10 Companion Plants for the Orchard
(To download this information
with diagrams, click here.)
Companion plants encourage natural processes that benefit overall
health and vitality of fruit trees. This means less work lugging
around sprayers, buying fertilizer, spreading compost and worrying
about pollination. These plants help us do the work and they do
it well. (For more tips on attracting pollinators, click here.)
Companion plants play important roles in the orchard as:
- Living Mulches produce large quantities
of organic matter that can be cut back to decompose around tree
bases, enriching the soil.
- Dynamic Accumulators have long taproots
that bring up minerals from deep subsoil. Cut foliage throughout
the season to break down around trees, creating dark nutrient-dense
- Nitrogen-Fixers transform nitrogen from
the air to the soil where it can be absorbed by tree roots.
- Beneficial Insect Accumulators contain
nectar sought by predatory insects (aka beneficial insects, including
braconid wasps, syrphid flies, and lacewings) that feed on fruit-tree
pests. BIAs also attract orchard pollinators.
- Pest Confusers have bitter aromas that
deter and confuse insect pests from eating fruit.
When planting in your orchard consider:
- Once established, companion plants do not require a lot
of care; they will do fine on their own.
- Planting companions in groups, masses or hedges is often
more effective than planting individuals. Think nature!
- Plant woody shrubs and beneficial insect accumulators along
orchard borders where they can flower and thrive undisturbed out
of the way of the mower. Others such as Living Mulches, Dynamic
Accumulators and herbaceous Nitrogen Fixers can be placed closer
to the trees. Cut them and let the foliage decompose to nourish
Here are our top 10 companions. Don’t limit yourself—there
are many more! See the plant chart on pages 50–51 for other
suggestions. Where noted, these are available from Fedco Trees (FT),
Fedco Seeds (FS) or Fedco Bulbs (FB).
Those not offered by Fedco can be found elsewhere, often by the
side of the road or in your own backyard.
- Comfrey Symphytum officinale Dynamic
Accumulator rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium when cut to
the ground for mulch; makes a mineral-rich foliar spray. Predatory
pest habitat. Nearly impossible to eradicate: plant it where you
want it forever, 4–15' from tree trunks. (FT)
- Daffodils Narcissus spp. Deter mice
and voles from girdling tree trunks. Plant in a tight circle (bulb
to bulb) about 12" from tree trunks. (FB)
- Dogwoods Cornus spp. Beneficial Accumulator
increases braconid wasp populations to parasitize numerous pests
such as apple maggot flies, moths and caterpillars. (FT)
- Horsetail Equisetum arvense Dynamic
Accumulator extremely rich in silica. The cream of the crop when
it comes to making tea for foliar spray. Promotes strong and healthy
cell growth in fruit, considered anti-fungal. Don’t let it
get too close to the garden or you’ll never get it out. Often
found in the wild.
- Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis Pest Confuser
with bitter aroma, long used as a companion plant in gardens and
- Chives Allium schoenoprasum Help prevent
scab. Make into tea and use as a foliar spray. Groundcover and aromatic
Pest Confuser. (FS)
- Siberian Peashrub Caragana arborescens
Nitrogen-fixing woody shrub can be planted alone or as a border.
Prune it back to the base and use for mulch. (FT)
- Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata Beneficial
Accumulator provides nectar for adult syrphid flies whose larvae
eat huge quantities of aphids. Predatory pest habitat. Will thrive
in the shade of mature trees. Start from seed, available in the
- Tansy Tanacetum vulgare Pest Confuser
with strong aroma of camphor, deters codling moth and borers. Toxic
if eaten. Often found in the wild.
- Yarrow Achillea millefolium Living
Mulch rich in copper, nitrogen and phosphorus. Also very beneficial
for adding minerals to the compost pile. (FS, FT)
Don’t limit yourself—there are many more! To download
this information with diagrams, click here.