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How to Create the Perfect Fruit Tree Guild Layout for Permaculture

Fruit tree guilds are a fabulous feature of many permaculture gardens. These guilds are essentially collections of plants that work together to improve the health and productivity of the tree at their heart. 

The concept is simple. However, achieving the perfect fruit tree guild layout and determining the best plants to grow within each guild can be surprisingly complex. Below, you will find some guidelines to help you create the perfect fruit tree guild layout. 

Sound good?

Let us begin!

Top Tips for the Perfect Fruit Tree Layout

  • Remember, there is no one perfect guild! You need to design specifically for your particular climate, location, property, and your desires and preferences. 
  • Consider the specific functions you require from a guild, working from patterns to details to create a design. 
  • Guilds will usually extend to the mature drip-line of a tree but can expand even further. 
  • Consider access, making entryways and pathways through or around a guild. 
  • Aim to maximize ecological function without overly increasing competition for the tree at the heart of the guild. 
  • Consider root forms of plants in the guild, planting deeper rooted species closer to the tree, which will not compete excessively with the central tree for water and nutrients. 

What Exactly Is a Fruit Tree Guild?

To work out the optimal layout for your guild and the right plants to include within it? It is helpful to look more closely at what a fruit tree guild is – and how they work.

Fruit tree guilds are collections of plants that work well with one another while benefiting the fruit tree at the center of the guild. These collections of plants are polycultures!

They might include shrubs, climbers, and herbaceous plants. Herbaceous plants include ground cover species. We also consider features in the root zone (rhizosphere).

While plants make up many layers of a fruit tree guild, we should also remember the countless living creatures involved. Micro-organisms like fungi and bacteria, wildlife, and even humans like us contribute to the system. 

It is critical to choose and combine plants carefully. Your primary goal is to discover how to create a system that will thrive with minimal intervention where you live. Select the layout and plants based on your climate, microclimate, soil, and other site specifics. 

ripe pomelo tree in citrus garden fruit tree guild
Permaculture is all about observing and mimicking the organic relationships between plants, trees, and shrubs found in nature! Effective fruit tree and plant guilds amplify the beauty of nature by summoning honeybees and butterflies while promoting healthy soil. Fruit tree guild companions can also produce plenty of food. Without needing synthetic fertilizers or artificial insecticides! The best tree guilds usually contain native crops and also support local wildlife.

The Functions of a Fruit Tree Guild

To begin working out the best layout for a fruit tree guild, we need to think about what objectives the guild aims to achieve and how those goals get met. 

Fruit tree guilds accomplish the following.

  • Boost biodiversity and create more resilient ecosystems.
  • Provide additional yields allowing you to grow more food and other helpful plants around your primary fruit production.
  • Bring environmental benefits like creating shade, suppressing weedy grass growth, and reducing moisture losses.
  • Gather nutrients through dynamic accumulation – especially taking up water and nutrients not directly accessible to the tree. 
  • Provide organic matter, which can be chopped and dropped to maintain fertility in the area. 
  • Help repel, confuse or distract pest species, playing a role in keeping fruit trees safe. 
  • Attract pollinators, predators, and other beneficial wildlife to your garden. 
  • Respects nature while producing a breathtaking, bountiful, and organic ecosystem for all.

Remember, your goal is to create a thriving polyculture that provides these benefits without having any detrimental effect, through competition, on the fruit tree around which it envelopes.

Read More – Okinawa Spinach Growing Guide! From Plant to Harvest!

How Big Should a Fruit Tree Guild Be?

There is no maximum size for a fruit tree guild. A guild of beneficial plants around a fruit tree will typically extend at least to the tree’s drip line.

But it can extend much further out from the tree itself and even be joined up into larger ecological systems throughout the entire garden. 

For larger guilds, it will be particularly vital to think not only about the plants but also about access. Think carefully about how you will move through and harvest from the growing area, creating pathways or stepping stones amid the planting. 

What Should I Plant Below Fruit Trees in a Permaculture Garden?

Of course, always choose the plants for your specific location and site. However, here are some general guidelines for a temperate climate fruit tree guild.

  • Plant deep-rooted dynamic accumulators in a circle around the base of the tree. These might include, for example, comfrey and yarrow in temperate climate zones. 
  • Add nitrogen-fixing species to maintain soil nitrogen and fertility levels around these plants. Some examples include Elaeagnus subspecies, legumes, and clovers
  • Add plants for edible yields suited to the environmental conditions. Numerous examples can thrive in the dappled shade below fruit trees, including fruiting shrubs, perennial brassicas, wild strawberries, mallows, sorrels, mints, and more. 
  • Add more edibles and ground cover plants around the sunnier fringes of the guild, including, for example, vining cucurbits, Mediterranean herbs, and numerous native flowers. 
  • Place plants around the fringe of the guild, which can suppress weed and grass ingress into the area. You might include, for example, ephemeral spring bulbs or a range of native ground cover plants. 
wild white flowers yarrow achillea green leaves
Yarrow is a hardy and beautiful perennial flower that grows in many soil types and tree guild settings. Homesteaders also refer to yarrow as Achillea millefolium, green arrow, woundwort, or yarroway. Their gorgeous blossoms are often white, yellow, pink, or red. It’s also famous for helping soothe the common cold and other ailments like toothaches and cramps.

What Should I Plant in the Fruit Tree Guild?

Remember to choose fruit trees and guild plants while considering the following.

  • The climate and microclimate.
  • Water availability.
  • The soil and soil characteristics. 
  • Your personal preferences and needs.
  • Seek native crops that survive and thrive in your region.

Read More – The Seven Layers of the Food Forest Explained!

Example Apple Tree Guild

apple tree guild example

Above is one example of an apple tree guild. This one is suited to specific conditions in my exact location. But, it may accommodate a range of cooler-temperate climate sites and can be adapted to include plants native or naturalized in your area. The guild contains the following.

Autumn Olive

Autumn olive for nitrogen fixation! And edible berries in some locations. (Please note, however, that this can be invasive in some areas, where other plants would be better suited for nitrogen fixation.)

Gooseberries

Gooseberries rock for increasing yield by providing berries, even in partial or dappled shade.

Comfrey

Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator to chop and drop. A medicinal plant, and great for beneficial pollinators and immaculate wildlife attraction. 

Yarrow

Another dynamic accumulator! It’s a spectacular wildlife attractant. It’s also a stellar medicinal plant.

Foxgloves

It’s excellent for insect and pollinator attraction. (Though please note that this is poisonous.) It is a biennial and self-seeds readily. 

Good King Henry

this perennial provides leafy greens to eat in moderation and an asparagus substitute in spring. It is one of many edible leafy greens you might include. 

Mints

Mints are on the shadier side of the guild. Culinary herb, and may help in repelling pest species. 

Perennial Alliums

Perennial members of the onion family help keep the grass at bay and provide edible yields. These may also help confuse, distract or repel pest species. 

Catmint

Attractive edging, edible, wildlife attractant. 

Thyme

Beneficial wildlife attractant, good ground cover. 

Wild Strawberries

Superb! Edible, delicious, and easy to maintain. Excellent ground cover. 

This is just one example. We advise choosing plants specifically for your region and growing zone! Consider the exact location of your garden when choosing plants for a fruit tree guild. 

Remember, also, that the guild members may alter. You will likely add to and adapt the guild as the tree grows! And as conditions change over time. 

Read More – If You’re Growing Apple Trees, Then Read Our Apple Tree Guild Chart for Free!

Can Different Fruit Trees Be Planted Together?

A fruit tree guild might surround just a single fruit tree within a small garden. However, if you have more space to play with, you can create combined systems that incorporate more than one fruit tree and larger, biodiverse, layered planting areas.

By expanding the concept of a fruit tree guild, you could potentially turn your whole backyard into a food forest or forest garden. 

How to Create Guilds Around More Than One Tree

If you are interested in creating a food forest or forest garden, it can be helpful to think about this regarding creating a series of smaller fruit tree guilds. 

We often think about creating roughly circular fruit tree guilds around a single tree. But fruit tree guilds do not necessarily have to be circular. 

You might also consider, for example, creating rows of fruit trees or hedgerows, with strips of guild planting along the base of the row or spreading out from it. 

These rows of planting might get created along contours on your property, perhaps planting on berms alongside on-contour swales which help manage water flow sustainably on-site. 

Responding to the terrain and larger patterns on your homestead, you can develop holistic plans, which allow you to make the most of your property through fruit trees and guild planting. 

beautiful purple comfrey flower blooming in nature
Violet teardrop-shaped comfrey flowers are a welcome sight for any food forest, garden, or tree guild setting. Comfrey has a reputation as a medicinal herb – but it’s also edible, and it looks beautiful as an ornamental plant. The leaves also pack tons of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, making it a composting powerhouse. They’re also hardy and can outcompete weeds!

Preparing to Create a Fruit Tree & Guild

  • Select fruit trees based on your location, the site’s characteristics, and personal preferences. (Remember that the best guild planting and layout can differ depending on which specific type of fruit tree you have chosen to grow.)
  • Decide where and how to place these trees on your property. 
  • Create planting plans for a guild and think about which plants could help your guild fulfill the different functions mentioned above. 
  • Create an overall plan for the layout, thinking about specific plant properties and requirements. Also, consider practical elements like access for harvesting and maintenance. 
  • Think about how you can maintain healthy soil and create a healthy ecosystem from the outset. 

How Do You Plant a Fruit Guild?

  • First, plant your fruit tree (or trees) in a suitable spot if one is not already present. 
  • Mark the outer extent for your guild.
  • If there is grass below the tree, lay cardboard to suppress its growth.
  • Apply a mulch of organic material, covering the cardboard completely, but don’t pile this around the tree trunk.
  • Make holes within the board to plant smaller trees, shrubs, and larger perennial plants to your heart’s desire.
  • Cover the organic materials with good quality compost or topsoil, leaf mold, or other topdressing material. Use this organic covering to sow or plant smaller plant members of the guild. 
  • Add wood chips around the tree to fill gaps until planting becomes more established. 
  • Consider adding additional features to entice wildlife, including rocks, stumps, dead wood, et cetera.
  • Slowly add plant members to your guild and consider expanding it over time. 

But – your task of managing your permaculture tree guild never ends.

Make sure that you adapt to the situation as things change over time!

wild fragaria vesca strawberry plants with green leaves
Strawberries are one of our favorite perennial fruits that make excellent tree guild companions! Strawberries self-pollinate but adore the help of beneficial pollinators. We love Flavorfest and Allstar strawberries because they’re easy to grow and fend off diseases better than other cultivars. They are the ultimate ground-cover crop that you can also eat.

Conclusion

Fruit tree guilds are an effective way to prepare an abundant wealth of fresh and colorful forage, fruit, mushrooms, and goodies for you – and wildlife!

We hope our fruit tree guild guide helps you brainstorm creative ways to improve the balance of organic cultures in your area.

Remember to consider your local region when choosing the best fruit tree guild companions – and try to respect nature during every step of the process.

That way – it’s impossible to lose.

Thanks so much for reading.

Have a fantastic day!

Read More – 13 Trees That Tolerate Rocky Soil! Fruit Trees Included!

Author

  • Elizabeth Waddington is a permaculture designer, consultant, and writer. She has been a keen gardener for many years and has a 1/3 acre garden with a food forest, rescue chickens, wildlife-friendly woodland garden and pond, polytunnel, and vegetable beds. As well as working to grow her own food at home, she also helps others around the world on their journey towards a more sustainable way of life through her design and consultancy work, and through writing articles about organic gardening and sustainability.