Good companion planting with Apple trees help deter pests, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and also assist the plants to grow to their full potential. Companion plants can help retain moisture and keep weeds down; they can also be used as living mulches that are cut back and allowed to decompose around tree root zones for added nutrients. Some companion plants have long taproots that reach deep within the soil and pull up valuable minerals and nutrients that benefit all the plants around them.
An apple tree guild is a group of companion plants planted around the base of your apple tree that benefits the apple tree, and the plants surrounding it.
Companion plants are chosen based on the functions they can perform. Each companion plant performs one or more functions to benefit the apple tree, and the plants surrounding it by interacting with soil microorganisms, insects and animals to create a mini interconnected ecosystem of companion plants that would normally be found growing together, and help each other out by deterring pests, increasing disease resistance and increasing pollination rates.
Beneficial Companion Plants For Apple Tree
There are several different plants that are beneficial to apple tree companions. The following plants include apple tree companions that deter pests and enrich the soil when cutting back and left as mulch:
For instance, Comfrey,Symphytum officinale, or comfrey herb plant, has a long history of use as a medicinal herb but not as a culinary plant. Otherwise known as knitbone or slippery root, comfrey plants have been used medicinally since 400 BC to stop heavy bleeding and to treat bronchial issues. From the family Boraginaceae, comfrey is a perennial herb with a spreading habit that attains a height of up to 4 feet. This plant is native to Europe and Asia where it thrives in moist, shady locations and bears ½-inch-long flowers in May. The leaves of the comfrey are deep green in color, hairy and 10 inches or so in length. This plant is a good companion plant for apple tree.
Functions of Apple Tree Companion
Companion plants are meant to provide multiple functions to benefit the apple tree and the other plants in the guild. The main functions we look out for are:
- Suppress Grass and Weeds
- Attract Beneficial Insects
- Repel Damaging Insects
- Provide Biomass for Mulch
- Fertilize the Soil
#1. Suppress Weed Growth
Suppressors are groups of plants whose function is to prevent grass and weeds from growing around the base of the apple tree and competing for important nutrients.
Bulbed plants like garlic, onions, and leeks, do a great job at repelling grass and weeds. Bulbed plants can be planted in a circle around the tree at the drip line. Their shallow feeder roots will outcompete grasses that try to invade, and by the mid-summer heat, the bulbs will slow their growth and go dormant and won’t rob the apple tree of its much-needed water. Daffodils is also a good apple tree companion plant but are not edible and have the added benefit of repelling pests such as deer and gophers.
Vining squashes, rhubarb, mint, creeping thyme, and white clover are good cover crops that help shade the soil surface and prevent grass and weed seeds from germinating.
White clover is a multipurpose plant providing more than one benefit to your apple tree guild; it serves as a cover crop to suppress grass and weed seeds from germinating; it also attracts bees and other beneficial insects for pollination. White clover is a legume, thus, fixes nitrogen back into the soil.
#2. Attract Beneficial Insects
Beneficial insects are insects that aid pollination of the apple tree; the effects of these insects is to increase the pollination rate to boost fruit production. There are good numbers of beneficial insects like predatory wasps; aside from influencing pollination, these insects control the population of other pests like aphids to ensure they do not become a threat.
Wormwood planted around an apple tree helps repel codling moth, as the larvae of this pest reduce the quality of the apple fruits because they burrow into the apple to feed off its flesh, thus, causing great economic loss.
Similarly, plants like Angelica and dill are beneficial around apple trees as they both attract beneficial insects. Angelica and dill will attract lacewings, which help to control the activities of Aphids on the Apple trees
Mint and lemon balm, like Angelica, are also perennial herbs useful in attracting many beneficial insects to the apple tree guild.
#3. Repel Detrimental Insects
Some plants repel harmful insects pests and animals. A good example is Nasturtiums; this plant is normally planted around apple trees to repel a wide variety of damaging insect pests. Nasturtiums possess exudates that repel pests. Other plants that repel damaging apple tree insects are Chives, Chrysanthemums, Garlic, Marigold, etc.
Chives and Chrysanthemums are very effective at repelling Japanese beetles that eat your apple tree leaves, which may reduce photosynthesis. It was also observed that chives prevent scab when planted around apple trees. Garlic planted around the apple tree guild helps in repelling aphids, moths, Japanese beetles, and plum curculio
Rabbit is a major pest of apple tree, especially the young Apple tree. Rabbits are known for stripping the bark off the base of the trunk of a young Apple tree, making it susceptible to pathogens of other pests and diseases. Planting Marigolds around apple trees can greatly help repel rabbits and keep the apple trees and fruits in the best condition before and after maturity.
Benefits of Apple Tree Companion Plants
The benefits of an apple tree guild are to:
- Maximize the productivity of the understory
- Maximize apple yields
- Reduce our workload
- Reduce the number of imported fertilizers and mulches to create a self-sustaining eco-system.