How to Build a Permaculture Fruit Tree Guild (2023)

A fruit tree guild is a permaculture technique for disease-resistant, high-yield gardens. Learn more about this style of growing fruit trees that thrive.

How to Build a Permaculture Fruit Tree Guild (1)

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A guild is a grouping of plants that supports a central element—such as a fruit tree—for maximum harvest and use of space.

After I learned about this technique in my permaculture design certification course many years ago, I was excited to experiment with it in my own yard. I created a fruit tree guild around my plum tree as well as cherry tree guilds, and watched as the biodiversity helped me get rid of a pest problem.

I’ve been hooked ever since!

So let’s dive into this permaculture technique and see how it works to create a low-maintenance system that also improves biodiversity.

A Fruit Tree Guild is a Mini Ecosystem

The use of guilds came about by observing how certain plants would naturally group themselves together in an unmanaged setting.

Some scientists have been able to demonstrate that certain plants’ proximity to one another was mutually beneficial (like how birch trees and Douglas firs are interdependent).

This was our first look into being able to create ‘guilds’ of plants by design. However, the concept of designing human-made guilds is relatively new, and many early experiments are still in progress.

Still, guilds provide a roadmap for developing interconnected ecosystems, which may reduce our workload and increase yield over time.

The goal of the guild is to underplant a central element, such as a fruit or nut tree, with plants that are highly useful, multifunctional, and that might naturally be found growing together.

(Video) Permaculture Fruit Tree Guilds

For example, under-plantings in a guild might include plants that fertilize, repel pests, attract beneficial insects, create mulch, and suppress grass, and more.

The general idea is to take advantage of the benefits of plants to reduce cost, labor, and the need to import materials.

Now, to be certain, planting a tree guild takes more effort than simply planting the tree by itself, and it may also cost a bit more at the outset for the extra plants.

However, in the long run, guilds will likely be more resilient and vigorous, even if solely from a biodiversity standpoint.

Would you like to grow food in your front yard without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my ebook, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.

Size Fruit Tree Guilds Appropriately

How you plant a fruit tree guild depends on your space—whether you have several acres or less than half an acre, for example. In larger spaces, you could develop a large guild under an expansive, 70-foot tall nut tree.

On the other hand, a dwarf fruit tree or berry bush might be the central element in a smaller space.

To start, choose a central element that is appropriately sized for your space. Consider linking together fruit and nut tree guilds. Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, calls this a “superguild.” It could also be called a food forest.

I sometimes refer to a grouping of fruit tree guilds as an orchard on steroids! Check out the 2-hour film The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic for more inspiration.

A ‘superguild’ might take the shape of a linear hedgerow, which I discuss in my article how to plant a hedgerow.

The Apple Tree Guild Example

The most common example of fruit tree guild is that of the apple tree guild. You can prevent grass from creeping under the tree and repel wildlife by planting a ring of daffodils and garlic chives at the drip line of the tree.

(Video) A comprehensive guide to Permaculture Guilds

Bee balm, dill, and fennel peppered underneath can attract pollinators.

Comfrey, dandelion, yarrow, and white clover may accumulate nutrients and fix nitrogen to fertilize the soil. Comfrey and nasturtiums provide mulch or green manure. Bee balm, garlic chives, and yarrow emit strong scents that may repel pests.

Because apple scab fungus is a common ailment of apple trees, fennel and garlic chives provide some anti-fungal properties.

See the following articles to learn more about the “superpowers” of these plants:

  • 5 Weeds You Want in Your Garden (Hint: Dandelion and White Clover are among them!)
  • 5 Reasons to Grow Yarrow in Your Garden
  • 8 Herbs for the Medicine Garden

Observe and Experiment

Now, for certain, the above is not a recipe, merely an example of how you can take advantage of nature’s gifts to create a fruit tree guild that works like a mini ecosystem to reduce your workload.

Even if you followed a so-called recipe such as this one, you’ll need to tweak your guild over time to accommodate the unique conditions of your site.

For example, your soil may need nutrients other than the ones provided by the under-plantings you’ve chosen. Or you may have pests that need a different combination of plants to repel them or attract the right beneficial allies.

To see how a guild might need to be tweaked for your local conditions, read about my cherry tree guilds and how I dealt with a pest problem.

I originally underplanted my cherry trees with popular fruit tree guild plants, but ultimately, the trees needed a little something extra that was unique to my situation.

How to Build a Permaculture Fruit Tree Guild (3)

My cherry tree guild includes herbs like comfrey, calendula, and chives.

(Video) PLANT THIS Before Planting YOUR Fruit Trees

To clarify, permaculture guilds are not exact recipes to follow. Indeed, they are combinations of plants that people have tried growing together or have observed growing together in natural ecosystems.

For example, while hiking in a local park, I noticed wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) growing densely throughout the forest with wild ginger (Asarum canadense), so I planted the two together in a shady pollinator garden where they are thriving.

However, just because these combinations were successful in one environment, doesn’t mean they’ll work in another, so a little experimentation is always in order.

The Beginner’s Guide to Building a Guild

Plant your tree in your selected spot. (Here are 5 steps to planting fruit trees.)

Next, measure a circle around the fruit tree using sticks or flags to mark the mature width. This perimeter is called the drip line. The roots of the tree will eventually extend to this point, and perhaps even farther.

Because of this, you can increase success by improving the health of the soil inside this circle.

Start by spreading cardboard under the tree, overlapping the ends so the ground inside the drip line is thoroughly covered. Moisten the cardboard with water, and cover it with 3-6 inches of compost soil, keeping the soil away from the trunk.

Be sure that none of the edges of the cardboard are exposed.

Would you like to learn more about improving the biodiversity of your garden, reducing maintenance, and increasing yield using permaculture techniques?

You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.

How to Build a Permaculture Fruit Tree Guild (4)

7 Types of Plants to Plant in a Fruit Tree Guild

Establish plants underneath the fruit tree that:

(Video) Permaculture guilds part 1 - companion planting on steroids

  1. attract beneficial insects
  2. deter wildlife
  3. fertilize
  4. mulch
  5. produce nectar toattract pollinators
  6. repel pests
  7. suppress grass

That seems like a lot of plants to fit under one tree!

However, many plants actually perform more than one function. I call these multifunctional plants “super plants”. (They’re kind of like super heroes!)

There are a lot of plants to choose from, but the following are some of my favorites:

a. Choose Daffodils or Garlic

They repel deer and other wildlife, repel fruit tree borers, and stop grass from creeping under the tree.

b. Choose Comfrey or Borage

These cousins are both herbs that produce fertilizer, mulch, and nectar, and are excellent at attracting beneficial insects.

Read more about comfrey and borage, superstars of the fruit tree guild system.

c. Choose Oregano or Chives

Their strong scents repel pests. They both can also take a little bit of foot traffic, which is helpful during harvest time.

Read more about oregano and chives and their usefulness in the garden.

d. Add White Clover

It is an excellent source of nitrogen, an essential nutrient for healthy fruit production, and is often used in orchards as a walkable ground cover.

Remember to try your own experiments. Do you have a favorite plant that can be chopped back often to create mulch or that attracts pollinators and beneficial insects? Give it a try!

Note: Only step inside the drip line for harvesting or pruning. Otherwise, stay outside the drip line to reduce soil compaction under the tree.

Now, go forth and create some fruit tree guilds (mini ecosystems) on your micro-farm!

(Video) Tree Guilds - Understanding Patterns and Relationships

Have you experimented with fruit tree guilds? What has worked for you?


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What is the best spacing for fruit trees? ›

In regions with cold winters and short grower seasons, dwarf apple and cherry trees need a spacing of 6 to 8 feet, semi-dwarf trees about 15 feet, and standard or full-sized trees about 25 feet. Pears and non-dwarf sweet cherries are larger than other types of fruit trees, and should be given an additional 5 feet.

How far apart should espalier fruit trees be planted? ›

Trees should be planted 3.75m-6m (12-20ft) apart, according to their vigour.

What is a guild around a tree? ›

A guild is a community of plants that grow and support each other by recycling nutrients back into the soil, providing shade and conserving water, attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests and diseases, building soil, and preventing erosion.

Can you plant all fruit trees next to each other? ›

All types of fruit trees grow well together. Spacing for good canopy development, easy picking, good air circulation and size compatibility are important considerations in choosing fruit trees for the backyard orchard.

What fruit trees should not be planted together? ›

While most fruits can be grown in close proximity, here are some combinations to avoid growing next to each other:
  • Apples or apricots with peppers or walnuts.
  • Blackberries, nectarines, or pears with raspberries.
  • Blueberries, cherries, corn, grapes, or melons with tomatoes or eggplants.
  • Peaches with plums or raspberries.
7 Sept 2022

How do you layout a fruit tree? ›

Though some plants can be sheared as hedges, espaliered against sunny walls, kept on trellises or in large containers, fruit plants need space for air circulation and maintenance. Plant tall trees and shrubs north of smaller ones, and, when practical, run rows and vines north and south to get maximum sun.

What is the best tree to espalier? ›

Apple and pear trees are the traditional espalier subject because their spurs live for years producing fruit (although certain cultivars are better than others) and they have supple, easily trained new growth, but other fruit trees that sometimes are espaliered include fig (Ficus carica), peaches, cherries and ...

How do you start an espalier? ›

To espalier, prune to create a main vertical stem, then train the side branches to achieve the desired shape. Depending on the plant, this can take a year or two to establish and requires regular care. Thereafter, an espalier requires only light pruning to hold its shape.

What is the difference between cordon and espalier? ›

The main difference between cordon and esaplier training is that cordon training involves training the tree in one upright direction on a single stem, whereas espalier training means training the tree branches outwards in a horizontal direction.

How do you make a fruit tree guild? ›

3 Steps to Start a Fruit Tree Guild
  1. Fixing nitrogen.
  2. Building soil.
  3. Providing mulch.
  4. Attracting beneficial insects and supporting other beneficial critters, and.
  5. Controlling pests.
14 Jan 2020

How big is a fruit tree guild? ›

Well, even if you do not have the site, you can plan until you get the site. A fruit tree guild needs very little space. You can put a guild in an area as small as 10 feet by 10 feet. As long as it is big enough in the air to accommodate a full grown fruit or nut tree, bushes, and a groundcover layer.

What happens if fruit trees are planted too close together? ›

It also means that you might get a lot of the same fruit all at once, resulting in spoilage. With limited space, it is more of a challenge to ensure proper cross pollination and harvest over a long season.

What is a fruit tree guild? ›

A fruit tree guild is an interconnected ecosystem

Unlike monocultures – a field of corn, a traditional apple orchard or a grass lawn – guilds are polycultures of diverse plants, insects and animals that support each other in a mini ecosystem.

Which fruit trees pollinate each other? ›

Nearly all common varieties of apricot, peach, nectarine and sour cherry are self-pollinating. Other fruit trees, like most apple, plum, sweet cherry and pears are cross-pollinating or self-unfruitful.

What fruit tree produces fruit the quickest? ›

Blueberry. If they have acidic soil and a sunny spot, blueberry plants can thrive in almost any garden and are among the fastest fruits to grow. These perennial bushes do tolerate some shade but won't produce nearly as much fruit as they would in full sun.

Which fruit trees can graft together? ›

For example, one can graft peaches, plums, plumcots, apriums, pluots, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds all onto the same tree. One could also graft a tree of different citrus, or a tree of different apples and pears.

Can you plant two fruit trees in the same hole? ›

The most common fruit trees used for this are peaches, plums, pluots and apples. In the shared hole (trees planted 18 to 24 inches apart), two to four fruit trees of the same general type are planted together. For instance, an early, mid and late peach (three trees) might be planted together.

Should fruit trees be planted in rows? ›

But if your goal is simply to have a steady supply of fresh fruit for family use, fruit trees planted 3-4 feet apart in groups or rows (and given summer pruning for size control) will provide plenty of fruit during their harvest period." which empowers our growers the freedom to experiment and do things their way ...

How many trees are considered an orchard? ›

There's no absolute minimum for how many fruit trees constitute an orchard, but five is the generally accepted lower limit. Five fruit trees may seem like a lot to pack into a small space, but with a little creativity it can work.

How do I organize my fruit trees in my yard? ›

Layout and Spacing

If planting high density, plant as close as 18 inches apart for 2, 3 or 4 trees in one hole and 2 or 3 feet apart for hedgerow. (See What Is Backyard Orchard Culture? and High-Density Planting - Simple Examples.) If you have plenty of space and want larger trees, plant at wider spacings.

Can you train any fruit tree as espalier? ›

Only apple and pears can be trained as espaliers, as cherry and plums will break when you bend them horizontally. Cherries and plums can be grown as fans. The first task is to erect a training system for the tree against a wall, fence or on the edge of a border, wherever the chosen spot may be.

Can you espalier full size fruit trees? ›

You can try your hand at espaliering any variety of fruit tree, as long as the fruit tree suits your climate, but dwarf or semi-dwarf trees are best for small spaces. Since apple trees are a common choice for espalier, note that spur-bearing apple trees are even better if you want more fruit from your living fence.

Do espalier trees produce more fruit? ›

Though a smaller espaliered fruit tree may produce less fruit overall, they will punch above its weight on average. Training branches to grow horizontally encourages fruiting spurs – especially on apple trees – and the open-pruning structure ensures that fruit gets plenty of sunlight and ripens fully.

Is it hard to espalier fruit trees? ›

Technically yes, but it's more difficult, and requires more time. It's best to espalier when a fruit tree is in its first or second year. Older, more mature trees are difficult to train and shape. It can take up to three years to bend mature branches.

How far apart are espalier posts? ›

Espalier systems and wire spacing.

The number of wires is determined by the height and number of tiers. As a starting point, 30-40cm apart would be a reasonable spacing. For a 4 wire spacing, 40cm would reach 1.6m high, while a 5 wire spacing at 35cm apart would reach 1.75m high.

Does an espalier tree need support? ›

Your espalier will need a support structure to grow on as you prune and train it. A common structure includes (2) 4 x 4 wooden posts set 8' apart, with 12-gauge galvanized wire stretched and attached between them at 18” horizontal centers (18” from the ground, and two more tiers each 18” taller than the previous one).

Do cordon fruit trees need staking? ›

Cordon Fruit Trees

They can be grown against a fence or wall, or along posts and wires, or in the open and staked individually with a 'standard rose' type stake, or even a stout bamboo cane.

Do espalier trees need a wall? ›

Espaliers need to be trained to a wall or on wires fixed to posts. The posts need to be secured in the ground.

Should you put mulch around fruit trees? ›

It retains water, providing consistent moisture to the roots of the tree. It will prevent weeds, provide a habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms, and even feed the soil as it breaks down. Needless to say, if you care for fruit trees, mulching is more than a great idea. It's a necessity.

What is a Permaculture Guild? ›

In Permaculture, a guild is a grouping a plants, trees, animals, insects, and other components that work together to help ensure their health and productivity. Instead of planting gardens or orchards or fields or forests, Permaculture teaches us how to “build guilds”.

What is the best mulch for fruit trees? ›

Mulch yearly with either wood chips or partially composted sawdust. Plants should be mulched yearly to maintain a 4 foot wide strip at least 6 inches deep. Apples, pears, peaches, plums and cherries. Tree fruit should be mulched to the drip line with 6 to 8 inches of straw or hay in May.

What should I plant between apple trees? ›

The following plants include apple tree companions that deter pests and enrich the soil when cut back and left as mulch:
  • Comfrey.
  • Nasturtium.
  • Chamomile.
  • Coriander.
  • Dill.
  • Fennel.
  • Basil.
  • Lemongrass.
19 Jun 2021

What should you not plant near an apple tree? ›

Suppress Grass and Weeds

Read our guide on apple tree feeder roots and why you should always prevent grass from growing around the base of an apple tree, especially for young apple trees. Bulbed plants like garlic, onions and leeks, do a great job at repelling grass and weeds.

How many fruit trees can fit in an acre? ›

Works well for tree densities of 350-800 trees per acre. Occasionally used at lower density on more vigorous rootstocks.

Can I plant fruit trees 10 feet apart? ›

Most dwarf-sized fruit trees require 10 feet by 10 feet of space, though dwarf-sized pear trees require 12 feet by 12 feet of space. These basic space requirements can help you determine how many of each type of tree will work in your yard.

How many trees can be planted by team trees? ›

By August 2022, the project had raised more than $23.9 million, exceeding the fundraiser's goal to plant 20 million trees, and 20 million trees have been planted.
Team Trees.
DateSince October 25, 2019
MotiveTo take action against deforestation by planting 20 million trees
TargetTo raise $20 million crowdfunded U.S. dollars
7 more rows

Can you cut a fruit tree off at the trunk and let all branches regrow? ›

A: Yes, but it depends on the fruit tree where the new growth occurs and the kind of growth that results from damage. In my opinion, it's worth the effort since you will know whether or not this is successful in a couple months after you cut off the trunk. Most fruit trees are grafted.

How far can fruit trees be to cross pollinate? ›

Plant at least two compatible-pollen varieties within 50 feet of one another. Pollination will still occur if trees are planted closer together, and may even occur between trees planted farther apart than this, but, for ideal pollination, up to 100 foot distance between trees is good to aim for.

Can I plant a lemon tree next to an orange tree? ›

Q: Will growing a lemon or grapefruit tree next to my orange tree make the oranges sour if they cross-pollinate? A: No, cross-pollination, if it occurs, will only affect the seed inside the fruit that resulted from the cross-pollination. The fruit itself will be true to type.

What should I plant in the fruit tree guild? ›

Suppressor Plants: red clover, squash, pumpkins, rhubarb, strawberries, nasturtiums. Attractor Plants: edible herbs like fennel, dill, Lavender, and coriander or flowers like salvia, sunflowers, and yarrow. Accumulators: borage, comfrey, chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettle, strawberries, sorrel, vetch, supine, tansy.

Can you make money with fruit trees? ›

Growing fruit trees gives you a way to use your green thumb to make extra cash or turn your labor into a full-time business. The types of fruit you grow and the varieties you plant, such as dwarf, heritage or regular fruit trees, gives you plenty of options to meet your customers' needs.

Can you make money selling fruit trees? ›

Choose saplings that grow well in your area, and are in demand with local growers. Sell pot grown as well as bare-root saplings for higher profits. As mentioned above, selling on fruit trees (especially dwarf fruit tree varieties for patios and small gardens) could be a lucrative business.

What fruit trees dont need pollinators? ›

Most peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, citrus, figs, sour cherries, persimmons, quince and pomegranates don't need pollinizers (compatible trees for pollination). They are what horticulturalists call self-fertile.

Can a peach tree pollinate an apple tree? ›

Can apple and peach trees pollinate each other? Yes, it is possible to pollinate two different apple and peach trees by hand. The problem is that not all apple varieties are compatible with one another. The most commonly used apples are triploids, which need another fruit tree to produce a healthy crop.

Can a pear tree pollinate an apple tree? ›

In general terms each species can only pollinate others of its own kind - apples will only pollinate other apples, pears will only pollinate pears, and so on. Amongst apples there is generally no distinction between crab apples, cider apples, and mainstream apples - they can all potentially cross-pollinate each other.

How far apart do fruit trees need to be to pollinate? ›

Plant at least two compatible-pollen varieties within 50 feet of one another. Pollination will still occur if trees are planted closer together, and may even occur between trees planted farther apart than this, but, for ideal pollination, up to 100 foot distance between trees is good to aim for.

What happens if you plant fruit trees too close together? ›

The thick fruit tree canopy may reduce light and air around the base and branches of the tree. Overly crowded tree canopies can cause fungal diseases and will also reduce the overall crop of each tree. There's another problem with planting fruit trees too close together!

How close do fruit trees need to be to pollinate? ›

In planting for pollination, a fruit tree that needs a pollinator needs it close by. A maximum distance of 100 feet is suggested, but the closer the better. Bees that carry pollen are unlikely to fly back and forth if distance between trees is greater. In addition to planting pollinators, other alternatives exist.

How much space do you need between two trees? ›

Most landscaping professionals recommend that you leave at least 10 feet between small trees and at least 30 to 50 feet between large trees. Medium-sized trees can fare well with a distance of 20 feet between them.

Can two different fruit trees cross-pollinate? ›

Nearly all common varieties of apricot, peach, nectarine and sour cherry are self-pollinating. Other fruit trees, like most apple, plum, sweet cherry and pears are cross-pollinating or self-unfruitful.

What fruit trees can you splice together? ›

For example, one can graft peaches, plums, plumcots, apriums, pluots, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds all onto the same tree. One could also graft a tree of different citrus, or a tree of different apples and pears.

What fruit trees should I plant in pairs? ›

Apples, pears, apricots, and many sweet cherries and plums are self-unfruitful and should be planted with other varieties of the same species, i.e. Asian plums with another Asian plum variety.

What fruit trees can pollinate each other? ›

The transfer of pollen from one variety to a different variety of the same type of tree is called cross- pollination. Cross-pollination is essential for apples, pears, most sweet cherries, and most Japanese plums.
Asian Pear Fruiting VarietyCompatible Pollinizer
3 more rows

Will a peach tree pollinate an apple tree? ›

Can apple and peach trees pollinate each other? Yes, it is possible to pollinate two different apple and peach trees by hand. The problem is that not all apple varieties are compatible with one another. The most commonly used apples are triploids, which need another fruit tree to produce a healthy crop.

What trees go well together? ›

Trees are often features in gardens & companion planting guilds are usually arranged around trees.
NameGood Companions
HazelnutComfrey, flowers and herbs such as coriander.
MacadamiaClover, chives, nasturtium, comfrey, marigold and other flowers.
OakChantarella mushrooms, blueberries.
OliveHerbs, lavender.
19 more rows

Can you plant multiple trees in one hole? ›

Yes, in fact there is a lot of planting density research on many different species of fruit trees.

Is it better to plant small or large trees? ›

New research published by the International Society of Arboriculture supports that advice by showing that big trees aren't better for planting. Because small trees experience less root loss when transplanted, they establish themselves more quickly, usually overtaking their larger counterparts after just a few years.


1. How to Plant a Fruit Tree Guild
(Roots & Boots)
2. Creating an Apple Tree Guild
(RoseRed Homestead -- That "Woman with a Gadget")
3. How to Design a Fruit Tree Guild
(Robin Moore)
4. Function AND Beauty with Fruit Tree Guilds!
(Parkrose Permaculture)
5. Permaculture Paradise: Edgewood Gardens Fruit Trees Planting - Part 1
(johnny mars)
6. How to Make an Apple Tree Guild
(Jim Bob's Garden)
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