Gardening is as much about relationships as it is about plants. Proper companion planting pairs compatible crops together that nurture and support each other for improved yields. One beneficial relationship is companion planting around apple trees.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits for home gardens and orchards. Their long lifespan makes them a worthwhile investment that can provide delicious fruit for decades.
However, apple trees require certain conditions to thrive and produce abundantly. Pairing apple trees with strategic companion plants improves soil health, pest management, and pollination to boost a tree’s productivity and longevity.
- Companion planting improves soil fertility, enhances pest control, and increases pollination for apple trees
- Nitrogen-fixing plants like clover add nutrients apples need to grow
- Pest-repellent plants like mint deter crop-damaging insects
- Pollinator attractors like lavender bring more bees to the orchard
- Soil builders like comfrey enrich the earth beneath apple trees
Benefits of Companion Planting with Apple Trees
There are several ways companion planting benefits apple trees. Combining plants thoughtfully creates an ecologically balanced system where each element contributes value to the whole. Some of the core benefits of companion planting include:
Improved Soil Health and Fertility
Certain companion plants naturally enrich soil quality when paired with fruit trees. For instance, legumes like peas and beans “fix” nitrogen from the air into a form that soil microbes and plants can absorb through their roots. This nitrogen boost feeds the trees.
Others, such as comfrey, pump nutrients up from deep in the subsoil and drop nutrient-dense leaves on the surface. Companion plants also increase organic matter content as plants grow and decay over time.
Table 1: Nitrogen production of common legumes
|Plant||Pounds of Nitrogen Fixed per Acre per Year|
|Alfalfa||Up to 200 lbs|
|Clover||Up to 150 lbs|
Enhanced Pest Management and Disease Resistance
Some companion plants ward off damaging insects when planted near desired crops. Pungent plants like onions, garlic, and mint release odors and chemicals which deter sap-sucking insects and common apple pests like apple maggot flies.
Others, such as marigolds, attract beneficial insects that prey upon harmful ones. Furthermore, a diversified plant community is generally healthier and less vulnerable overall to pest and disease issues that could plague monocultures.
Increased Biodiversity and Ecological Balance
Rather than being dominated by one fruit tree species, companion planting weaves a tapestry of plants together. This biodiversity supports more complex ecosystems and attracts a greater variety of beneficial insects.
Pollinators flit between blooms collecting nectar and pollen, cross-pollinating everything they touch. Predators lurk where prey insects thrive waiting to do their part controlling populations. Each plant contributes to environmental stability for the whole system.
Nitrogen Fixing Plants
Legumes make terrific companions for apple trees because of their unique nitrogen fixing properties. By symbiotically hosting rhizobia bacteria in nodules along their roots, legumes can convert atmospheric nitrogen gas (N2) into ammonium a form directly usable by plants.
The trees benefit from this nitrogen added to the soil without chemical fertilizers. Some top legume picks for apple companions include:
Clover grows as a low-lying groundcover beneath trees. Various clover species fix between 40-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre annually, depending on the type. Crimson and white clovers bloom early to provide pollen and nectar for beneficial insects as well.
Peas and Beans
Peas and beans add nitrogen while also serving as a trellisable groundcover. Pole beans planted at the tree base provide structure for the trees to grow around. Climbing vines smother weeds and keep grass from competing with shallow tree roots.
Pest Repellent Plants
Certain aromatic plants organically repel many of the insects plaguing apple crops when planted as buffer plants. Their protective scents and secondary compounds work as natural deterrents. Some top pest-repelling companions include:
Marigolds and Nasturtiums
The strong fragrance of marigolds and nasturtiums ward off many common apple pests like apple maggots and codling moths. Their vibrant blooms also attract pollinators and hover flies which consume other harmful insects.
Mint not only deters moth and beetle pests but also discourages deer and rodents from browsing on lush foliage. Plant mint as a border around the orchard perimeter to deter unwanted visitors.
Dill and Fennel
The feathery foliage of dill and fennel confuses apple maggot flies from finding host trees in which to lay their eggs. Their presence seems to jam the flies’ navigation senses.
Pollinator Attracting Plants
Since apples require cross-pollination to set fruit, drawing bee pollinators is highly significant. Certain companion flowers attractive to bees supplement what the apple blossoms alone cannot provide. This lengthens the orchard’s pollination season, increasing bee traffic and fruit yields. Top pollinator-pleasing picks include:
Lavender’s sweet scent, bright colors, and long bloom time make it a favorite among bees worldwide. Plant lavender in mass groupings to form bee central.
Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susan
Sturdy perennials with daisy-like blooms throughout summer till fall. Bees flock to their fuzzy centers for nectar and pollen.
Mint’s tubular flowers offer plentiful nectar rewards. Its prolific blooming keeps bees buzzing past apple trees.
Table 2: Recommended flowering times for common pollinator companions
Soil Health Improvers
Some plants actively condition soil chemistry and structure for long-term fertility when grown in orchard grounds. Their deep roots aerate compacted soil, leaves add organic matter, and minerals are cycled back into the subsoil. Top soil-building companions for apple trees include:
With its deep taproot, comfrey extracts minerals from far below and deposits them around the plant as its nutrient-dense leaves decay. It’s a powerful natural fertilizer producer.
Borage and Plantain
These herbs thrive in poor soil and their foliage drops after flowering. The biomass they contribute plus minerals scavenged enhance soil tilth.
As a low-growing groundcover, strawberries protect bare earth from compaction while aerating and adding organic matter each year from their straw mulch.
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Shade Providing Plants
On hot days some shade relieves apple trees from excess heat stress, protecting delicate fruit and foliage. Cool-season grasses and legumes offer dappled shade beneath spreading canopies.
This moderates soil temperatures, conserves moisture, and discourages weed growth in the orchard zone. Top shade providing companions include:
Clover forms a low, cushion-like groundcover maintaining soil moisture while providing shade during the heat of summer.
A hardy perennial legume, alfalfa grows over three feet tall offering substantial shade coverage throughout the season.
Winter Rye and Oats
Grasses seeded in fall provide cover during winter then shade trees while their foliage is developing in spring.
Depending on terrain, wind speed reductions near fruit trees prove vital for pollination and preventing physical damage. Properly sited windbreak hedgerows of tall plants deflect gusts before they disrupt orchard operations. Suggested windbreak plantings include:
Dense evergreens like juniper or yew form a sturdy year-round shield against winds. Plant them on the orchard’s northern windward side.
Bamboo’s sturdy stalks create a tightly knit screen impervious to strong blasts. Confine invasive culms to pots buried at orchard edges.
Switchgrass, miscanthus, or prairie cordgrass massed in strategic hedgerows deflects wind currents smoothly over and around trees.
Companion Planting Design and Layout
Thoughtfully arranging plants together maximizes their synergistic benefits. Consider growth habits, blooming periods, and site conditions when designing companion plantings.
Layering by height
Plant tall plants like sunflowers, dill or fennel on the north side then step down to medium shrubs, perennials, and finally low-growing groundcovers. This structures plant density.
Grouping by function
Cluster nitrogen-fixers, pest repellents, and pollinator magnets together rather than dispersing each one. Mass plantings reinforce their intended purposes.
Staggered bloom times
Interplanting early, mid, and late season flowers ensures a continual pollinator buffet. Apple trees, mint, and lavender provide pollen in spring while coneflowers carry into fall.
Tree spacing considerations
Maintain 5-10 feet around the trunk base as the tree’s zone then fill in between trees. Leave walkways to access all parts of the orchard easily when plants mature.
Successional & self seeding selections
Choose plants adaptable to a variety of conditions which multiply readily. This maintains living groundcover with less maintenance over many years.
Final Thoughts on Apple Tree Companion Plants
Through insightful companion planting practices, home orchardists can nourish apple trees mind and body for premium productivity. Properly selecting and siting companion plants supplies trees with nitrogen, pest deterrence, pollination services, and soil rejuvenation annually.
Rather than high input monocultures, this balanced polyculture sustains fruit yields naturally long-term. Experimenting with different combinations lets apple growing works synergistically with Nature’s forces. Overall, companion planting opens avenues to healthier, bountiful harvests with lower cultivation costs for generations to come.
References & Citations
Frequently Asked Questions on Apple Tree Companion Plants
Q. What is best to plant under apple tree?
A. Good groundcover plants to plant under apple trees include grass, clover, chamomile, creeping thyme, ajuga and woolly thyme. These tolerate some shade and foot traffic without competing for water and nutrients with the tree.
Q. What not to plant next to apple trees?
A. Avoid planting trees or shrubs that are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as apples nearby. These include stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries which can spread pathogens. Deep-rooted crops may also compete for water and nutrients.
Q. What do you grow apple trees with?
A. Apples generally require a second variety of apple tree for cross-pollination to bear fruit. Good pollinator varieties include ‘Gala’, ‘Fuji’, ‘Jonagold’ and ‘Braeburn’. Planting bee-friendly flowers also aids pollination.
Q. What is the best pollinator plant for apple trees?
A. Plants that attract bees and other pollinators like bumblebees include clover, allium, lavender, catmint, mustard and phacelia. These produce abundant nectar in spring when apples bloom and require minimal care under and around trees.
Q. What fruit trees grow well together?
A. Fruit trees that can be planted in close proximity for mutual pollination include apples with pears, cherries, plums. Peaches and nectarines also work well as pollinators. Nut trees such as walnuts provide good windbreak when planted at boundaries.
Q. What is best to put under fruit trees?
A. Low maintenance groundcovers suited for under fruit trees include low-growing herbs, succulents, creeping thymes, liriope, ajuga or white clover. These don’t compete for water or nutrients, thrive in partial shade and won’t interfere with picking fallen fruit.