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Fruit tree guilds and edible companion plants (Apple, Pear, Peach, Plum)  RSS feed

 
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I've been reading both here and elsewhere on the web to come up with a list of good guild options for various fruit tree varieties.  It seems there are more articles on apple tree guilds than anything else, which is why that list is longer.

Below is what I've come up with so far. All of the plants are listed with a tree that is a pairing someone recommended online. (so, for example, if someone said nasturtiums were good for apples, I didn't automatically apply that to the other fruit trees)

Also, these lists are by no means extensive.  In fact, I've removed most plants that are extremely poisonous or invasive (I have kids and pets around).

I've toyed with the idea of doing guilds where every plant around the tree is edible, so that is what I lean toward, but have included a few that are highly recommended that aren't edible.

If you have any suggestions about what I've got (I definitely don't want anything that will bother the trees) or if you have additions to recommend (as I mentioned, I'm mostly looking for edible guild plants, but not always, and nothing that will take over the yard), by all means, I'd appreciate feedback.

Apple tree guild:
Nasturtium
Garlic
chives/onion
strawberry
borage
yarrow
chamomile
basil
white clover
bee balm
comfrey (inedible)
daffodils (inedible and poisonous)

Pear tree guild:
chamomile
Nasturitum
borage
comfrey (inedible)
daffodils (inedible and poisonous)

Plum tree guild:
garlic
chives/onion
nasturtium
strawberry
chamomile
comfrey (inedible)

Peach tree guild:
garlic
chives
onion
strawberry
yarrow
comfrey (inedible)
 
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This seems useful, thanks!
 
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My formula for a guild on a city lot
Support System
N-fixer (dutch clover, etc)
Insectory/Pest Control (Mint/Thyme family)
Soil Pest Control (Onion/Garlic Family)
Soil Aerators/Miners (Daikon Radish, Comfrey/Borage Family)

Produce
Mushroom (Oyster, Wine Cap on straw/woodchip)
Runners (Strawberry, squash/melon family)
3-5ft berry shrub not in the rose family (currant family, blueberry family, etc)
Main fruit, most likely in the rose family (plum, cherry, peach, apple, pear, quince)






 
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With the daffodils, I have little ones, too. One of the first things they learn is "daffodil is BLEGH!" Any picture we see of it is "blegh" any time we see them outside, I say, "daffodil is blegh!" ("Blegh" is our word for things we don't eat). My son figured out by the age of 1.5 that dandilions were "om-y-nom-y" and daffodils are not. This spring, my daughter will be walking around (she's one year old now) and I know I'll have to watch her like a hawk to make sure she doesn't try to eat thsoe, or the foxgloves that grow like weeds around my property.

As for things I've got growing around my fruit trees, green onions is one that is doing surprisingly well. Hopefully since it's in the same family as garlic, it'll help keep away disease and pests and deer. But, even if it doesn't, it's growing really well, and my family LOVES green onions. I plan on picking up some more green onions at the grocery store and encircling all of my fruit trees with them.

When I first looked into guilds, I spent a lot of time searching for guilds specific to each type of fruit. Especially with fruits like peaches and cherries, I just didn't see much specifics. It looks like most fruit trees just get treated the same when it comes to companion plants (e.g. "if it works for apples, it'll work for plumbs"). I don't know how true this is, though.

OH! In the Permaculture Orchard video, Stefan Sobkowiak talks about how he uses hostas as an edible ground cover around his trees. Like comfery, their big leaves shade out weeds and grass. But, unlike comfery, they are edible (the young shoots taste like asperagus, I've heard). I planted some around my apple and peach tree this summer and I'm hoping they will multiply quickly!
 
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Oh, people do eat comfrey here, normally harvesting 3 - 4 times a year, leave alone after 1 September.
 
Lori Whit
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S Bengi wrote:My formula for a guild on a city lot
Support System
N-fixer (dutch clover, etc)
Insectory/Pest Control (Mint/Thyme family)
Soil Pest Control (Onion/Garlic Family)
Soil Aerators/Miners (Daikon Radish, Comfrey/Borage Family)

Produce
Mushroom (Oyster, Wine Cap on straw/woodchip)
Runners (Strawberry, squash/melon family)
3-5ft berry shrub not in the rose family (currant family, blueberry family, etc)
Main fruit, most likely in the rose family (plum, cherry, peach, apple, pear, quince)



I don't want to hijack the thread, but does planting mint actually discourage pests?

I'm still just scratching the surface of understanding guilds.  (I put in several fruit trees this year but haven't established any real guilds yet.  I'd like to work on that in the spring.)
 
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Hi Lori, mint is claimed to be an aromatic pest confuser, though I have not seen any specific studies.  I grow oregano in the fairly decent shade under my apples and it does quite well there.  I was hoping it might act as an aromatic pest confuser as well.  All I can say is that the oregano is growing great and the apple tree hasn't had any borer issues with the oregano growing by it's trunk, but this is a one off, not a study.
 
Lori Whit
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That's useful, thank you.  I like the idea of having herbs do useful things under fruit trees!  If I personally have to eat every herb I plant, I won't plant more than about four varieties, but if they're serving some other useful purpose, that would be excellent. 

I'm wondering how closely one should plant to a fruit tree.  Older threads here don't seem to have many pictures anymore.  I wish I could better envision what a guild should look like.  There are some helpful things on YouTube but sometimes I feel more confused the more research I do.  I suppose it varies depending on climate and age of fruit trees, but I would like some clearer ideas...

My personal plan is to start simple, planting outwards from the drip ring, with peas and some herbs and small veg.  I hope I'll figure out what else to do after that.
 
S Bengi
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Mint/Thyme family = hangout  spot for predatory insects, then they leave and forage for aphid (other herbivore insect).
 
pollinator
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Nicole Alderman wrote:OH! In the Permaculture Orchard video, Stefan Sobkowiak talks about how he uses hostas as an edible ground cover around his trees. Like comfery, their big leaves shade out weeds and grass. But, unlike comfery, they are edible (the young shoots taste like asperagus, I've heard). I planted some around my apple and peach tree this summer and I'm hoping they will multiply quickly!



I was going to mention this video, as they are talking about the trees and the video pans across the site, they will pause and point out a bunch of different plants that are mixed in. This orchard is designed around selling the food, and customers walking down the rows to pick what they want, so the layout is designed around that. They based the layout around NAP: Nitrogen fixer like honey locust, Apple, and Pear/Plum. So they alternate their trees to create some distance between similar trees, so pests can't jump from 1 apple to the next as easily.

Next to the fruit trees are perennial herbs and fruits, like apple or pear also has raspberry, oregano, gooseberry, arugula, thyme, garlic chives, haskap, echinacea, and blackcurrant. This is located in eastern Canada, so part of the planting depends on the site as well. I'm currently in USDA zone 12b, and buying land that's zone 5b. I doubt much of what survives here would migrate well to a location that actually gets snow.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Lori Whit wrote:
I'm wondering how closely one should plant to a fruit tree.  Older threads here don't seem to have many pictures anymore.



I think the spacing really depends on how mature the fruit tree is. A young tree might do better with mostly mulch to supress weeds so it gets more nutrients (at least that's what I was told), but a older one can have thigns growing 6 inches from the trunk without any problems.

As for the pictures, I think that because people used photobucket to embed pictures...and then photobucket made people pay to see pictures hosted on their site. We encourage people to host their pictures here on permies by attaching them, that way they'll not be taken down.

Lori Whit wrote:

I don't want to hijack the thread, but does planting mint actually discourage pests?



I know they detur four legged pests pretty well, and fruit flies don't like them, either. We used to have our compost constantly eaten and disturbed by deer and other critters. Then my husband started drinking bags of (tbsps) of mint tea a day. The left over leaves, of course, went in the compost. Suddenly, nothing was eating or disturbing it! We also once had a fruit fly infestation in our house (worst thing ever). The flies were everywhere, even coming out of the toilets. But, they never went in the mint leaves. Now, they were flying above it and near it it, but not in it. So they weren't repelled by it, but they also weren't interested in it. If the dead leaves have this effect on pests and deer, I'm going to assume the live plants would, too.

 
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Lori Whit wrote:
...
I don't want to hijack the thread, but does planting mint actually discourage pests?
...



In my experience, it does stop rabbits/rodents from girdling the stems by chewing bark (often human or dog hair or even stinky soap will also work at least short term).  It did nothing to repulse aphids/ants (wet weather plague) and red spider mite (dry weather) from mineral deficient (iron?) plums.  I did not try spraying mint tea, just proximal planting. Spraying the vulnerable leaves might indeed work, but if you are going to that effort, you don't need the plants near each other at all.

True mint (Mentha sp.) is too weedy for most people.  Keep it constrained in a tub, periodically harvesting shoots (NO roots/runners) to drape among the branches of things you value, to repulse mammalian pests.  Or use similar smelling, less weedy Pycnanthemum (mountain mint).  Possibly other members of the mint family would work (ground-hugging, weedy Glechoma hederacea, though I sure smell it, does not) though mint and lemon balm are probably the most (partial) shade tolerant conventional mint family crops.  Weedy self-seeding, annual genip/perilla will grow in shade, if you like Korean/Japanese food, though I don't know if it scares bunnies.

It is my understanding that the purpose of daffodils  (maybe other Amaryllids in the Deep South) is to repel similar *underground* gnawing damage by things like voles.  They sense that it is there, and toxic.  But you need a tight ring of bulbs since they aren't smelly and smell probably doesn't travel far in dirt.

-------- other thoughts on the original topic, rather than answering you:----------
BTW, guilds depend on climate.  Neither comfrey nor apples do well in FL.  Alley crops of prairie acacia might, but perennial Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) is the usual "dynamic accumulator"/biomass generator and locally adapted fruit instead of apples.  Indigenous legumes, cowpeas where vines are safe, or pigeon peas are more reliable nitrogen fixers (wax myrtle is fine on woodlots but too big and competitive elsewhere) than clover in areas with negligible winters.  Many steppe/prairie species (alfalfa, prairie clover; [Petalostemon/Dalea sp.] non-N-fixing Silphium species & big bluestem grass) are also very deep rooted though not necessarily tap rooted.  Unless you have clay, I doubt a taproot would matter. In sunny areas with suitable temperature & rainfall patterns, deep rooted N fixers would seem ideal.

For those who think comfrey is edible, beware that pyrrolizidine alkaloids can irreversibly and asymptomatically (until it is too late) harm your liver, though this usually takes chronic use over many years.  I've seen studies that show it gets into honey (via pollen; if comfrey is bumblebee pollinated like Mertensia, I wouldn't worry but I am now worried about Echium vulgare), eggs and milk, but not muscle tissue.  Therefore comfrey might have value as fodder for short-lived meat animals like domestic rabbits (or cavies if you live in Peru and it is socially acceptable to eat them), assuming that you are like me and can't stomach liver.  Comfrey IS good external medicine as well as the fertilizer function.
 
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I suggest burdock and wild chinese yam as crops that can be benificial. Mullein , wild violets , dandelion too are all good for an orchard.  wintercress and plaintain too .All are edible and medicinal . Sharon
 
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Victor He wrote:I've been reading both here and elsewhere on the web to come up with a list of good guild options for various fruit tree varieties.  It seems there are more articles on apple tree guilds than anything else, which is why that list is longer.


Thank you that is indeed the kind of information that can be very useful to all permaculturists. Comfrey has another usefulness, even though you indicated "inedible". It can be used in salves and tea. There is a caution about tea: If you drink to much of it, it can wreck your kidneys. Nasturtiums are edible too if you put one or two leaves in a salad: They have a very peppery taste. Put flowers too for attractiveness. It's good. However, it is really great to have a group of plants that can go under these fruit trees. the first time I thought about it, I was not yet into permaculture, but I thought:"As long as there is going to be some vegetation at the base of the fruit trees, [I don't have the energy to yank weeds around over 100 trees] why not plant something I'd like to have there? So I mulched and had some bee friendly annuals, like Lacy phacelia, which may be perennial elsewhere but is annual in Central WI. It worked pretty well in saving me some work, but garlic chives, which are perennials here have the added benefit of surviving the first couple of frosts and so are quite beneficial to my honey bees once all the standard blossoms are frozen. The mulch and comfrey tea I put there also feeds BOTH crops and do not leach in the water table either. between the fruit trees, I have some white dutch clover, which enriches all the soil in between the fruit trees, as well s gets me a lot of good honey.
Because of the honeybees, I am seeking very early as well as very late blooming plants. Your great list will help!
Again, thank you. I needed a good list to get me going for next year. Next year, I'll also have some near the mulberries, which I plan to train as trees [instead of bushes].
 
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Lots of interesting replies! I especially liked the categories given by Bengi. Comfrey was a new wave of high-protein forage around 1960, but if eaten in quantity or at wrong season or by small children, it is highly toxic to the liver. (and more recently, kidney toxicity is sure being watched for in all alternative foods and medicinals). Hostas contain the soapy chemicals found on quinoa, but maybe soaking or tossing the cooking water helps? Bracken fern fiddleheads can taste like asparagus if harvested while they're still emerging. But they're also associated with stomach cancer.
 
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Confrey, inedible? Tell that to my mother, she used to serve it up with dinner. Apparently the leaves are a traditional food (and medicine), but then someone extracted a particular chemical and showed that was harmful.  "Reductionist blindness" leads people and advisory bodies to draw the illogical conclusion that therefore comfrey is harmful.

Daffodils. When I was about 9yrs and quite evil, me and my friends were in a feud with a rival "gang" from the next village. We heard daffodil was poisonous and figured we could use it! So my friend, to make sure, volunteered to try eating a whole daffodil head. He was a bit ill, nothing serious. (Not that that proves anything, of course.)
 
Victor He
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Thanks for all the comments everyone.  Very helpful info.
 
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S Bengi wrote:My formula for a guild on a city lot
Support System
N-fixer (dutch clover, etc)
Insectory/Pest Control (Mint/Thyme family)
Soil Pest Control (Onion/Garlic Family)
Soil Aerators/Miners (Daikon Radish, Comfrey/Borage Family)



I would add Eleagnus as a great nitrogen fixer as well. Tolerates all kinds of soil as long as they don't sit in water all the time. Grows fast (lending itself well to the chop-and-drop method of mulching) and sheds leaves that form a natural, weed-blocking mulch in place. Some varieties also have edible fruit (goumi, silverberry, etc.) that can be used for juice, jelly or chicken treats (they LOVE the red, juicy berries I toss out in the yard for them). Plus, when they bloom, they are covered with tiny, creamy white, sweet-smelling flowers that the bees LOVE.

A few words of caution - some varieties are considered invasive and may be illegal in parts of the US. Also, if you aren't going to chop-and-drop new growth for mulch, a bush can quickly overtake anything planted within 6 - 8 feet of it. You can also cut the long canes of new growth they produce every year as flexible staking and woven/wattle fencing.
 
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I have been under the opinion that we could: sternly plan guilds based on plant families, then, spread seeds (and transplants) within the family zones/areas. Thoughts?
 
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This is super helpful. Thank you, everyone. I have always been rather boring and put strawberries and pansies or Jonny-jump-ups under my fruit trees. We are on a fresh new piece of land I will be referring back to this post as we set more of our space up. I love this community!
 
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For the record I am a professional herbalist and can tell you that Comfrey IS poisonous, I know people who have died from it. I also know people who have eaten ot their entire lives, however they also aren't the healthiest individuals today.
Its like many other plants, eat it in the right way, in proper amounts and within a conscious diet and you should be fine. Anyone who happens to have liver issues already should avoid eating it period.
 
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Yes I was a bit fazed by how simple and yet complicated fruit guilds seemed to be, and was getting overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff I was reading about them, so this thread is very useful. There's lots I don't understand, for example I didn't know the bulbs had to be in a ring, now I understand why they all say "in a ring", thank you !
 
I'll add my amateur contribution in case it's useful and/or needs correcting !

My first four trees are the most traditional, an apple, a plum, a cherry and a pear, and all rosaceae so if I understand correctly there is some crossover between what's beneficial to one or another. I won't be planting peach trees until I'm a bit more sure of myself, we pulled an existing one out because we coulldn't bear to see the horrible leaf curl which looks like someone's having fun torturing nature. I've bunged some stuff into their planting mounds, bulbs I wanted for spring jollyness and stuff I had in the garden, to be pretty if not known to be useful and fill up some space quickly and stop the cats from digging (have even added turf on the slopes for that, sorry trees you'll just have to wait till I can replace it with something cat-proof), and am deciding what to sow and add as the spring arrives.

Like you I've listed plants I've seen suggested or used under each kind of fruit tree, starting with apple because it's the most documented. So then I've put that list into a table with their guild functions in columns, and for each suggested plant I'm trying to tick columns for different functions it performs. I've done a "nbval" in another column which allows me to see how many functions each plant performs (which helps me to understand why Comfrey is so popular !). Then I'll be able to see which functions are missing and which plants I can be choosy about. For my own reasons I've made more categories than are listed above, they may be of some interest to you :
- Pollinators (nectar and or pollen)
- Birds / Insectary - auxilliaries
- Repellant / confuses
- Sentinel (not sure what "sentinel" means - maybe underground "repellant" or maybe plants like nasturtiums that attract unwanted creatures away from our fruit trees ?)
- Nitrogen fixer
- Other dynamic accumulators (I separated this function because I'm going to need more than just nitrogen fixers - even if there's some doubling up with "mulch" or "taproot")
- Grass suppressing - aleopathic or groundcover
- Mulch
- Decompact / Tilth
- Tap root (specifically)
- Edible or medicinal
- Chicks (edble by or otherwise useful to my future chickens if not to humans)
- Windbreak
- Evergreen hedge /privacy

The last two functions are needed near my apple tree because it's near the edge of my garden.

(I'm also planning to check out some stuff on functions I saw online free for permaculture design, now that it will start to make more sense to me.)

I've added a few more columns to help me decide :
- "Family" as I know I want members of certain families under my fruit trees. For example, in Europe apples and pears are attacked by a moth, Cydia pomonella, so I know I want plenty of Apiaceae nearby to host some of their enemies.  I'll be planting something from the wonderful mint family too, though it won't be mint, which grows wild in large swathes here.
- Plants that have been observed as occuring in their natural biotope (via the impressive French "Permaforêt" site http://permaforet.blogspot.fr/p/biotope.html)
- Plants that are aleopathic to them or otherwise undesirable

Then I'll choose according to where I want what, other plants, how attractive it is to me, light and shade and so on.

I'm bound to make some mistakes but it will all be a good learning experience !

 
Sonya Noum
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ps I won't be planting onions or anything I'm likely to want to dig up to try to avoid too much root disturbance.
 
S Bengi
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I like using using carrot and mint family for pest control. I didn't list the carrot family because, the wild family members are poisonous.
I the chicory/dandelion family is great for mining minerals and also aerating the soil with their roots, chicory can produce alot of bio-mass too. But my favorite daikon radish.

When I 1st started out, I used to think that onions were in the daylilly family, but they actually aren't they are more in the daffodils family, which makes alot more sense.  
You could just harvest the onion/garlic/chive/ramp tops (leaves/clones/etc and their bulb is actually only an inch or two so very little soil disturbance, and it is possible to plant it and not eat it too. 
But daffodils have much higher levels of suppressant (they are even dangerous to us humans)
 
Sonya Noum
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Thanks, I didn't associate each family with particular functions, but this way is much easier than considering each plant !
I've already got some kind of wild carrot in my garden which I just assume to be poisonous, but will be trying one of the beautifully perfumed ones like Sweet Cicely, or one  that's got a very caracteristic flower head : that way I can be sure I'm not mixing anything up !
I was thinking of limiting my onion family to chives, but if I could find something very shallow here I'd be interested. Actually, I'm not very good at onions yet, I never remember where I've planted them or know when to harvest them, and root veg haven't liked the clay soil that still dominates most of my garden (even if onion is not technically a root veg). Don't know many of the perennial vegetables yet but there must be some interesting oniony ones. I believe there are all sorts of garlicy things where you just pick the leaves. Daffs are great, all those poisonous flowering bulbs are all so nice to see at the end of winter (snowdrops !) and in the spring when we need perking up, and if they're better than oinions at protecting the fruit trees so much the better ! I was worried about chickens eating them after I'd read about that happening to someone, but I reckon if they've got plenty of wild food choices and plenty of unpoisonous flowers to eat they are less likely to go for daffs - they probably did it out of boredom. Also less worried since I realised most petals are harmless, even if the rest of the plant is poisonous.
As for asters, well I've always loved Yarrow which is mentioned a lot, so will see if it wants to grow in my now softer soil. But many people like dandelion leaf salad and of course it's got a great taproot.
But I think I still have more research to do - I didn't used to take any notice of families till I started growing vegetables, so it's not always obvious who's who !
I understand completely not wanting to fill up a garden with poisonous plants when it's a kids' garden - though I'm not sure it's possible to prevent any from growing. I think it's important to learn which ones are really dangerous, as in things we don't even want to think about, as opposed to those that will "just" cause vomiting.
 
S Bengi
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I have alot of problems with the squash/watermelon family, they don't work as a ground cover for me, they are just too sickly. They only work as a vine for me if I let them go up a tree/fence/arbor.
 
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Like others in this thread, I really like bulbs around trees - a tightly spaced perimeter ring of garlic, walking onions, daffodil, or even better, Siberian iris, are fairly effective at keeping grass back, and especially effective against those rhizominous spreading grasses like the evil bermuda. Comfrey is always good. A community garden I was at had yarrow growing thickly under all of the more mature cherry trees, it seemed able to out compete the grass and come back year after year. If you want some running vines, perhaps nasturtium, grape, or mashua. In a drier, sunnier spot I might opt for some drought tolerant wildflowers like lupines and Mediterranean herbs. I always find catnip does nicely under trees and is a bit less likely to take over the garden than mint.

I like to put a ring of bulbs around where the drip line of the tree is, or where I think it will be, then mulch/cardboard thickly within that ring to eliminate grass, leaving about six inches or a foot around the trunk of new trees to allow moisture to get in to the earth around it's roots. Then in that mulched area within the ring, as the grass is removed and snuffed out I replace it with things like comfrey, yerrow, wildflowers, herbs, whatever I've got. I generally go for things that are edible, good forage for the chickens, resilient to being mowed down, are perennial or a self-sowing annual, or provide some benefit like attracting pollinators or fixing nutrients. I figure a diversity of things is always better than just one thing, but if you've got to manage a larger orchard I could see the benefits to keeping it simple.
 
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Location: Tasman New Zealand, Temperate
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Has anyone tried foxgloves as part of a peach guild?  A peach tree here that was dying back badly and had leaf curl (reddish blisters on leaves) has put on strong new growth and healthy new leaves since two foxglove plants self-seeded very close to the trunk and grew strongly this summer.  (They looked very impressive, too!).  I did sprinkle some dolomite around the base, and add some woodchips - not completely covering the root zone though, in case it stopped our mainly light rains entering the soil.  Oh, and i watered the tree occasionally - not often - in very dry weather, as it is on sloping clay soil, exposed to strong drying westerly winds.  No shortage of airflow there!  I left white clover and other weeds growing but cut them back quite short. 

Foxgloves were considered "plant doctors" in the past.  This was confirmed by Louise Riotto in her book Roses Love Garlic, and by www.pfaf.org & www.tulipsinthewoods.com. 

I wondered whether bees would visit the foxglove flowers and add its toxins to honey, but it doesn't seem to be a problem.  The University of Sussex at www.sussex.ac.uk says the foxglove is loved by long-tongued bumblebees such as Bombus hortorum, but not honeybees.  Come to think of it, I haven't seen honeybees in the foxgloves, but plenty of bumblebees. 

My only other concern was whether toxins from the foxgloves could be transferred to the peaches through the soil (or by what lives in the soil).  I couldn't find any evidence for that on the web.  There are plenty of other flowers well-visited by honeybees here, such as fennel, dandelion, clover, various herbs, and koromiko, so they have a good selection of choices. 

Off topic completely, am hoping to see the Supermoon and total lunar eclipse tonight!

 
Sonya Noum
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Location: S.W. France
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That's great news ! I've planted a foxglove under my cherry tree, just because I love them and didn't know where to put it, didn't know they were "plant doctors" !

Concerning ants in fruit trees : (this is slightly off topic but sort of completely relevant too) .... we had ants every year in the cherry tree, busy farming aphids which made the fruit sticky, which was a bit unpleasant. So then we put glue round the trunk (this was before I understood about guilds and what they really do). So then we had no aphids, wonderful - until two or three years later we got cherry flies laying their eggs IN the cherries - so you'd get these big fat juicy GORGEOUS-looking cherries, and then - yeuch ! you'd bite into it and it would have fermented and gone off, because of the worm inside chomping away. Of course, we tried the traps and all that and guess when we stopped having problems with the flies ? Yup, when the ants came back. Everyone is so busy doing their job and it takes a while to realise ad learn to respect them and be grateful.
 
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