Fruit Trees on the Homestead, Part II: Creating a Guild
OK, so what is a fruit tree guild and why do we need them? A tree guild is very much the same as a guild (or club) in the human world. It’s a group of plants working in tandem (like a little community) to ensure the success of one another.
Different Types of Plants in a Fruit Tree Guild
Each type of plant in the guild is there for a specific purpose.
- Bulbs: Bulbs planted near the base of the tree help to suppress grasses that compete for water and nutrients. Spring flowering bulbs keep the grass from starting. Summer flowering bulbs and garlic continue on through summer and fall.
- Nitrogen fixers: These plants have the ability to pull nitrogen out of the air and turn it into bioavailable nitrogen at the root level. Chopping and dropping these plants releases the nitrogen to surrounding plants.
- clovers—actually clovers are good mulchers and pollinator attractants also!
- legumes—bush-type green beans would make nice human attractants!
- Dynamic Accumulators: These plants generally have deep tap roots. Because of this it is thought that they have the ability to draw nutrients up from deep in the ground to make them available to neighboring plants. Even if this is not the case, the tap root loosens the soil making root growth easier for surrounding plants.
- comfrey—be cautious with this one. It’s a great choice, but can be invasive.
- borage—also a good pollinator attractant
- dandelion—Dandelions are given a bad rap. They are great at breaking up compacted soil and bonus; they are completely edible! They are also wonderful pollinator attractants.
- yarrow—also good at attracting pollinators
- Pollinator Attractants: This one kind of speaks for itself! These are flowers and herbs that attract pollinators to themselves, and so to your new tree as well.
- Annual flowers and herbs
- zinnia, borage, cosmos, alyssum, dill
- Perennial flowers and herbs
- bee balm, black-eyed susan, hyssop, catmint, coneflower, sage
- Annual flowers and herbs
- Pest Repellants: These plants have a two-fold job. They either deter pests that cause damage or they can attract predator insects that feed on the bad guys.
- Mulchers: Some plants are great at spreading and covering bare soil, helping to suppress weeds and keep moisture in the ground.
- clover—also a nitrogen fixer and pollinator attractant
- creeping thyme—also a pest repellant
- Human Attractants: Herbs, vegetables, berries, or anything else that will attract humans to check up on the trees on a regular basis. The best way to control weeds and pests is to keep a close eye on your garden!
This is our newly planted Kieffer Pear. The tree is surrounded by a thick layer of cardboard and topped with some topsoil I moved from a nearby spot where we had a bit extra. It’s September (autumn) here, so I will leave the cardboard to decompose over the winter. I have sprinkled white clover seeds over the entire area. It won’t need to push roots past the cardboard right away. It will come up early in the spring providing a mulch layer to keep out the grass, flowers to attract bees, and clover is also a good nitrogen fixer. That is the beginning of our guild! In the spring, after the cardboard has had time to soften and decay, I will toss in some zinnia and marigold seeds and plant a few perennial herbs around the perimeter. This particular tree is close enough to the house that we will visit it often to check on its progress.
Now it’s time to learn how to preserve all that fruit you’re anticipating. Take a look at Preserving Apples: 5 Easy Methods!