Remember that truly amazing next-door neighbour you had once?
They fed your fish while you were getting sunburn on some far-flung beach, served as your personal out-of-hours amazon delivery warehouse, and were so silent you’d have sworn they got around the house via some sophisticated system of elevated walkways.
Well, if you were a fruit tree, that A* neighbour would be what’s known as a ‘Companion Plant’.
Awful metaphors aside, companion planting is natures way of helping us to reduce, or even avoid relying on artificial fertilisers and pesticides altogether in our quest to keep our fruit trees happy and healthy.
This wonderful assortment of plants can help fertilise your trees through nitrogen sequestration, attract beneficial predators to deal with unwanted pests, and even help support the pollinators that any good crop relies upon.
Bring fertility, utility & beauty to your garden this year with our Top Five Useful Perennials.
They can be planted between rows, in the understory, or both. It’s truly up to you how you decide to use these fantastic horticultural tools.
Here on our little orchard, we generally plant larger nitrogen fixing shrubs & trees between and within rows as needed, utilising the understory of each individual fruit-bearing tree primarily for pest control and beneficial pollinator forage.
We’ve found a 2:1 Ratio of Fruit to Nitrogen-Fixer is our sweet spot, but as always experiment and see what works best for you.
And as an added extra, many of these companion plants actually provide a harvest of their own. This for us was an unexpectedly pleasant suprise when harvesting time finally came around. The little things really do add up.
So, my apologies to anybody who’s relationship can’t take another unusual plant showing up at the front door, because we’re about to recommend a whole bunch of them. Nasturtiums are all the company anyone could need anyway. Brilliant listeners..
Let’s get into it.
Interested in turning your garden into a veritable pollinator-buffet? Take a look at our Top 15 Pollinator Friendly Perennials and become a bumblebee’s best friend.
- (E) – Edible Crop
- (N) – Nitrogen-fixing
- (PR) – Pest Repellent
- (BP) – Beneficial Pollinator Forage
Trees & Shrubs
Perfect for planting either between or within rows of fruit trees (if in an orchard-style setting), or alongside in a smaller-scale plant guild.
Honey Locust – (N) / (BP)
A medium sized tree with beautifully golden, fern-like foliage, the Honey Locust is our personal favourite nitrogen-fixing tree. We plant within rows of mixed fruit trees with a two to one ratio of fruit to nitrogen fixer, and have found that our crop sizes have reliably increased with no additional fertiliser used other than the standard twice-yearly mulching. When planted between fruit trees the Honey Locust provides a barrier to pests, along with forage for beneficial pollinators.
Siberian Pea – (N) / (BP) / (E)
Siberian Pea is a perennial legume, bringing with it the nitrogen-fixing properties common across the legume family. This permaculture favourite is a rare find, providing a consistently large savoury crop while needing no molly-coddling. It is particularly hardy, showing vigorous growth in the worst of soils. It’s small flowers also provide a nectar source for beneficial pollinators, making this hardy shrub a real multi-purpose addition as a companion plant.
For a more in depth look into Siberian Pea’s abundant uses, along with a selection of other all-star perennials, check out our Top 5 Useful Perennials article.
Autumn Olive / Goumi – (N) / (BP) / (E)
Both Autumn Olive and the lesser known Goumi are members of the ‘Elaeagnus’ family of plants, originally found in East Asia. Both provide a heavy crop of uniquely flavoured berries at maturity, with Goumi said to generally produce larger, better tasting berries. They are nitrogen-fixing, hardy, and very disease resistant, requiring little maintenance other than annual pruning to maintain healthy annual crops.
Growing to roughly 5x4m at maturity, these shrubs are best planted either within or between rows, needing more room to spread than traditional under-storey companion plants. Their small flowers also offer forage for beneficial pollinators, one of the many reasons why Autumn Olive is a personal favourite companion plant of ours.
For a more in depth look into Autumn Olives abundant uses, along with a selection of other all-star perennials, check out our Top 5 Useful Perennials article.
Sea Buckthorn – (N) / (BP) / (E)
A hardy shrub native to Asia, Sea Buckthorn is another multi-purpose shrub ideal for companion planting alongside fruit trees. It fixes nitrogen, provides a large crop of berries (which are high in Vitamin C and make a fantastic jam), and its flowers are a great source of nectar for beneficial pollinators. Sea Buckthorn requires very little maintenance and can be grown in less than perfect soils, while it does not require much space. Hardy, multi-purpose and low-maintenance – What’s not to love?
Scotch Broom – (N) / (BP)
A lesser known nitrogen fixer, Scotch Broom is a leguminous shrub native to Europe. It is highly poisonous, so care should be taken if planting this where young children can gain access. Despite this, Scotch Broom provides nitrogen for surrounding plants alongside a huge amount of forage for beneficial pollinators, in our experience attracting far more attention from the local bee population than the above mentioned shrubs. A handy nitrogen-fixing companion plant if secondary edible crops are not your highest priority.
Ideal for understory planting.
Mint – (PR) / (E)
Mint’s pungent smell helps to repel pests such as cabbage moths, aphids and ants, making it a potent organic tool in your pest repellent armoury. Its leaves of course can also be used in a whole variety of different ways, from keeping your home smelling fresh to spicing up your DIY Margaritas. Anyone who’s grown mint before will know how vigorously it spreads, so it may be best to contain to a pot if planting as an understory companion plant.
Sage – (PR) / (E) / (BP)
Similarly to Mint, Sage’s aroma helps to repel a variety of different pests, including snails, beetles and cabbage moths. It can be harvested as an edible herb while its small blue flowers serve as forage to beneficial pollinators. Grows very well as an understory companion plant.
Chives – (PR) / (E) / (BP)
A beautifully ornamental option as an understory companion plant, Chives help to repel pests such as aphids, ants and certain species of beetle. They’re a great edible crop, with garlic chive being a particular favourite of ours, are easy to grow and provide forage for beneficial pollinators. Not a bad list of pro’s for such an unassuming little plant.
Lupine – (N) / (BP)
Lupine makes a great stand-alone ornamental, but is also well suited to planting as an understory companion plant, providing nitrogen-sequestration as well as attracting a range of beneficial pollinators. Lupine is known as a particular favourite for a range of different butterfly’s, which (if you’re anything like me) is reason enough to rip up the lawn in favour of a Lupine sea this season. Some cultivars can grow up to 10ft, so choose your variety carefully depending on the purpose you have in mind for this wonderful companion plant.
Hyssop – (PR) / (E) / (BP)
Hyssop is a particularly potent pest repellent, helping to keep a huge range of pests at bay. Codling moth, aphids, root maggots and Japanese beetles are just a few of the species known to have a dislike for Hyssops strong aroma. Its attractive flowers attract a range of beneficial pollinators, its leaves and flowers are edible, and it is more than happy growing as an understory companion plant. We regularly use this cracking little plant in our orchards and have found it to be a very effective addition to the pest repelling team.
Borage – (PR) / (E) / (BP)
An edible plant with attractive blue flowers, Borage serves to attract beneficial pollinators, while also repelling a variety of pests. Borage is said to be particularly attractive to pollinators, and is more than happy growing as an understory companion plant. A solid multi-purpose addition to any fruit guild.
Comfrey – (N) / (BP)
Comfrey, a true permaculture all-star. This unassuming perennial brings with it a characteristic unique to this list – Mineral Accumulation. Once established Comfreys deep taproot allows it to gain access to minerals out of reach of most other plants. These minerals are partly dissipated into the surrounding soil, however the main concentration remains stored in the Comfreys leaves. Luckily, Comfrey reacts very well to heavy pruning, meaning the leaves themselves can be regularly harvested.
Once harvested, Comfrey leaves can either be used as a nutrient-rich mulch, layered in a compost pile or brewed into ‘Comfrey Tea’, a highly potent and easily made liquid fertiliser. As if that wasn’t reason enough to join team Comfrey, its dense foliage is an effective weed-suppressor, making it perfect when placed as an understory companion plant.
For a more in depth look into Comfreys abundant uses, along with a selection of other all-star perennials, check out our Top 5 Useful Perennials article.
Lavender – (PR) / (BP)
Lavender. It looks great. It smells great. Its hardy and easy to grow, attracts a huge range of beneficial pollinators and repels aphids. We’re huge fans of Lavender and use it under just about all of our Fruit & Nut trees. And if you’re anything like me and end up planting more Lavender than you can shake a stick at, you shouldn’t worry about them going to waste. Aromatherapists commonly use the flowers in their treatments, with the scent said to be very relaxing. We’ve found that dried stems make lovely additions dotted around the house.
Nasturtium – (PR) / (BP)
A particularly effective pest repellent which also provides forage for beneficial pollinators, Nasturtium is a must-have companion plant for any apple guild. It is particularly effective in reducing the damage caused by the apple scourge codling moth, although it also serves to repel aphids and certain species of caterpillar. We use Nasturtium throughout our apple orchard, and have had little trouble with the usual pests despite using no artificial repellent. Every apple tree deserves a Nasturtium by its side.
Wormwood – (PR) / (BP)
Another useful herb, Wormwood’s strong scent repels a variety of garden pests. Its small flowers also provide forage for beneficial pollinators, while attracting a slew of aphid predators to help control this common pest. Quite uncommon in the modern British garden, Wormwood certainly deserves a spot within a varied companion planting.
Whether companion planting for vegetables, fruit trees or otherwise, we found a whole slew of value in the following selection of books.
- Companion Planting for the Kitchen Gardener: Tips, Advice, and Garden Plans for a Healthy Organic Garden
- Companion Planting Secrets – Organic Gardening to Deter Pests and Increase Yield: Chemical Free Methods to Reduce Pests, Combat Diseases and Grow
So there we have it!
Fifteen companion plants which any self-respecting fruit tree would be lucky to call their neighbour.
As always, my apologies to the plethora of fantastic plants left out this line-up. There really is such a rich bounty of options to choose from when it comes to companion planting.
Anyhoo, I hope this little glimpse into the wonderful world of companion planting has been of use. Thank you for checking us out and best of luck in your pest repelling, nitrogen-fixing, beneficial pollinator attracting adventures.
Have a great day.