I just got a Fuji apple tree, and I was wondering what other plants I should keep around it. There are many types of companion plants, from pollinators to pest repellers to nitrogen fixers, and I wasn’t sure where to start. So, I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found out to be the best companion plants for apple trees.
The best companion plants for apple trees include 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 can benefit apple trees, what are some others, and what exactly do they do to help? Let’s take a closer look.
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Comfrey is one of the most popular companion plants, and for good reason. Not only does this flowering plant attract pollinators, but it can also add nitrogen to the soil and make a good mulch. All things that are essential for apple trees.
It’s no secret that the three primary nutrients that plants require are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (commonly abbreviated as NPK). Fortunately, comfrey provides a great and natural source of nitrogen.
To do this, comfrey pulls nitrogen out of the air and stores it into the soil via its roots. It also has a deep taproot, so the nitrogen can be worked down pretty far into the soil.
At the end of the growing season, when comfrey starts to die off, you can simply use it as a mulch for your apple trees. If you aren’t mulching your apple trees yet, you should definitely start! Mulching provides a steady release of nutrients in the soil, along with dramatically reducing evaporation in the soil.
In Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil, his primary message is to stop tilling dirt, cover it, and let it do its job! Using comfrey as a mulch is a great way to do this (and reduce the amount of water used!).
Wildflowers use their variety of bright colors to attract many types of beneficial insects, such as pollinators. These pollinators include bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
You might already know this, but why exactly are pollinators useful for apple trees?
Pollinators use the flower’s nectar as energy, and in the process, transfer pollen from flower to flower. This pollen then fertilizes the flowers, which develop into fruit.
Wildflowers commonly include:
- Bee Balm
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Purple Coneflower
- Meadow Cranesbill
- Black-Eyed Susan
Even though many apple trees are technically self-pollinating, they do best when they’re cross-pollinated. This results in increased fruit size and yields.
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
Overall, the pollinator’s role is incredibly useful for apple tree production. So, plant a variety of pollinator-friendly companion plants such as wildflowers to boost the production of your apple trees!
This aromatic makes an amazing companion plant for almost anything, including apple trees. Lavender is a hardy perennial and has a high resin content—meaning their leaves and flowers are usually tough and oily, repelling pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.
Its strong oils are also known for repelling ticks and fleas, and can even drive away mice too.
Lavender is also a fantastic pollinator, usually attracting many bees. Additionally, it can be used in homemade sprays, soaps, and more.
Generally, lavender likes hot, dry conditions, which makes them a good option for gardens that have intense summers.
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 with 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.
Even 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.
Nasturtiums are edible, beautiful, fast-growing, and are great companions for apple trees because they also attract aphids away from the tree.
While nasturtiums will help shield the apple tree from aphids, if you find them to still be a problem, you can use water, neem oil, or ladybugs (a natural predator to aphids).
It can be hard to believe that water will work, but it truly does! I once had aphids on my Kaffir lime tree and they were a pain to deal with. I finally found that spraying them with a light jet of water knocked them off and they haven’t come back since. At the time, it would have been good to know that nasturtiums would have helped too!
Nasturtiums come in a wide range of colors, and their sand-dollar-shaped leaves are attention-grabbing. They also have no problem growing in poor soil—as long as it drains well.
You can interplant nasturtiums with any plant on this list for added color and interest by your apple tree.
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Marigolds not only attract pollinators for your apple trees but can significantly reduce populations of nematodes.
It’s known that nematodes commonly transmit disease to fruit trees such as apple and peach trees. Fortunately, marigolds are a great and easy deterrent for nematodes.
Marigolds are best planted at the perimeter or outside of your apple trees. Just make sure to keep them in full sun (at least 6 hours). However, they can dry out in the strong sun and heat, so consider mulching the soil around them and keeping the ground moist.
7. Garlic and Onion
Planting garlic and onion near your apple trees will help repel bugs such as aphids, mites, maggots, as well as rabbits and deer. This is because their pungent smell and taste are not appealing to these pests’ strong senses.
In fact, these plant’s scents are so effective that some deterrents are even made from garlic.
Garlic 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.
Both garlic and onion do well in both full sun and partial sun. However, if you’re in a warmer climate, consider planting garlic and onions on the perimeter or underneath your apple tree so they can get a couple hours of relief from the hot sun.
We already covered some herbs such as lavender and rosemary (let’s be honest, they rightfully deserved their own section), but what about other herbs? Do they make good companion plants for apple trees?
Herbs such as basil, cilantro/coriander, lemongrass, mint, and chives are all good companion plants for apple trees. They attract pollinators, repel pests, and provide ground cover.
Typically, basil and coriander are the better-known pollinators while chives are known to repel pests. On the other hand, mint makes one of the best ground covers with its many runners and shoots.
Growing herbs can be a little tricky, but many of them will do well with partial sun and moderate watering. For this reason, they’re great to plant near or in the understory of apple trees.
Dandelions get a bad rep for being a “weed”, but really they’re extremely beneficial to have in gardens and around apple trees. Like comfrey, dandelions attract pollinators while building nitrogen in the soil.
They also function as a ground cover, helping to shade the soil and retain water. Along with comfrey, you can use dandelions as mulch when they start to die off in the fall. While it can be hard to believe that dandelions will make a lot of mulch, they commonly grow to be at least 1.5 feet tall.
Overall, dandelions make a great addition to any apple tree guild.
Another nitrogen builder, legumes are easy to grow and can be planted around and even under apple trees. They’re also a ground cover, typically vining and providing shade to the soil.
Legumes typically include:
- Other beans
Many legumes are also a good source of protein and can be grown as fodder for livestock. This makes them a great choice for any homestead.
Keep in mind that while some legumes are vining, others can be a bush variety. So, make sure to check before planting them with your apple trees. Generally, either type will work, but the bush varieties should be planted further from the apple tree to not compete with it.
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 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 pollinating companion plants, it’s best to plant them 25 feet or less from the apple tree. However, they will still benefit the apple tree up to 50 feet away. Any more than that and pollinators will be unlikely to visit both the pollinating plant and the apple tree’s flowers.
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, they do have a few deeper roots, including a taproot, that can compete with your apple trees. For this reason, plant other fruit trees at least 18-25 feet away.
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 every 3-5 years.
While it’s not a good idea to pair an apple tree and a companion plant in the same pot, 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. However, avoid touching the two plant’s leaves together since mold or disease can spread from the contact.
Other Flowering Plants 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:
If you’d like more information about why apple trees won’t fruit, and how to get the maximum fruit set, check out my recent post: Apple Trees Not Fruiting? Here Are the Top 5 Reasons.