Apple Tree Guild: 

I was visiting my mother in Southeast Missouri this summer, and like every summer for the past 10 years since she planted it, I checked on her apple tree. It has been struggling because it is in heavy competition with grass. This year she agreed that I could help her create an apple tree guild so she can increase apple production.

In nature, a guild is a group of plants that commonly grow together. They enjoy the same climate and soil conditions and can either have a neutral effect on each other or have a positive effect. In domestic landscaping, we often place plants where we want to see them but fail to provide adequately for their needs. So, if you have a struggling specimen in your garden, do a little research an see how you can help it with companion plants.

For mother's apple tree, I chose several plants and strategiesthat will help it thrive. First, I wanted to eliminate grass competition so I sheet mulched with cardboard boxes. Next, I wanted to start feeding the tree the way nature intended. All trees shed leaves and branches so instead of clearing them away, we left them under the tree. This is valuable mulch that reduces soil evaporation, suppresses weed or grass competition and protects the soil life that breaks down debris, turning it into food for plants. Then, I chose bulbs of daffodil, crocus and chives to guard the drip line from encroaching grass and to deter animal pests like deer and rabbits. Next, I added dynamic accumulators of comfrey, artichoke, yarrow and rhubarb. These have deep taproots that mine the soil for nutrients. Their leaves make nutrient dense mulch to feed the more shallow rooted plants supporting the guild. I added nasturtiums to repel harmful insects and dill to attract beneficial insects. I also added seasonal nitrogen fixers from the bean and pea family like pole beans and sweet peas. These can actually grow up the tree eliminating the need for trellis.

All of the above plants are edible, medicinal or both. They help create a beautifully diverse garden area with increased productivity.