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What to grow underneath my apple trees?

 
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My budding permaculture paradise on 3/4 acre currently includes a line of fruit trees (apple, pear, peach, cherry) and I want to put plants underneath them to contribute to the soil conditions the trees need, get more food, and generally keep the mower away from the trees. The plants I'm asking about should be good for apple trees (Honeycrisp and Fuji), and I don't know if it matters...would the same plants do well underneath the others? Any real life experience you've had with doing this, I'd be so happy if you shared.
 
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Morell mushrooms love to coexist with apple trees
 
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I plant blueberries and blackberries under the dripline and they have done well.
 
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I have lavender under one of my apple trees and both are doing well.
 
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I plan on incorporating comfrey around my apple trees. I will use it as a chop and drop mulch/fertilizer.
 
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Lupines are a nitrogen fixer.

Daffodils are said to repel deer.
 
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My current program is to get garlic and daffodils in close around the tree for repellant and a ring of comfrey out three feet or more. I've also grown runner beans up the apple trees without seeming to hurt them. but my trees are young and so I can't really demonstrate success yet.
 
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Hi all!  We talked about an Apple Guild in particular in our recent workshop on guilds and our permaculture garden design app called SAGE.

Below is one option, though certainly not the definitive take on the subject.

I've also written more about guilds on https://www.permaculturegardens.org/permaculture-guilds





BUILD-A-GUILD-SAGE-Apple-Guild.png
what to plant under apple trees
 
Jim Garlits
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This is the type of thing I was looking for. Thanks so much. Any more info on SAGE? It sounds interesting.

Nicky Schauder wrote:Hi all!  We talked about an Apple Guild in particular in our recent workshop on guilds and our permaculture garden design app called SAGE.

Below is one option, though certainly not the definitive take on the subject.

I've also written more about guilds on https://www.permaculturegardens.org/permaculture-guilds





 
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What I grow under/around our fruit trees, and everywhere else not barn or pasture, is the best grass that will grow. Then I cut the grass with a mower with bagger. I rotate sections, so I always have high grass ready to cut. Every bit of the grass I mow goes to the various animals we have. For them, it's like candy, -sweet, young, fresh. That way I cut way down on the pasture the animal's graze. Then in late Fall/early Winter, there's good pasture left for the cows etc. By letting the grass grow longer than usual, it helps preserve more soil moisture. And by resting the pasture most of the Summer, it does better.
 
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Lots of great suggestions, only two more that I'd add - winecaps (stropharia rugosoannulata) and borage. The trees in our community garden are mulched with woodchips so the wine caps are really productive  
 
pollinator
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I took some advice and planted chives around my fruit trees .....can't say that I regret it.
 
pollinator
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I would highly recommend The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, and Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway for great answers for this.

In addition to all fruit trees benefitting from regenerative soil practices leading to fungally diverse soil, Michael Phillips emphasizes apples’ and other fruits’ high demand for biologically available Calcium. For this reason, and my soil’s low Ca (with high Magnesium), I use oyster shell as my primary Ca input (it has no Magnesium). This is mixed with compost or diluted in vinegar extractions. I also encourage Ca accumulators like comfrey as well as encouraging and chopping and dropping similarly beneficial plants often considered weeds like dandelion, dock, plantain, sheep sorrel, and yarrow. These can all be water extracted/fermented as well for Ca rich foliar sprays. Mitigating leaching of Ca, which is water soluble, is also helpful. So I keep all soil covered with plants, woody debris, leaves or ramial woodchips.

For an asian pear guild, nitrogen may be less emphasized than one may want with apples. This is because pears, and asian pears in particular, are prone to overgrowing vegetatively and becoming disease prone with excess N. Pears also need more pollinator help, so diverse wild bee attracting/supporting flowers and habitat may get more emphasized with pears than apples. Of course some of all these beneficial components is still good in any case.

In general, I find it much easier to provide better, more climate appropriate answers if a question poster has their general region, altitude, precipitation, latitude, and growing zone in their profile or signature. It can be pretty general to maintain privacy and still help provide context. Hopefully this info still helps. I had trouble uploading pictures with diagrams and tables of fruit tree guilds and nutrient accumulators that are in the books mentioned above. I would recommend anyone into gardening with edibles or perennials get those books.
 
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Pete Podurgiel wrote:I took some advice and planted chives around my fruit trees .....can't say that I regret it.



I did the same a few years ago when I started putting trees in the ground and I wish my trees were as consistent and as vigorous as the garlic chives. That is usually my first recommendation when someone wants a companion to an apple. I rarely touch the chives around my trees because I have allium planted all over my yard. The pollinators here love the flowers that the chives make and I'm saving seed every year to make new plants to give away. Chives supposedly help with apple scab, too, but I've never really seen it here so maybe it's working?

Other plants I've used and have had success with are:
-green onion (can be harvested multiple times a year for the tops)
-garlic
-crimson clover (bees swarm to these flowers when in bloom)
-day lily
-oregano (I've been splitting a 5 year old oregano by root division for a couple years and one of the best things I did for one of my crabapples last Spring is put one of those transplants by the crab seedling and let it hang over a log (half charred) about a couple feet away from the trunk and by seasons end it was touching the apple and providing another cover on top of the mulch... it's ground cover, attracts pollinators when it flowers, medicine, something to dehydrate and process every year that stores well, it's one of my favorite herbs and it does great here in East Texas)
-yarrow (pretty vigorous spreader, I see more beneficial insects on these flowers than just about every other flower I've put in the ground. I'd be more confident about this thriving and surviving HERE than any of the other plants mentioned, hard to kill)

All of these plants I mentioned are in/around deep mulch. I might aim for the annuals that will vigorously self-seed like crimson clover that create that natural ground cover as they grow, flower, then decompose. I have a hairy vetch patch around one of my pear trees that died last year (RIP PEAR) that I'm fond of that did what I just mentioned. The seeds already have the cover to germinate if you just let the plants die and run their course. If you just wanted perennials you didn't have to think about just make a ring of day lily or daffodil around the trees. If you wanted fruit production try a black berry, I've had success with the thornless varieties from AR. Some good suggestions already in this thread and please don't crucify me for not mentioning comfrey, it didn't thrive here compared to the plants I've mentioned.

Sort of off topic, but another suggestion to benefit your apples would be to dump the forest around them, and I don't mean a bag of mulch from a box store. I mean go to the woods and get a wide array of organic material and surround your trees with it, at least several inches deep. The more diversity in the materials the better. I lost a lot of trees last year and the ones that survived have a highly biological zone around them. When I started learning about how plants actually absorb nutrients (Dr. James White/rhizophagy) it only affirmed why my surviving trees are still alive. We should be farming microbes and bacteria, mulching, planting a diversity of plants, and any addition of charcoal (biochar or whatever) has only helped my trees. There should always be a living root in the ground around your trees, and around here one that isn't rhizomatic grass. The worst thing you can do for a young apple tree (in my humble opinion) is put it on an island with just grass.

If I was seeking to do research on some good companions I might look up Stefan "tree tree-o" Sobkowiak, he has videos on companions in his orchard (he's way up north so some things don't align with how we grow here but the principles of it are what matter and while you're on his page he might convince you to NOT use plastic in your orchard. Or Michael Phillips, may he rest in peace and his holistic approach to orcharding live on forever.
 
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Mint, mint, mint, and more mint!
 
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I would be concerned with plain ground cover around the trunks, and save the more individual plants for a little further out and about.  I use strawberries, mint, sorrel, violets, hosta and rhubarb as ground cover and to help keep the soil moist.   They, too, really hold in moisture.  These make it so I don't have to weed or disturb the soil. I have daffs, garlic and chives to protect from pests, and then I fill in with nitrogen fixers like goumi or false indigo. Sprinkled throughout I have lots of flowers serving different purposes and providing lots of color.  I do still have a fair amount of lawn, but throughout it, there are many "weeds" like clover, plantain and dandelions.  I'm 63 and don't know how much longer I will want to be hauling and shoveling wood chips.  If plants can do the job, that's good by me!  I use a leaf sweeper to clean the lawn of leaves, and do my neighbors' yards, too.  I bring the leaves back here, mulch them up and distribute them in various beds all over the property.
 
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As is typical, the answer is likely "it depends".

You've outlined some of your desires, but as another response noted, we don't know your context.  I'd suggest you think generally about what results you want to achieve.  I think it's generally a given that we want to put in plants that serve a purpose, and ideally more than one purpose.  What sort of growing zone you are in will help - Fuji implies you're in a milder location than me.  What may work in our cold climate may be too vigorous and "weedy" for you or even invasive.  What ecological functions do you want to achieve?  Others have touched on some of the elements - shading the soil, nutrient accumulation, nitrogen fixing, food / medicine production.  Another thing is the spacing of your trees - are they far enough apart to add shrubs?  If so, that opens things up to adding some nitrogen-fixing shrubs like sea buckthorn (aka seaberry) or buffaloberry (shepherdia argentea) as examples.  Something like the currant family (currants, gooseberries) have some shade tolerance / preferences so can do well under the canopy.  Perennials are preferable to annuals.  Over the longer term, are you interested in low ground covers that could eliminate the mower altogether?  Do you want anything that can be used for animal / poultry feed?  

I will echo Stefan Sobkowiak (I think The Permaculture Orchard on YouTube).  He is located in Quebec, Canada (so not "way up north" to some of us), but a colder climate than manh folks here.  He has a lot of video examples of things he likes (and doesn't like) in his context.  

Even things like your personal tastes come into play - flowers to support pollinators and attract beneficial insects are generally considered good, but is that what works for you?

As others have noted, I do like perennial herbs (chives, garlic chives...others here struggle as perennial), nitrogen fixation (we have planted both shrubs and have some herbaceous perennials like clover around and I want to add lupines), ground cover (I don't think I saw rhubarb mentioned...really big leaves do a nice job shading other stuff out and incredibly hardy), good quality mulch (which can retain moisture and support soil health).

Another thing to consider is that you will likely want to harvest from your fruit trees as well, so understory plant choice and placement need to be considered (roses are another choice that can provide hips and pollinator support, but might be painful to work around to pick apples if they are too dense near / under the tree).  I don't think I'd recommend them as most of our fruit trees are also part of the rosaceae (sp?) family so can share some disease and pest vectors.

I hope that's helpful.  Good luck.
 
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We’ve got some old well established fruit trees that hadn’t been touched in at least a decade, they were a mess. I’ve been slowly shaping them over the last 18 months that we’ve been at our place. I’ve been trying to keep the pruning to a max of 30% per year to continue getting fruit production. I have used the branches I prune over time to create a bed underneath the tree to put the leaves after they drop each fall. Keeps a good natural looking border so when people come over they don’t walk on the plants we have underneath, especially helpful when it’s wintertime so you don’t see the plants as easily.

As far as what to plant.. for all the fruit tree guilds I design I always try to include each layer that you’d find in nature.

An example of this would be..

Apple tree (fruit tree)
Lupine (nitrogen fixer)
Lavender (pest deterrent/pollinator attractor)
Black currant (berry bush)
Comfrey (Dynamic Accumulator)
Walking Onion (root crop)
Crimson clover (ground cover/pollinator attractor)
Grapes (Vine, typically added a couple years in to let the fruit tree become strong and established first)


Depending on where you’re located, the options are kind of endless. We also got a handful of morels last spring after just one winter of having apple twigs/branches underneath the tree. Hope this helps!
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William Kellogg wrote:Morell mushrooms love to coexist with apple trees



So please give us some good hints about HOW to grow the Morells. I tried these in very good soil in a tub and never saw even one mushroom.

I would like to get something like this started this Spring and forget about mowing close up and damaging trees!

 
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Jim Garlits wrote:My budding permaculture paradise on 3/4 acre currently includes a line of fruit trees (apple, pear, peach, cherry) and I want to put plants underneath them to contribute to the soil conditions the trees need, get more food, and generally keep the mower away from the trees. The plants I'm asking about should be good for apple trees (Honeycrisp and Fuji), and I don't know if it matters...would the same plants do well underneath the others? Any real life experience you've had with doing this, I'd be so happy if you shared.



What you are thinking of is a guild: Some plants that benefit from the trees they are near but also help the trees, in a kind of symbiosis. Here are some essential elements:
Typically, a guild consists of fixers, repellents, attractors, suppressors, mulchers, and accumulator plants.

https://www.starkbros.com/growing-guide/article/how-to-build-a-fruit-tree-guild#:~:text=Typically%2C%20a%20guild%20consists%20of,the%20soil%20as%20they%20grow
Depending on your soil and climate, and what you want to do with your orchard, you may want to have some and not others. For example: I raise chickens, . They are really good for controlling insects [repellents] and they manure  abundantly too,[fixers] so it is a ++.
However, if you plant comfrey near your trees, they will torch them in 15 minutes. You may not be able to put one of each one of these under each tree: you need to access the trees for pruning & harvesting. Some plants may grow too large and get in the way of servicing the tree. Planting a mix of these wherever you can will help.
 
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I plant garlic, strawberries, yarrow, artichokes and either baptisia (noxious to deer) or lupines as nitrogen fixers. The garlic helps control pests. The yarrow is great for deep accumulator, the strawberries are rapid spread ground cover, and the artichokes don't compete for nutrients.

Jen
 
Jen Siegrist
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I plant garlic, strawberries, yarrow, artichokes and either baptisia (noxious to deer) or lupines as nitrogen fixers. The garlic helps control pests. The yarrow is great for deep accumulator, the strawberries are rapid spread ground cover, and the artichokes don't compete for nutrients.

Jen
 
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On my current property I had fruit trees and between them I planted red current, goose berries and black currant and they did well.  I had to move one of the black currant's to the end of the row as it was too tall and reached the tree branches.

I would not grow anything that needs to be dug out and soil disturbed too much and also something you can mulch around.

I like the recommendations and I will use those for my new orchard.
 
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As said above, you're looking for a classic Permaculture idea - the guild.  Apple and other fruit trees are well-documented online and in books - search for "permaculture guild" + relevant trees.

On a personal level, I inherited a large established apple tree.  Under it were growing (thus had survived some neglect):
- Black currant - fruit
- Rose - flowers, pollinators
- Bergenia - flowers, pollinators, leaves as survival food

I have planted (that have survived):
- Hosta - shoots
- Other currants - fruit
- Hops - shoots, flowers (but not really enough sun to thrive)
- Camassia - bulbs, flowers

In retrospect, I should have planted my comfrey there.  Now I have frankly too much in my garden in other locations, and it's not moving.

I also moved my compost containers to just behind the tree, in hopes that nutrients flowing through would be picked up by the tree, and as it's a more central location. I'm not sure that's working out, but we'll see.
 
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I've tried a couple of those things under my fruit trees but now make little effort to plants anything there and here's why: I always let my chickens run in the orchard, hoping they'd keep problem bugs down, but a couple years ago the predators got so bad that I fenced in a run for the chickens, which includes all of the orchard. Every spring I pull back the stones under my trees, pull out weeds, add fertilizer--humanure, this is where I use most of that, then fresh mulch, mostly half decomposed leaves, and then I have to cover the area under each tree with heavy rocks or the chickens will kick all the mulch away. I do have a pair of goumi bushes in the orchard--not UNDER a tree, the bushes are eight feet tall so that wouldn't work--and I want more goumis, will keep trying to propagate them. I thought the chickens would turn the run into bare soil but I guess it's big enough they haven't, it's full of tall weeds. I have added two named elderberries, and a new fennel plant, all in cages to protect from the chickens and deer if any do jump the fence--and also moved an aronia bush that seemed healthy but never flowered, from an excessively shady place into my orchard. I'm also thinking of trying to get bee balm going in there, probably a  cultivated kind as they're so much prettier than the wild kind and I'll bet the bees won't turn up their--noses?--at them. Maybe also some kind of wild sunflower weeds, for food for the chickens.
 
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I just want to mention that deep roots contribute to the fertility of the soil and when deep rooted grasses and other perennial are cut or grazed (leave about 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant to maintain its viability and allow it plenty of photosynthetic surface), root exudates feed soil microbes and promote formation of soil aggregates.  

And I have read that morell mushrooms are prolific after forest fires leading me to believe an application of ash and charred cellulose of some kind might be beneficial, but do a test plot (of course), because it may be some other variable that is giving the morels a boost.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jen Siegrist wrote:I plant garlic, strawberries, yarrow, artichokes and either baptisia (noxious to deer) or lupines as nitrogen fixers. The garlic helps control pests. The yarrow is great for deep accumulator, the strawberries are rapid spread ground cover, and the artichokes don't compete for nutrients.
Jen




Lupines or baptisia are a great idea. I have some false indigo [the blue kind] which is really nice. For 'garlic', I have the Chinese chives, which are unobtrusive and will spread. And you don't have to lift it in the fall. This one makes white flowers in the fall [rather than the pink chive flowers in the spring]
As far as "artichokes" You do not mean Jerusalem artichokes, that have to be lifted in the fall, do you?
If you meant the globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus), isn't that the same family as the thistle, complete with thorns?? I'm a bit North of you in Central WI, but I would love to grow globe artichokes. Can you grow artichokes in Ohio? or do you have to lift them in the fall to protect them?
 
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I agree you should take a You Tube gander at Stefan Sobkowiak "The Permaculture Orchard" he has some excellent suggestions.
 
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Jesse,

Because Morells are a fungi they need to be with preformed organic material - something they can feed off as it breaks down, so just soil in your tub won't work.

I use partially broken down wood chip over a mix of soil, pine needles and mulch. I have pines and ash on the slope near me so am lucky in this regard.

I grow mine on a middle to upper slope, yours would need to be south facing, I'm facing the opposite direction here in Australia. If there are any live trees like ash, pine, elm. poplar, alder, apple - and oak and hickory where the fallen leaves form debris they feed off these, your morels are often found in the wild around these trees. My mixed forest area is also up from a small creek where they get a bit of humidity but not too much moisture. Give it another shot, hope this helps.
 
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