I just got a Fuji apple tree and I was wondering what companion plants I should keep around it. So, I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for apple trees are wildflowers, nasturtium, lavender, and rosemary. Ideally, companion plants attract pollinators, build healthy soil, repel pests, and are visually appealing. Depending on their shade tolerance, some plants can be planted under the apple tree itself.
So, while these are a few companion plants that benefit apple trees, what are some others, and what exactly do they do to help? Let’s take a closer look.
Looking for a gardening and homesteading community? Join me and 14,000 people like you on Abundance+ and get access to masterclasses, experts, discounts, and more.
Benefits of Companion Planting
Companion planting is selecting specific plants to place together to achieve benefits, such as increasing pollination or repelling pests. Sometimes these benefits are one-sided, while others are mutual.
A famous example is The Three Sisters—planting corn, beans, and squash together. 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!
Here’s a list of the benefits that gardens gain from companion planting:
- Boost Pollination
- Repel Pests
- Prevent Weeds
- Fix Nitrogen
- Amend the Soil
- Cover the Soil
- Reduce Evaporation
- Provide a Living Trellis
- Maximize Space
- Produce More Food
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.
Comfrey is one of the most popular companion flowers at the moment because not only can it be 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 also fixes nitrogen in the soil, meaning its roots attract beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it as nitrates in the soil, ready for plants to use. Because of this, comfrey is a great plant to use for growing in and improving poor soils, making it a pioneer plant in ecological succession.
So, if you need more pollination, mulch, or nitrogen in your garden, grow comfrey!
For best results, plant comfrey next to fruiting plants like apple trees, as well as vegetables like asparagus. However, comfrey grows well with just about any plant.
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, 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 apple trees. Ideally, this is no more than 50 feet away as it maximizes the chances pollinators will visit both the wildflowers as well as your apple tree’s flowers.
The wildflower’s variety of colors is visually appealing to pollinators and provides a good mix of nectar and pollen they can use as energy and food.
Not only do wildflowers greatly attract pollinators, but they also attract beneficial insect predators such as birds, ladybugs, and beneficial wasps.
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.
3. Cover Crops
Many legumes (along with some grasses such as annual ryegrass) are also called cover crops as they are fantastic pioneer plants for depleted soils. And since orchards are often correlated with poor soils, cover crops are a vital companion plant.
Some examples of cover crops in the legume family are:
- Other beans
On the other hand, some grassy cover crops include annual ryegrass and cereal grasses.
More specifically, other benefits of cover crops include improving soil health by slowing erosion, retaining water, preventing weeds, and controlling pests and diseases. They’ve even been shown to increase crop yields.
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.Source
Cover crops (especially the legume varieties) fix nitrogen in the soil by promoting beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil as nitrates for other plants to use (source).
Like comfrey, you can mulch cover crops after growing them for even more nitrogen and other nutrients (as well as reduce evaporation), as many cover crops provide a great source of biomass and food for plants. You can mulch them by mowing or using the chop-and-drop method.
With cover crops such as clover, you can even grow them in-between your apple trees and run livestock through the alleys. Your livestock gets free food, and your apple trees get an amazing fertilizer in the form of manure.
If you’d like more information about cover crops, check out this resource by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
Lavender is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean, which makes it a natural drought-resistant plant.
This aromatic plant is also an amazing companion for almost any plant, including apple trees. For example, my lavender plants always attract pollinators in the dozens, mostly including bees. But its oily, aromatic flowers also naturally repel pests such as snails, slugs, and other pests (source).
Because of lavender’s appealing fragrance, it’s a common ingredient in homemade soaps, lotions, and more. It’s also used as a garnish in some recipes (I sometimes like a sprig of lavender in my lemonade). This makes lavender a great dual-purpose plant.
Generally, lavender likes hot and dry conditions, which makes them a good option for gardens that have intense and dry summers.
Lavender also grows well when planted alongside sage and rosemary (which both offer similar benefits).
A good friend to lavender, rosemary is another great choice for an apple tree companion plant.
Rosemary has tiny, but appealing flowers that attract pollinators from all around. Like lavender, this herb also has many homesteading applications, especially in cooking.
Plants like lavender and rosemary also have relatively short roots, which is helpful since plants with deeper roots can compete with the apple tree’s shallow roots.
As a result, I found that growing rosemary in California was much easier than growing it in Texas or Florida. For this reason, consider planting rosemary on a small mound to improve the soil’s drainage and water sparingly.
If you haven’t already, check out Abundance+. I use their app every day to learn from expert homesteaders about gardening, prepping, raising chickens, and other homesteading skills. Get a 7-day free trial and 10% off with the code: TYLER10
Many people I speak to 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, this means 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 other flowering plants. This is because it’s made from highly concentrated sucrose instead of glucose or fructose. As a result, it’s a highly desirable plant for pollinators.
Another reason why it’s great at attracting pollinators is that its long flowers evolved alongside the hummingbird’s long tongue (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.
However, if your nasturtium starts to get overrun with pests, plant dill, calendula, and cosmos nearby.
Nasturtium’s shallow roots also mean that it’s not difficult to remove if you decide to part ways with it.
Plant nasturtiums along with apple trees (and other fruiting plants), legumes, tomatoes, asparagus, and brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale). Avoid planting nasturtiums with squash and other vining plants since they can easily get tangled and compete.
So, if you’d like a ground cover that attracts many pollinators (especially hummingbirds), plant nasturtium!
Yarrow is a temperate flowering perennial, so it grows in similar climates as apple trees. This plant grows up to three feet tall, has plenty of home remedies, and attracts pollinators.
Many gardeners who grow yarrow say that it’s a relatively easy plant to grow and generally care-free. While yarrow flowers can grow in partial shade, they can get a bit twiggy. For best results, grow them in full sun and well-draining soil.
Ideally, interplant yarrow with apple trees, and other prairie plants such as butterfly milkweed, purple coneflower, and native grasses.
8. Alliums (Garlic, Onion, and Chives)
Garlic, chives, and onions are all part of the same family (allium) and, no surprise—they’re more potent-smelling than most plants. More specifically, this is likely due to their naturally occurring sulfur, which is great at repelling pests as well as its use as a natural anti-bacterial and fungicide.
In fact, these plants’ scents are so effective that some deterrents are even made from garlic.
Regarding pests, planting garlic, chives, and onions near your apple trees will help repel aphids, mites, maggots, as well as rabbits and deer (source). This is because their pungent sulfur smell and taste are not appealing to these pests’ strong senses.
It’s believed that the sulfur from these plants also helps prevent some plant diseases to some extent. For example, a common companion plant pairing is interplanting chives near apple trees to prevent scab (source).
However, if fungal or bacterial diseases do take hold, 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 plant near (or even under) apple trees.
These three plants all do well in both full sun and partial sun. However, if you’re in a warmer climate, consider planting them on the perimeter or underneath your apple trees so they can get a couple hours of relief from the hot sun.
Alliums have many companion plants, but avoid planting them with legumes and other alliums.
For more pest-repelling companion plants, visit my other post: 7 Companion Plants That Repel Pests
Chamomile is a great companion plant for apple trees because it’s easy to grow, fixes nitrogen in the soil, attracts beneficial insects, and grows well in partial shade.
There are two main types of chamomile: German (Maricaria recutita) and Roman (Anthemis nobilis). Both are beneficial to have as companion plants.
First, chamomile helps fix the nitrogen in the soil by promoting beneficial bacteria to store nitrates in the soil (similar to comfrey). Their flowers also attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybugs, beneficial wasps, and honey bees.
If you’re not already aware, many of these bugs are helpful since they are predatory to common pests. For example, ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids and will help keep their populations down.
Additionally, you can plant chamomile underneath or near your apple trees. For best results, plant on the east side of your apple tree to provide the chamomile with the cool morning sun and partial shade during the hot afternoon sun.
Chamomile also grows well with mint and basil.
You can also make chamomile tea with its flowers, but the more common variety to use for this is Matricaria chamomilla.
You may be thinking, “How did a weed make this list?”. But what is a weed other than a plant we think we don’t want?
The reason why we see dandelions growing everywhere is that it’s one of the first plants in ecological succession. In other words, it grows because it’s taking advantage of damaged soils, and is trying to improve them. As a result, dandelions roots are great at fixing nitrogen in the soil, similar to comfrey.
Also like comfrey, dandelions naturally protect soil from erosion and extreme temperatures, and generally—are a highly effective mulch.
For all of these reasons, dandelions make a great companion plant for apple trees.
As a bonus, dandelions also have edible leaves and flowers and are commonly made into many homemade products.
Bonus Companion Flowers for Apple Trees
Along with the flowering plants mentioned above, you also can plant these flowers to draw pollinators to your apple trees and promote a good harvest:
What Not To Plant Near Apple Trees
When planting companion plants for apple trees, avoid plants that have deeper roots as they can compete and even damage the tree’s shallow roots. Plants that can harm apple trees include tubers and root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
It’s also not a good idea to plant other fruit trees too close to your apple tree. While most fruit trees have 90% of their roots in the first 2 feet of soil, their roots can compete with your apple tree. For this reason, plant other fruit trees at least 5-15 feet away.
Where Do You Plant Apple Tree Companion Plants?
For companion plants that need more sun, such as wildflowers, lavender, and rosemary, consider planting them outside of the tree’s canopy. Others such as nasturtiums and chives prefer partial sun and can be planted underneath the apple tree.
Apple tree companion plants can generally be planted near or under the tree.
The main factors to consider are how competitive the plants’ roots are and how much sun they need.
If planting in the apple tree’s understory, make sure to keep the plant at least 2 feet away from the trunk to avoid competition.
For companion flowers, it’s best to plant them within 25 feet of your apple tree. However, they will still benefit the apple tree up to 50 feet away. Any longer than this and pollinators will be unlikely to visit both the companion flower and the apple tree’s flowers.
Can Potted Apple Trees Have Companion Plants?
It’s generally not a good idea to plant a companion plant in the same pot as an apple tree. Doing so can limit the root spacing and harm the potted apple tree’s growth. Potted apple trees also have a finite amount of soil and nutrients, and need to be repotted into a larger pot with fresh potting soil every 3-5 years.
However, you can definitely use a separate pot for each plant and keep them close to each other. With this, there’s no minimum distance to maintain. Still, avoid touching the two plant’s leaves together since mold or disease can spread from the contact.