want to keep wildlife away from the tree, you will want to repel small insects, keep disease at bay, retain soil moisture, and improve soil structure.
The right plants can do all that for you and help your newly planted tree produce the best possible harvest.
The plants that you are going to plant around your tree, are usually categorized into different unofficial roles, such as attractors, suppressors, repellers, mulchers, etc. No matter how you class them though, each plant in a guild has a role to play. Attractors are plants that attracts beneficial pollinators to the tree. Suppressors are plants that help indirectly to suppress weed growth via their growth habits. Repellers are plants that naturally repel pests from attacking your fruit tree, while mulchers are plants that provide plenty of organic matter that will serve as mulch for the ground.
Planting daffodils at the dripline of any fruit tree will repel wildlife, but one drawback is that daffodils are only around in the early spring. What is a tree dripline? It is the border of the circular radius covered by the leaves making up the tree crown. The most active zone for water uptake is at the tree dripline, and not near the trunk. Plant chives and garlic along the dripline perimeter also to repel wildlife.
Directly under the tree close to the trunk, it will be mostly shaded, so weeds won’t be much of a problem. However, you do need pollinators and planting dill and fennel near the trunk will draw in a variety of pollinators.
The fennel near the trunk and the garlic around the drip line contain anti-fungal properties and will help prevent certain fungal attacks on fruit trees.
Comfrey and nasturtiums planted between the trunk and the drip line will provide living mulch and increase soil fertility when the plants die and decompose. Nasturtiums are generally compatible with a wide variety of plants.
Every plant in a fruit tree guild provides a service and receives a service. Growing space and harvest is maximized in this sustainable, organic environment. Fruit tree guilds may seem like a complex science, but this is far from the truth; they are so easy to develop and grow, as long as you have a clear idea of what plants make good companions together, and what their requirements are.
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