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How to Build an Apple Tree Guild [Examples, Companion Flowers, and More!]

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If you want to plant an apple tree in your garden, you should not cultivate it alone. In the wild, plants don’t grow in isolation. They grow in communities of plants. In your garden? You should mimic natural ecosystems and surround any new apple tree that you plant with an apple tree guild.

What Is an Apple Guild?

An apple guild or apple tree guild is a collection of plants specifically and carefully chosen to place around an apple tree in a particular location. The plants are selected to aid the apple tree, form a functioning ecosystem, and provide you with additional yields to help you make the most of your space. 

fruit guild with strawberries apples and pears
Here’s the perfect sample of an apple and fruit tree guild! You see dwarf pear trees and baby apple trees. Also, notice the abundant strawberry undergrowth. Strawberries make our favorite groundcover crop. Strawberries have the best yield when there are plenty of beneficial pollinators. Just like apple trees!

Why Create an Apple Tree Guild?

Creating an apple tree guild is something undertaken for a range of reasons. The perfect apple tree guild should:

  • Aid the tree at the heart of the guild.
  • Form beneficial interactions between plants and with local soil life and other wildlife. 
  • Provide you with a range of edible and other yields. 

The goal is to create symbiosis so that all the elements work together to create a harmonious ecosystem. An ecosystem that sustains itself over time and creates a relatively low-maintenance garden. 

Without increasing competition between plants too much, your aim when creating an apple tree guild is to boost biodiversity in your space, bringing benefits to the apple tree itself, local wildlife, and you and your household. 

Read More – Download Our FREE Apple Tree Guilds Chart! Perfect for Apple Tree Guild Plans!

What Should I Plant in the Fruit Tree Guild?

The most important thing to remember when deciding what to plant in any fruit tree guild is that plants should always get chosen regarding where you live and the particular site. 

Consider the following.

  • Your geographical location.
  • The climate and micro-climate where you live.
  • Sunlight, shade, wind, and water.
  • The soil type, pH, and other characteristics. 
  • What do you wish for the guild to provide?

There are times when you may wish to introduce non-native plants into your design. However, for the best possible results? I would always recommend including as many native plants to fill ecosystem niches as possible. 

It can be helpful to look at native plants for your area as you consider which plants are within each layer of your guild and which functions they may be able to fulfill.

small pear tree with ripe delicious fruit
If you’re going to grow apples – you may as well grow pears too! Since pears and apples have similar propagation requirements – they make the perfect food forest teammates. Pears are also tremendously easy to grow – making them the ideal food forest crop.

The Basic Elements for a Fruit Tree Guild

When creating a fruit tree guild, it can be helpful to consider the different layers of plant life. You will have:

  • The apple tree itself (which should get carefully chosen for your location and particular site).
  • Often shrubs or even smaller trees. 
  • Perhaps climbers and vines climbing up a more mature tree or growing nearby.
  • An entire range of herbaceous perennials! Both taller plants and ground cover species. 
  • Sometimes self-seeding annual or biennial plants. 
  • Bulbs, roots, and tubers in the rhizosphere (root zone). 

Not every guild will include all of those elements. But considering each will help you develop a fully-rounded and holistic design for the apple tree guild.

Read More – Creating Perfect Fruit Tree Guild Layouts for Permaculture!

Functions Plants in an Apple Tree Guild Should Fulfil

In an apple tree guild, you should have the following.

  • Plants to enhance environmental conditions (providing shade or ground cover, for example, and preventing grass and weeds from growing into the area).
  • Plants that help add or maintain fertility through nitrogen fixation. And plants that can dynamically gather nutrients (from lower levels of the soil, for example). These may provide nutrients to plants growing close by but are often chopped and dropped as a mulch to feed the system.
  • Species that attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife help keep the ecosystem balanced. It also helps keep pest numbers down through predation. 
  • Elements that confuse, distract or repel certain pests. 
  • Choose plants providing edible harvests or other yields such as herbal medicines, dyes, crafting materials, et cetera.

Also, remember that a guild can include life below the soil! And the other wildlife shares your space, too. These will form connections with the plants you choose and ensure that the (overall) ecosystem functions as it should. 

red apple tree with wooden picnic table
Your apple trees need pollinators. Loads of them! And since various pollen sources attract different pollinators – we recommend planting a diverse guild filled with various shrubs, flowers, and plants! The more pollinators – the more apples. Period!

Creating an Apple Tree Guild

  • Choose an appropriate location to plant an apple tree. 
  • Select your apple tree and initial guild species (remember that you may add to this as the apple tree matures and the system changes over time). Your initial design will be a starting point rather than an end destination.
  • Choose how large to make your guild. A guild will typically reach the mature drip-line of the tree but may extend over a larger area. Appletree guilds don’t have to be round. They can also get made in irregular shapes. You can also make linear guilds – like hedgerows, across the terrain. 
  • Prepare the site. You might be wondering – how do I prepare my soil for apple trees?

Preparing soil for apple trees may involve clearing the site manually of unwanted vegetation and undertaking earthworks to manage water on the site. It might include layering cardboard and sheet mulching.

Sheet mulching and cardboard help suppress grass and weed growth and protect and feed the soil before your apple tree guild gets established. But will be site-specific. 

  • Plant shrubs and perennial guild members, and sow seeds for certain species. 
  • Ensure you water and otherwise care for the apple tree and other plants as the system becomes established.

Read More – 10 Essential Crops for Your Backyard Permaculture Garden!

blackberry bush colorful berries plant
Blackberry shrubs and apple trees go together beautifully in your apple tree guild. Apples require oodles of pollinators for the best crop. Blackberry shrubs produce boatloads of nectar – and bees love them. Growing blackberries is also perfect for diverse food forests because they tolerate partial shade.

Apple Tree Guild Example

You’ll find one other example of an apple tree guild in my article about fruit tree guild layout. 

Remember that this example shows a guild created for a specific environment and site. There can be immense variety in apple tree guilds, and you certainly don’t have to stick to the most common plants used. This example is from my work as a permaculture garden designer, and I have designed many other guilds and food forest designs for my clients over the last few years. 

While you may choose the above elements for your guild and learn from them, you should always make sure that you understand your particular site! Strive to make selections and design decisions suited to it. 

Please note that some elements in guild examples given online can be invasive in some areas. Though, they will not pose a problem elsewhere. Always research plants carefully before you decide to use them in your garden, and embrace native options if possible.

apple tree guild example
There’s one easy way to make your food forest, homestead, or permaculture garden more balanced. It’s to add apple trees! Your local region will dictate the best indigenous shrubs, native crops, and plants to grow alongside your apple tree. But the above image lists some of our favorites.

Best Apple Tree Guild Flowers for Pollinators!

If your apple orchard or food forest has plenty of bees – we bet you’ll have more abundant yields every year.

The opposite is also true!

If your apple tree guild or garden lacks beneficial pollinators like bumblebees, honeybees, wasps, and native bees, it’s tough for your fruits and vegetables to take off as expected.

We’ve also read that around 75% of crops depend on pollinators! That’s one more reason you should grow plenty of wildflowers, fruit trees, groundcover crops, and native shrubs.

(It’s also why we always beg our friends to stop using synthetic herbicides and pesticides.)

So – do you want more bees and pollinators? Then we wrote the following list of our favorite wildflowers and mixed flower seeds. These seeds will get your food forest and apple guild pumping with life.

In no time!

We hope they help – and remember to keep feeding the bees.

For life!

  1. Bright Lights Cosmos Blend Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Cosmos are a vibrant annual flower that loves the full sun. They attract a wide array of pollinators - including hummingbirds. Cosmos is brilliant and colorful - and famously effortless to grow.

    The bright red, yellow, white, and orange flowers are around two to three inches. The plants themselves can reach over three feet tall.

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  2. Candystripe Cosmos Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Candy-striped cosmos are easily some of the most beautiful apple tree guild companions! These gorgeous annual flowers grow to around three to six feet - and they love full sun.

    But - candy cosmos can also tolerate shade if nestled along with fruit tree barriers. They mature in roughly two to three months. Oh yeah - bees also love them. Big time!

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  3. Diablo Cosmos Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Here's another brilliantly-orange bloom that we love. This fluffy cosmos flower brings plenty of nectar for beneficial pollinators. They handle the droughts and dry growing conditions better than most.

    They're also famously straightforward to grow - and don't mind being left alone.

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  4. Fairy Meadow Flower Mixed Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Want to turn your backyard into a multi-colored meadow? One that keeps you guessing? Here's a fun way to add massive variety to your fruit tree guild, apple orchard, or homestead.

    It includes tons of seeds, including California poppy, baby blue eyes, Johny-jump-up, Swiss giant pansy, spurred snapdragon, winter thyme, and tons more.

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  5. Hummingbird Haven Flower Mix Seeds | Botanical Interests

    We think hummingbirds are one of the most exciting creatures for tree guilds and gardens! So - this seed bundle endeavors to summon as many hummingbirds as possible. Sounds good!

    The packet includes butterfly weed, bee balm, coral bells, foxglove, penstemon, red-hot poker, and other favorites of these glorious birds.

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  6. Orange California Poppy Seeds | Botanical Interests

    California poppy flowers add a brilliant shade of orange to your backyard garden or tree guild. They deliver breathtaking blossoms in the summer.

    They're another wildflower that grows in the middle of nowhere - all by themselves. They're straightforward to cultivate - and (seemingly) don't mind deplorable soil conditions.

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  7. Plains Coreopsis Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Want a summer flower that still blossoms in the fall? Then coreopsis is a favorite of ours. It helps attract bees and butterflies for sweet nectar.

    You might find that birds love snacking upon the seeds as well. It's another famously-hardy flower - and the cuttings make perfect bouquets.

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  8. Southern Hills and Plains Flowers Mixed Seeds | Botanical Interests

    Here's a multicolor seed pack to help vitalize your apple tree guild from summer until snow. It packs loads of colorful hues and pollinators in a tiny package.

    The mixed seeds include Texas bluebonnet, purple coneflower, scarlet sage, standing cypress, and lemon mint. Plus more!

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Building an apple tree guild around your core trees is an excellent way to promote ample apple harvests.

Remember that apple trees need abundant bees to provide a high yield.

Which native shrubs, flowers, and crops help attract indigenous pollinators in your region?

Start there!

That’s an excellent way to begin brainstorming your ideal apple tree guild companions.

We also find that evergreen shrubs, fruit trees, native flowers, and groundcover crops go well in many apple tree guild and food forest settings.

What about you?

What are your favorite apple tree guild companions?

Or – maybe you’re planning an apple tree but can’t decide which cultivar might work for your region?

Let us know in the comments!

We love discussing all things permaculture and gardening.

Thanks for reading – and have a great day!

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