Over the past several months, I’ve been doing research to find the best companion plants for the fruit trees in our garden (and beyond). Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for fruit trees are comfrey, cover crops, lavender, wildflowers, and other fruit trees. Most plants are companions to fruit trees as they provide benefits such as increased pollination, nitrogen, and mulch while reducing compaction, pests, and drought. Avoid planting near walnut trees.
To give you a quick look at some fantastic companions for fruit trees, I put together a table below.
|Apples/Pears||Comfrey, Chives, Nasturtium||Cedar (Juniper), Walnut|
|Stone Fruit (Peaches, Cherries, Plums)||Chives, Marigolds, Nuts||Peppers|
|Citrus||Lavender, Rosemary, Nasturtium||Nightshade, Walnut|
|Avocados||Lavender, Comfrey, Sweet Potatoes||–|
|Figs||Nasturtium, Comfrey, Thyme||Nightshade|
|Nuts||Stone Fruits, Berries, Comfrey||–|
|Persimmon||Comfrey, Borage, Marigolds||Walnut|
|Bananas||Palm Trees, Bamboo, Ginger||–|
|Mangos||Citrus, Comfrey, Mex. Sunflowers||–|
|Coconut/Date||Bananas, Ginger, Passion Fruit||–|
|Elderberries||Currants, Blackberries, Comfrey||Walnut|
|Mulberries||Alliums, Marigolds, Nasturtium||Walnut|
|Olive||Rosemary, Lavender, Nasturtium||–|
|Pomegranate||Sage, Rosemary, Chamomile||–|
|Kiwi||Currants, Lavender, Catnip||Nightshade|
|Grapes||Blackberries, Clover, Chives||–|
|Strawberries||Borage, Sage, Asparagus||Nightshade|
|Blueberries||Strawberries, Clover, Wildflowers||Tomatoes|
|Raspberries||Alliums, Tansy, Yarrow||Nightshade, Blackberries|
|Blackberries||Grapes, Chives, Blueberries||Raspberries|
So, while there are many companions for fruit trees, what are their main benefits, and which companions are the best for fruit trees? Let’s take a closer look.
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Benefits of Companion Planting
Companion planting is selecting specific plants to grow together to achieve benefits.
These benefits include:
- Boosting Pollination
- Repelling Pests
- Preventing Weeds
- Fixing Nitrogen
- Amending the Soil
- Preventing Erosion
- Reducing Evaporation
- Providing a Trellis
- Maximizing Space
- Producing More Food
Sometimes these benefits are one-sided, while others are mutual.
A famous example of companion planting is The Three Sisters—planting corn, beans, and squash together.
In this case, the corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb, the squash provides a ground cover, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Plus, all of them provide food!
Bill Mollison in his book, Introduction to Permaculture, describes permaculture and companion planting as ways to reduce your input (cost, time, and labor) and maximize your output (typically yields).
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of companion planting, check out my other post: The Top 10 Benefits of Companion Planting.
Now, let’s get into the top 10 companions for fruit trees.
For best results, plant comfrey next to fruit trees, as well as vegetables like asparagus. However, comfrey grows well with just about every plant.
Comfrey is one of the most popular companion flowers at the moment because not only is it used to attract pollinators but it grows incredibly fast and tall—eventually falling over and making a great mulch for other plants.
This mulch then reduces evaporation, provides protection from the elements, and adds nutrients to the soil.
Comfrey grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3-9, but it will grow pretty much anywhere. It also prefers a soil pH of 6.0-7.0 (which is the same as most fruit trees!).
Keep in mind that while comfrey doesn’t have any foes, it can grow and spread aggressively. Because of this, many gardeners prefer to grow Russian comfrey due to its sterile seeds.
So, if you need more pollination, ground cover, or mulch in your garden, grow comfrey!
2. Cover Crops
Many legumes (along with some grasses such as annual ryegrass) are called cover crops as they are fantastic pioneer plants to restore depleted soils ahead of fruit trees.
Some examples of cover crops are:
- Other beans
- Annual Ryegrass
- Cereal Grasses
A primary benefit of cover crops is fixing nitrogen in the soil.
And since fruit trees are heavy feeders of nitrogen (their primary nutrient), nitrogen fixers like cover crops are incredibly useful.
For example, in the drought of 2012, corn and soybean farmers reported a 9.6-11.6% yield increase when they used cover crops, likely due in part to the cover crop’s ability to add 50-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
Cover crops do this by attracting beneficial bacteria with their roots, which then take nitrogen from the air and store it as nitrates in the soil. These nitrates are then ready for other plants to use (source).
In his book, Peter Wohlleben Professional German forester, The Hidden Life of Trees, calls these nitrogen-fixing plants pioneer plants. These pioneer plants pave the way for more sensitive plants, such as fruit trees. This process is often called ecological succession.
To maximize the nitrogen and nutrients for other plants, cover crops should be mowed or chopped and dropped as mulch before they seed.
When a flower transforms to seed, the sugars in the flower turn to starch. As a starch, the energy and nutrient benefit are no longer available to the soil. So, the ideal time to cut down a cover crop is after flowering and before the seeds set.Joegardener.com
Other benefits of cover crops include improving soil health by slowing erosion, retaining water, preventing weeds, and controlling pests and diseases.
And you don’t need much livestock either.
Even something as small as a few chickens, ducks, or geese will keep the grass trimmed, pest populations down (such as snails and slugs), and fruit trees fertilized with manure.
Your fruit trees, livestock, and soil all benefit. It’s a win-win-win!
If you’d like to learn more about cover crops, check out this resource by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
What exactly are wildflowers?
Wildflowers are defined as any flower that has not been genetically manipulated (source).
- Bee Balm
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Purple Coneflower
- Meadow Cranesbill
- Black-Eyed Susan
Wildflowers are an amazing addition to your garden, especially if they’re within range of your fruit trees.
Ideally, this is around 25 feet or closer, but no more than 50 feet away as it maximizes the chances pollinators will visit both the wildflowers as well as your fruit tree’s flowers.
And even self-pollinating fruit trees benefit from cross-pollination.
All varieties of apple trees require some cross-pollination for fruit set. Even though some varieties are listed as self-fruitful, they will set fruit more heavily and more regularly if they are cross-pollinated.Washington State University
These varieties of wildflowers are especially appealing to pollinators and provide nectar and pollen, which they use as sugar and protein.
Wildflowers also attract beneficial insect predators such as birds, ladybugs, and beneficial wasps, which naturally keep pest populations down.
Any of the above wildflowers will work great as a companion plant for just about any fruit, vegetable, or herb plant. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to explore other wildflower varieties!
To see more companion flowers, check out my other post: The Top 10 Companion Flowers for Gardens, Vegetables, & More.
4. Rosemary and Lavender
Our rosemary and lavender plants attract pollinators in the dozens, helping pollinate fruit trees. But their oily, aromatic flowers also naturally repel pests such as snails, slugs, and other pests (source).
Rosemary and lavender are native to the Mediterranean, which makes them natural drought-resistant plants. As a result, they’re fairly easy to grow in most climates so you can spend the majority of your gardening efforts on your fruit trees and other projects.
These two plants also grow well when planted alongside sage, which offers similar benefits.
Plant nasturtiums along with fruit trees (and other fruiting plants), legumes, tomatoes, asparagus, and brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale).
If your nasturtium starts to get overrun with pests, plant dill, calendula, and cosmos nearby to help repel them.
Avoid planting nasturtiums with squash and other vining plants such as grapes since they get tangled and compete.
Most people I know have never heard of nasturtium, but when I show them a picture they quickly recognize it.
Nasturtium is often believed to be a weed, likely because it grows quickly and horizontally along the ground. However, because of this, nasturtium makes a great ground cover, reducing evaporation and protecting the soil from the elements and erosion.
Its edible flowers also have nectar that’s sweeter than most. This is because it’s made from highly concentrated sucrose instead of glucose or fructose.
As a result, nasturtium is highly desirable for pollinators.
Hummingbirds especially love nasturtium the bird’s tongue evolved alongside the long flowers (source).
Aside from providing ground cover and pollination, nasturtium has another benefit in companion planting—it attracts pests such as aphids and cabbage worms away from other plants (source). Nasturtium is pretty durable when it comes to pests, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it being damaged.
This flower’s short roots also mean that it’s not difficult to remove if you decide to part ways with it. As a bonus, their roots won’t compete with the fruit tree’s shallow roots.
So, if you’d like a ground cover that attracts many pollinators (especially hummingbirds), plant nasturtium!
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6. Alliums (Garlic, Onions, and Chives)
Garlic, onions, and chives are all part of the same family (allium) and, to no one’s surprise—they’re more potent-smelling than most plants.
This is likely due to their naturally occurring sulfur, which is great at repelling pests and treating plant diseases.
These plants’ scents are so effective that some deterrents are even made from garlic (source).
For pests, plant garlic, chives, and onions near your fruit trees to help repel aphids, mites, and maggots, as well as rabbits and deer (source).
Alliums have many companion plants, but avoid planting them with legumes and other alliums.
However, if fungal or bacterial diseases do take hold on your plant, garlic cloves can also be mixed into organic sprays along with neem oil and applied as a treatment.
Garlic, chives, and onion plants also have shallow roots that typically don’t exceed 12-18″, making them a good companion to grow outside of your fruit tree’s canopy.
These three plants all do well in both full sun and partial sun. But, if you’re in a warmer climate, consider planting them on the east side of your fruit tree—so the tree shades it from the hot, west sun.
For more pest-repelling companion plants, visit my other post: 7 Companion Plants That Repel Pests
7. Berry Bushes
Berry bushes make great companions for fruit trees as many of them provide bramble to keep away browsing herbivores like deer.
Most berries also provide a good understory as part of a food forest (more on this later).
Each type of berry has different characteristics, so keep these in mind when planting.
- Strawberries = ground cover
- Blueberries = understory bush
- Blackberries = understory and bramble
- Raspberries = understory and bramble
Strawberries are the only berry on this list that works as a ground cover (as opposed to a bush or bramble). Ground covers are fantastic at reducing evaporation and helping soil life thrive. You can think of ground covers as living mulch.
On the other hand, blackberries and raspberries can be planted as a natural fence or barrier to keep away pests such as deer, raccoons, and the like.
Avoid planting blackberries and raspberries together as they tend to compete.
Plant chamomile underneath or near your fruit trees for best results.
Chamomile also grows extremely well with mint and basil. You can also make chamomile tea with its flowers (the more common variety to use for this is Matricaria chamomilla).
Keep in mind there are two main types of chamomile: German (Maricaria recutita) and Roman (Anthemis nobilis). Both are beneficial to have as companion plants.
Ideally, grow chamomile on the east side of your fruit tree to provide it with the cool morning sun and protect it from the hot, afternoon sun.
This flower is a great companion plant for fruit trees because it’s easy to grow, fixes nitrogen in the soil, attracts beneficial insects, and grows well in partial shade.
For example, chamomile flowers attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybugs, beneficial wasps, and honey bees.
These bugs are beneficial largely because they’re predatory to common pests in the garden.
Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids and will help keep their populations down. Hoverflies also eat aphids. Many varieties of wasps eat caterpillars.
Hyssop is an evergreen flowering shrub that is known to boost a fruit tree’s pollination, improving yields in orchards.
This shrub is fairly hardy in most climates, growing in USDA hardiness zones 3-11 (source), which is a nice overlap with the climate for fruit trees.
You can also interplant hyssop with alliums.
Closely related to hyssop, mint is another companion plant for fruit trees. Although, make sure to allow enough room for mint as it’s fairly invasive and will spread quickly. Consider keeping the mint’s roots isolated by keeping them in a pot.
Interplant geraniums with crops that are more sensitive to pests like roses, corn, cabbage, and of course—fruit trees. However, avoid planting fruit trees and cabbages together as they can compete for nutrients.
Geraniums have numerous companion benefits including attracting pollinators and repelling pests (while trapping others).
For example, geraniums have been known to repel white cabbage butterflies and trap beetles—keeping them away from other plants such as veggies.
Most geranium flowers are red, orange, or white. However, there are some variations (such as the pink geranium in the photo above).
Geraniums are a family of flowering plants that contains over 280 different species. Most geranium varieties are temperate and die down in the winter. However, the species Pelargonium are evergreens native to warmer and tropical climates. These warmer species are fairly heat and drought-tolerant.
This plant is also easily propagated. Simply take a branch or cutting and place it in water. Over a short time, it grows roots and can be replanted.
More Companion Plants for Fruit Trees
While the above 10 companion plants are some of the best for fruit trees, I wanted to provide you with even more companion plants!
Here are some bonus plants that go great with fruit trees.
Plants that Attract Pollinators
- Bee Balm
- Flowering Sage
- Black-eyed Susan
- Butterfly Bush
- Flowering Sage
Many different animals can pollinate fruit trees. However, the most common pollinators are bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and wasps.
Basically, anything that visits flowers collects pollen on their bodies and fertilizes other flowers when that pollen rubs off.
So, to promote the best pollination for your fruit trees, and the best yields and fruit sizes, use a combination of the plants above.
Plants that Deter Pests
- Lemon Balm
Like attracting pollinators, deterring pests is extremely important in gardens.
There are some food forest growers, such as Pete Kanaris from the GreenDreamsTV YouTube channel, that use hedges of pest-deterring plants as a literal wall for their fruiting trees (shown in the video below).
Plants that Fix Nitrogen
- Black Locust
- Pigeon Peas
Fixing nitrogen is often the first step in preparing the soil for fruit trees. We’ve touched on quite a few of these already such as comfrey and cover crops, but use a combination of the above plants for best results.
What to Avoid Planting Near Fruit Trees
Deep-rooted plants such as potatoes, carrots, and other tubers or root vegetables can interfere with and even damage some of the fruit tree’s shallow roots, especially if they’re planted near or under the fruit tree’s canopy.
This is because fruit trees have 90% of their roots in the first 2 feet of soil (source). These roots are designed to search for nutrients and water and are more sensitive than other, deeper roots (which are used for anchoring the tree and accessing deeper water).
Juglone is often believed to hinder and damage other plants such as apple trees. However, some plants have shown resistance to it, or can even neutralize it, including cherries, peaches, legumes, carrots, onions, melons, and squash.
How to Start a Food Forest
While learning about some companion plants for fruit trees might be helpful, how exactly does this translate to your garden?
In other words, what’s an example pairing of several plants that you can actually use with your fruit trees?
The first step is to determine your USDA hardiness zone. These zones measure the average minimum winter temperature.
Once you have your zone, refer to either the tropical or temperate section below.
For example, here in Austin, Texas, I’m in zone 8b, which means my average winter temperature is about 15ºF to 20ºF. Since citrus trees prefer zones 9-11, it gets just a little too cold here to grow citrus trees.
Here are some of the best examples of the best companion groups and guilds that I’ve found:
Tropical Food Forest (Zones 9-11)
Tropical fruit trees are those found natively in the tropics and subtropics and are generally evergreen (keeping their leaves year-round).
- Palm Tree (coconut and date)
For best results, consider planting companion plants in multiple vertical layers such as the following (feel free to refer to the above image for a visual example).
- Overstory = Palm Tree
- Midstory = Banana
- Understory = Pigeon Pea
- Ground Cover = Sweet Potato
- Vines = Kiwi
- Swale = Vetch
Temperate Food Forest (Zones 3-8)
Temperate fruit trees are those natively found in cooler climates.
Common temperate fruit trees include:
These trees are often deciduous (dropping their leaves in the fall and winter and regrowing them in the spring). This is a survival tactic they use to go dormant and survive the colder weather.
Here’s an example of a food forest’s layers in a temperate climate:
- Overstory = Oak
- Midstory = Elderberry
- Understory = Asparagus
- Ground Cover = Strawberries
- Vines = Grapes
- Swale = Hairy Vetch
To see a temperate food forest in action, check out one of my favorite food forests videos:
When companion planting your fruit trees, aim to promote perennials over annuals. While annuals have many benefits, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you lean on plants that can survive more than one year and become independent of your care.
Fruit trees love mulch. Seriously, they can’t get enough. Mulch mimics fallen leaves in forests and dramatically retains water, prevents weeds, and deters pests. Provide your fruit trees with a mound of mulch around 4-12 inches high.
If you’re working with heavy clay soils (as many of us are), avoid planting the fruit tree in a hole as the compact clay essentially creates a bucket in the ground. This stores water and drowns the plant’s roots.
Instead, plant the fruit tree in a mound of soil and build the soil up.
For example, a good way to build mounds and fill raised beds is with Hugelkultur.
Raised beds are often the most expensive item in the garden, but a little secret is there are some nice, affordable ones on Amazon.
For our fruit trees, we’ve planted lavender, jasmine, and other flowering plants nearby.
We also have an onion and garlic patch not too far away, so there’s a good chance they’re repelling pests (we’ve noticed a decrease in caterpillars and white moths).
If you’d like to see more about food forests, check out this amazing video by the Weedy Garden on YouTube. He’ll also give you a tour of his beautiful and thriving tropical food forest.