Anyone practice companion planting with their fruit trees? I suspect many companion plants are more or less old wives tales, but there may be some benefit to it, especially in attracting bees and predatory insects. I plant lots of bee-friendly plants throughout my yard in addition to fruiting plants.
Allegedly chives help with some apple problems, so I plant them around all my pome fruits. Even if they do nothing, they look nice and deer/rodents dislike it. I also plant a lot of perennial geraniums and daffodils, again more because they look nice and pests won’t eat them. I’m considering planting some nitrogen fixing plants around trees in spring, maybe some baptisia since it won’t get too big.
I would NOT recommend tansy unless you’ve got plenty of room. I planted some this spring and it got HUGE very quickly and flopped over. Pretty ugly, too.
Ampersand, I have written a few articles on companion planting. I found the subject really interesting starting about 17 years ago. I still plant tomatoes and basil together and onions along with them. I have heard that carrots are very good for fruit trees, but due to the root systems it would be difficult to plant carrots around the trunks of trees. What I find more beneficial is growing mounds of lavender in my rose garden and surrounding perennial boarders for better pollination. Also, when roses take a break from blooming the lavender fills in the blanks. Really pretty and fragrant. My trees favorite companion is the bee.
Some plants are natural companions for better or worse. One example is blackberries and poison ivy. You seldom see a blackberry patch without poison ivy. Why is that you might ask? Little is known about these associations but I can tell you for example oak leaves are high in calcium and some plants such as apples love calcium. Some trees such as black walnut or cedar are alleopathic to reduce competitive plants. They have no companions. Some plants are not really companions they just like the same types of soil like blueberries and other acid soil lovers may grow in the same area. Then other plants benefit from each other when grown together but don’t do so naturally like carrots and tomatoes or oats and red clover. Mullein grows on poor soil as does invasive species but they are not friend but rather competitors. This year I planted autumn olive by grapes with plans to improve production through nitrogen fixation of the autumn olives. The grape yields were instead reduced by half and the autumn olives must come out.
Check out Tobey Hemingway’s Gaia’s Garden for a good overview of the permaculture “guild” concept, somewhat like companion planting on steriods. I grow a variety of perennials, shrubs, vines in between fruit trees. I use a LOT of comfrey around my trees, along with daffodils, chives, garlic, rhubarb, horseradish, clovers, yarrow, goldenrod, baptisia, tansy, mints, etc. Newly planted trees sometimes have annual foodcrops grown around them like squash, peas, beans. I also inoculate woodchip mulch with stropharia mushroom spawn.
Does it help grow more better fruit? Who knows! I know that comfrey improves the soil tilth, feeds bees, provideo spider habitat while shading out grass and producing a nice mulch crop.
I also use some nitrogen fixing shrubs like Clark, eleagnus(already in local fields, just transplanting), local speckled alder, honey and black locust trees. These I am considering nurse plants that I will whack back when they start competing with my fruit trees, or using as supports, posts for vine trellises.
Some traditional fruits that were grown in orchard understories are the ribes family, currants and gooseberries. I think cane fruits fit in well interplanted in line with my standard trees, there are currants, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, hazelnuts.
Keeps me busy!
Living mulches and food forests are companion plantings of sorts. Plants that do well together will thrive. I let annuals like arugula, nasturtium, chives, cilantro, purslane, and dichondra grass grow, reseed and spread along side my trees. Not much science behind it, except maybe the law of competitive exclusion when it comes to less desirable weeds.
I think this is a very interesting topic. I do know that the trees planted near my berries (the arborvitae supply plenty of acid to the soil) which they seem to love. The berries are huge and excellent every year. Not all sprays kill bees.
Organic or permatculture is much more labor,time intensive and timing critical especially here in the Northeast. I would very much like to be able to apply surround, or bag the fruit or trap etc. but I can’t .
Although I try to use lightest touch in order for me to be able to harvest anything I must include some chemical insecticidal and fungicidal sprays. Much as I would like, I don’t think that companion planting which includes flowering can be synchronized with my reality.
From what I understand, this used to be the standard practice, even on commercial orchards. Small fruits, vegetables, field crops or even filler trees were planted between the primary apple trees and provided some income and perhaps soil improvement until the apples reached production age. A 1915 book by Albert Wilkinson from Cornell discussed it in some detail.
I noticed pumpkins inter-cropped with semidwarf apple trees in a Virginia orchard I visited in August, so it still takes place even in a commercial orchard