Companion Planting

Some companion planting can be good for the crop (like legumes) but also a host for pests. Legumes are generally not recommended as companions for most tree fruit in commercial orchards because the legumes host catfacing insects, particularly stink bug.

Mike makes a point that, for folks who have to spray, inter-dispersed companion plants frequently harbor beneficial insects like predators and bees. Spraying with those plants in place would just kill those beneficials.

Lastly, we’ve discussed before the possibility that leaving “wild areas” away from the orchard as a haven for predators may, or may not help. Most commercial guidelines recommend wild areas, but I wonder how much research has actually been done in a controlled experiment with the pest pressure frequently experienced in areas which receive rain in the summer.

My own experience is pest pressure is greater in unmowed areas. There are more predators, but also more pest pressure. This is what I would expect. A “natural” habitat has more life in general, compared to destruction of natural habitat (i.e. mowing).


I hope my last post didn’t come across as against companion planting or permaculture in general. I think permaculture has a place for those who understand its benefits, and limitations.

I also think it has a presence in gardening as mentioned w/ perhaps tomatoes/basil, etc. I think it has significant limitations in fruit growing (excl. tomatoes, pawpaws, etc.).

I perused through the Stonegate Website and, while I applaud the owner’s passion for his mission, I don’t think his philosophy has much application for fruit growing in warm wet areas. He really doesn’t grow much fruit, except grapes in a greenhouse, a few berries, and a pic or two of some apples. He mentioned he is just starting to grow tree fruit in the “what we grow” section.

My guess is that he will be in for an awakening when his fruit trees start to produce. It’s likely his techniques will not transfer to his outside fruit growing, although he may have a better shot where he’s at than where I’m at. Alan is in his area and able to get good fruit w/ two sprays, something I could not do here.

Really his passion reflects his religion to me (at least that’s how I read his philosophy - in the “meet the farmer” section). I’ve nothing against that, I’m a religious person myself. I think most religion contains some truth, but no I’ve also come to realize no religion gives you exactly what you want, or even sometimes what you need. My own example (because I believe in God) would be 6 mil. Jews who died in the Holocaust, all the while praying for deliverance, while they watched themselves and their children starve to death or go to gas chambers.

I’m not saying any of this to make a case against organic horticulture (organic works if it’s limitations are recognized). Just a reminder of limitations.

The reason I am writing about this (I hope I’m not writing too much) is that when I read about the Stonegate farmer it reminded me of an apple orchard located about 40 or 50 miles from me. It had a long history until about 5 years ago the owner had a stroke and sold the place. It was purchased by a couple who believed they could take it organic. I read their blog regularly and they wrote a lot the same way the owner of Stonegate does.

Their first year of organic production was a good year for them. It never rained that summer (2012). Their next year was a failure they claimed was a result they didn’t get their nutritional sprays on. I’m not sure how much production they had in 2014, but I have a friend w/ an orchard somewhat close to theirs and he said he was getting some of their customers who didn’t have many good things to say about the organic orchard. The new owners sold the orchard in 2015. The owners continually attacked conventional production in their blog and Facebook. Even when they sold the orchard this year, they still went out attacking conventional production.

Again, organic is doable. Mr. Clint and millions of others are doing it either in climates where summer rain is minimal, or in very cold climates, or planting crops which are conducive to organic culture. I know there are places in the Northeast where folks are raising apples organically (some on this forum). I just want to bring light an organic farm with a Web presence isn’t always what it seems to be (of course this can be true for many businesses with a Web presence).


All well said! I don’t think enough people really understand what it means to do permaculture and organic orcharding. It has limitations as you said. If you read the original permaculture books most plants they use are for fodder and soil building.

Myself, I am not organic but prefer organic and low input approaches to pest management. That being said, I’ll spray spectracide for PC since the organic controls aren’t reliable. I’ll take my Liberty and Enterprise that need minimal spraying over something that needs regular spraying. Also why I don’t really bother with stone fruits.


Organic is tough, and extremely time consuming. I can’t imagine doing it here without the orchard right on the property, or at anything aproaching true comercial scale.

John bunker of fedco has been planting a new orchard that uses companion planting extensively. It will be very interesting to see how that develops.

I think mike is right about companion planting if your following a conventional spray regime. You may well end up doing more damage than good to your benificails and the surrounding environment, as you entice in elements of the Eco sytem and then hit it unpredictably (relative to the critters perception). They are better off finding (or being provided with) habitat around the margins.


I have the luxury of some space outside my orchard.

I am open to planting a bunch of enticing mini meadow areas on the approaches to the orchard to which pests can be lured and enjoyed by the predators. :blush: :innocent:

I don’t know if that concept holds water but if anyone has suggestions I am happy to try.

My orchard is a fenced in 150’x50’ rectangle with woods 25 feet from and along one side and mowed areas on the other three sides.


Yes, the point was that people are growing organic all over the place every day and no one is using unicorn poop and leprechaun tears. It’s real. I did a 3 second search in @MES111 locale. There may be better examples, but it’s up to individuals to do the homework.

One thing I’ve noticed is that repetitive freeze-outs year after year does wonders to reduce bug pressures.

Agreed, but I think their needs to be qualifiers from both perspectives. The qualifiers I put on my statement were (full quote) “Again, organic is doable. Mr. Clint and millions of others are doing it either in climates where summer rain is minimal, or in very cold climates, or planting crops which are conducive to organic culture.”

Repetitive freeze outs would have me looking to move somewhere warmer. :sunny:

What does organic really mean? Most of the small commercial growers I know no longer use the Organic label even if they are 100% chemical free. The organic certification cost a lot of money and they do not like the process. Its more common to find Organic produce at Whole Foods than at the local farmer’s market. I hear the word “Organic” a lot, but few customers understand the true meaning of the term. I’m going to substitute “non chemical” in place of organic

Several factors determine the feasibility of non chemical production of food. Is the food for personal consumption or for resale? Is the climate satisfactory for non chemical production? Is the target crop satisfactory for non chemical production.

A lot of commercial non chemical food production takes place in my area and it grows each year. Most of the produce is sold through farmers markets or through CSA. Hundreds of different types of fruits and vegetables, even organic milk and chicken feed are sold, but no Apples or Peaches. Several of the non chemical Blueberry and Blackberry growers experienced a big outbreak of SWD a few years ago and lost their entire crop. Low chemical or even some non chemical production of tree fruit may be possible in my area for personal consumption, but defects will be large and consumable output will be small.

The proper climate changes everything! I believe the largest grower of organic apples is located in an area of Washington state that receives about 10 inches of rain. The same grower is also one of the largest growers of conventional apples. The certified organic apples are sometimes grown as a dedicated block inside the conventional orchard which reduces disease and insect pressure. Growing the proper crop in the proper area makes this commercial organic apple production possible and profitable, but I don’t expect to see the same thing in my area.

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Yes it is possible but there is a trade-off. Even for us who are not growing commercially and therefore can accept fewer and less than perfect fruit, it is much more time and labor intensive. And for me in my situation, if I want any fruit I must spray. I am following the lightest spray regimen I can get away with, but spray I must.

Last summer (2014) my trees were very young and had verrry minimal fruit set. I left some on the trees just to see and I did not spray at all. I was not able to pick a single fruit…

See below for this year’s partial stone fruit harvest.


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Can we all agree that organic can work but it’s not for everyone in every situation? I foresee this becoming contentious very rapidly!

More on the intercropping discussed earlier, I’m thinking about planting some dwarf melons (or cukes or squash) under my smaller fruit trees next year. I’m always looking for a way to squeeze more food out of my square footage! Last year I did peppers as mentioned, and also leeks. Which reminds me, I need break out those leeks and make some soup!

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I can only partially agree. Organic and conventional methods both work. Neither approach needs to be qualified with “can” work as both can also fail. Which path you take is simply a matter of choice. What, when & how we grow are matters of choice. There’s a silent block of organic growers here if you pay close enough attention.

For inter-cropping info, do forum & google searches on food forests, living mulches and permaculture. Lots of data on what folks are doing.


Well said. Thanks, Bill

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I have often thought about planting Elbon Rye around my fruit trees to help control nematodes. The extension service suggested planting Elbon Rye as a cover crop in vegetables gardens to control nematodes. I would have tried it but I do not have a local source for rye seed.

Ah, yes. Elbon rye is a Texas A&M nematode control from 2009 (or earlier?). I can’t speak to such a specific recommendation. I know that ample organic matter (compost, leaf mold, good commercial organic fertilizer, etc) and sufficient watering keeps nematodes at bay in my locale. Let the soil dry out and organic matter dissipate, and nematodes are sure to follow here.

I am going to bump this thread to ask if anybody has any more experience with this? I am interested in the idea of companion planting and tree guilds, but I am kind of confused about the details. Maybe there is a lot of misinformation out there or maybe it really works and that is why I am asking you guys.
For my soil nitrogen fixers would be a must, but do they out compete your trees for other resources? I tried growing the 3 sisters once and it was a horrible failure. All of the plants did worse because they were competing too much for water and sunlight! So obviously these things have to be thought out and applied correctly.
I see a lot of talk about dynamic accumulators like comfrey. My confusion here is that all of my fruit trees are much larger than comfrey with larger roots, wouldn’t the tree be the biggest bio-accumulator in the guild, so why have it? For the mulch?
Last do the deterrent plants really work? I have a lot of pest pressure and don’t understand how they can be enough? Just some thoughts thanks

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I will give you my take on companion planting/guilds based upon my observations over some years. I think companion planting does help, but it is NOT a panacea. I have seen onions inter-planted with cabbages cause the spotted cabbage moths to move on and not land on the cabbages. And I suppose inter-planting comfrey or other deep rooted plants near fruit trees does in the long run bring some subsoil nutrients to the trees. And in theory plants can share N and other nutrients via fungal networks (if those are active in your soils). However, with most of these combos, I expect the effects to be years in the making. I would not expect that inter-planting say an N fixing plant would eliminate the need to add N fertilizer of some sort if that was needed in my soil, at least certainly not for the current season. Much of added nutrients these companion plants offer, they do after this growing season when the plant tops and roots break down. And yes, the companion plants will compete with the other plants; and depending upon your situation that may be a problem for the current growing season (if you have limited water say, or a low in N in your soils).

But long term, done taking into account your local limits, I think they are a net benefit. Comfrey produces tons of vegetative growth, and can be cut back and used for mulch a couple of times a year in my area (although as Michael Phillips says, once you plant comfrey you will never be rid of it). I think (have not done conclusive studies) that N loving crops do better when planted after beans in the rotation. And so on. However I have never had the expectation that say if I plant beans with my corn I can skip any N fertilizer that season (I have N poor soil); although I have seen articles which do give that impression.

FWIW, here are my thoughts. It does help, but it is not sufficient alone to build up a soil; at least not for quite a few years.


@gregkdc , @Steve333

Companion planting is merely a truncated attempt to mimic nature’s diversity. All we can hope for is for a partial solution to a problem and not its elimination.

The ultimate attempt at " companion planting" is to create a very diverse “food forest”. The goal is to
strike a better (not perfect) balance of the beneficials (both animal and microbial) to mitigate the damage caused by the pestoids.

I have seen examples of these “food forests” with a tremendously high degree of plant diversity which seem to work very very well. I don’t see this method being scaled to a LARGE “commercial” operation, but, could work for a backyard orchard reducing the need for spraying.

So any discussion of inter-planting and companion planting must be had with the acceptance of the fact that it will not be a panacea that solves all issues.

Just my 1.5 cents



I’m actually attempting to create a FF.
Companion planting can be 7 legume trees to nurse one fruit tree or a small shrub grown in the partial shade of a fruit tree that blooms a certain color or a specific time of the year to keep pollinators around. These are just 2 of many design elements.

My project requires lots of biomass to be produced. I need lots of suckering nitrogen fixers that I can constantly chop and drop. Eventually (fingers crossed) the high value trees will shade out and kill the nitrogen fixing shrubs and trees.

It’s called succession.