Cherry Tree Guilds: Learn How To Grow A Cherry Tree Guild

Cherry Tree Guilds: Learn How To Grow A Cherry Tree Guild

By: Teo Spengler

A plant guild is a little landscape created by a gardener around a single tree. Cherry tree guilds use a cherry tree as the centerpiece of the planting area. For more information about cherry tree plant guilds, read on.

Purpose of a Cherry Tree Plant Guild

Think of creating a cherry tree plant guild as a polyculture technique. It allows you to plan and plant an entire natural, useful landscape using one tree as the focal point. The guild starts with the cherry tree, then encompasses other plant species. You select each additional species for a specific reason that makes it beneficial to the other plants in the guild.

Holistically minded gardeners love the concept of cherry tree guilds. The idea of planning an entire landscape of plants that work together and cooperatively is appealing. And the results of planting around cherry guilds are rewarding. Since the plants complement each other, there is less maintenance work.

Cherry tree plant guilds also optimize space, produce more diverse food gardens, and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

How to Grow a Cherry Tree Guild

If you want to know how to grow a cherry tree guild, you begin with a cherry tree and a plan. Every guild starts with a centerpiece tree that will represent the primary food yield of the system. With cherry tree guilds, a cherry tree is that centerpiece. Select a site with enough room for both the tree and various secondary plants.

Before planting a cherry tree, work the soil all around the site. You will be installing an understory to assist the fruit tree to thrive and produce. These smaller plants need excellent soil to do their job.

Planting around cherry guilds is the next step. What types of plants should you include in cherry tree guilds? Any plant that helps the cherry tree is welcome, but some types of plants get priority. Experts agree that when you start planting around cherry guilds, your first focus should be plants that fix nitrogen into the soil. After that, consider plants that accumulate nutrients, attract pollinators and repel bad bugs.

You might think about a grouping that includes chives, garlicand Dutch white clover. All act to fix nitrogen, as well as attracting pollinators. The clover also provides a living mulch you can walk on.

If you want more options when you are figuring out how to build a cherry tree guild, here are a few. Consider calendula, chamomile, comfrey, oreganoor sweet alyssum for planting around cherry guilds.

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Read more about Cherry Trees

Planting Permaculture Guilds – Your Comprehensive Guide

It’s always a pleasure to find ways to increase your garden yield while reducing your labor, time, and cost outputs. Luckily, guilds are another great way to do this – providing you with high quality, diverse yields – with less work.

By planting in patterns to benefit from companion planting and forest gardening, guilds use plants as an integrated self-balancing management system to protect and support your crops. The result is healthy, more fruitful plants and bigger high-quality yields, with less time spent on hard-graft and crisis management.

If you’d like to learn about guilds, how to build them, and how they work – read on! This guide is for you!

Garden guilds: Plants that grow in harmony

Buddy system boosts plants' productivity

2 of 8 Fred Bove planting spinach seeds amongst Chandler strawberry plants in the Chronicle garden in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, April 3, 2009. Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

4 of 8 Painted Lady and Lady Di beans to be planted in the Chronicle garden in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, April 3, 2009. Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 8 Peru Andean crops being planted in the Chronicle garden in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, April 3, 2009. Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

7 of 8 Garden Guilds (John Blanchard / The Chronicle) Show More Show Less

Editor's note: Chronicle staffer Jane Tunks, a novice gardener, is using The Chronicle's rooftop garden as her classroom, with Fred Bové and Kevin Bayuk from the San Francisco Permaculture Guild as her teachers. Here is another of her lessons. Read other stories in the series at

A horticultural lovefest takes over a container in the rooftop garden, as bees flit around a budding Meyer lemon tree and then nuzzle up against a cherry tomato plant. A prolific thyme plant also competes for the bees' affection, its gorgeous purple flowers waving around in the wind, beckoning the urban bees to come hither.

"It's time for a little talk about the birds and the bees," Fred Bové joked, as he explained to me how the plants illustrated the permaculture principle of garden guilds, groupings of vegetation in which each plant supports the other plants around it.

Each container on The Chronicle's rooftop is filled with plants that co-exist, sharing the same soil, water and light. They even share the affections of the birds and the bees.

Most garden guilds borrow heavily from Mother Nature. With thoughtful and protracted observation, permaculturists observe the conditions that a plant naturally thrives in, and use that information to create beneficial relationships among plants.

With just a few tweaks to our existing garden design, Bové and Kevin Bayuk from the San Francisco Permaculture Guild have helped me transform The Chronicle's rooftop garden from a ragtag group of planters into a collection of mini ecosystems.

Emulating nature on a SoMa rooftop may seem far-fetched, but garden guilds have helped us maximize production in a limited space, a huge challenge for container gardening. By mimicking nature, our plants now share nutrients, light and water, and even attract pollinators and repel unwanted pests for one another.

"Every element in the guild serves more than one function, and every function is served by more than one element," explained Bayuk, as he gave me my elementary-school-level education on permaculture.

Despite all the wonky talk about elements and functions, creating garden guilds can be easy.

For example, one of the planters on our rooftop has an espaliered apple tree, runner beans, strawberries and spinach. The low-lying strawberries act as ground cover, which helps the soil retain moisture, and the nitrogen-fixing runner beans feed the soil underneath the apple tree. And when the runner beans get tall, they can climb the lower branches of the apple tree as well as a nearby trellis. The shade-loving spinach thrives in the shadows created by the apple tree and the runner beans (see cover illustration).

Though the term permaculture wasn't coined until the 1970s, the practice borrows many of its techniques from cultures that have been tilling the earth for centuries. The American Indians, for example, have long planted beans, squash and corn together, a grouping commonly referred to as the Three Sisters. In addition to providing the American Indian diet with a complete protein, the crops can be stored without refrigeration through the winter.

For one of our garden guilds on the rooftop, we borrowed heavily from American Indian wisdom, planting Hubbard squash alongside bush beans and blue corn (see cover illustration). The squash leaves provide a cool, moist ground cover that also suppresses weeds, and when mature, the beans climb up the corn stalks. We also added sunflowers, which provide a windbreak and act as a trellis for the beans.

All of the elements, once harvested, produce biomass that can be chopped and added to the already nitrogen-enriched soil, ensuring a head start on next year's crop.

4 Answers 4

This is not really an answer to your question, but may be a step towards an answer.

If you want a plant guild adapted to your area that contains Prunus species, you may want to look at your local forest to understand how it is put together and where Prunus species fit into it. In Vegetation of Wisconsin, John T. Curtis measured the prevailance of plant species in the major plant communities in the state of Wisconsin. Your local forest is an eastern extension of a forest the Curtis called the northern dry-mesic forest. The forest in your area will likely contain all the species of its Wisconsin counterpart plus a few additional, in particular, a greater variety of ferns.

A northern dry-mesic forest in Wisconsin would have as dominant canopy species: Pinus strobus (White Pine), Acer rubrum (Red Maple), Quercus rubra (Northern Red Oak), Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch), and Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple). Unlike New Hampshire, Fagus grandifolia (Beech) is well down the list since it has hardiness issues in many areas of Wisconsin.

The two Prunus in the forest, P. serotina (Black Cherry) and P. pennsylvanica (Pin Cherry), are not very shade tolerant. So they also not major dominants. Pin Cherry is primarily a forest edge species since it is small. While P. serotina also appears at the edge and in openings, it also scatters large numbers of seedlings across the shady forest floor to wait for a large tree to die. If so blessed, one of the cherry seedlings will take the dead tree's place. So P. serotina regularly appears as a canopy tree. The similarly handicapped bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) uses the same stealthily approach to finding a place in this forest.

The following is a list of the major ground-layer species ranked according to their frequency of appearance:

Interestingly, there does not appear to be any nitrogen fixing plants in either the canopy or ground layer. Alder (Alnus viridis) does fix nitrogen, and, though it was observed in the somewhat drier and pine dominated northern dry forest, even there, it was rare (seen in one of thirty-eight stands).

The next step in developing your plant guild would, I suppose, be to figure out the ecological purpose of some of the plants present so that you can decide whether to include those plants or something similar in your guild.

Edit. Corrected some plant names above and added some observations:

I notice that among the top five or six ground-layer species there is a large variation in bloom time, running from early spring to early autumn. I am guessing this is due to competition for pollinators. I see this issue in my herb garden. Normally, thyme and chive flowers are quite attractive to bees. However, when the fennel is in bloom, they couldn't be bothered. Hence, you may want to take care that the bloom time of plants whose fruit you want does not overlap with others. At the same time, it may be wise to see that there is always something in bloom so that pollinators will choose to take up residence in nearby.

The ground-layer species in this forest, mostly, are not good ground covers. They either intertwine a couple-three species to cover the ground or they depend on leaf mulch. If you based your guild on this forest, you will likely need to need to add a layer of mulch each fall.

That said, there are a few species that do behave like traditional vigorous, tight ground covers: Diervilla, Mitchella, Gaultheria, Waldstienia, and Clematis.

Finally, it is curious how many of fruits in the understory tree and shrub layer seem so delicious. With only two exceptions, all the fruits are shrub layer fruit are very attractive to wildlife. I imagine that all of these plants are opportunists the way black cherry and butternut hickory are, spreading their seed far and wide in hopes that there will be an opening for them somewhere.

Lemon tree guild

posted 4 years ago
  • 2

  • It's really hard to find info on what plants grow well with citrus trees, lemon in particular.

    I live in a rental place with a fully mature lemon tree, and really want to plant beneficial companions around it so I dont have to deal with the grass and burr clover that are taking over everywhere. The lemon tree is about 50ft. away from a fruitless (so annoying) mulberry tree and like 10ft. from a juniper. There are also rose bushes about every 10 ft. on this property.

    So far I've found that these are companions for citrus trees:
    clover, alfalfa, peas (legumes in general)
    lemon balm (or any mints)

    Anyone know of anything else or if any of these are wrong? Maybe some other perennials?

    I want to draw up a little guild map, when I do I'll post it up here..

    posted 4 years ago

  • Citrus are fairly shallow rooted for trees. Something to keep in mind when planning companions.

    I will weigh in on the dill, though. It's in full flower right now in zone 8b. After it sets seed the whole plant dies. In warmer zones it's a cool season plant.

    posted 4 years ago
    • 2

  • Those are all great choices for a citrus guild. You'll want to attract ladybugs, wasps and other predator insects to keep the aphids in check.

    What kind of lemon? If it's a standard Eureka lemon, they are very hearty and outcompete and outgrow just about everything. Meyer lemons, in my experience, as much less aggressive growers. I killed 3 Meyer trees before I finally got my existing tree to take off—and that's saying something because I never loose trees. It was so frustrating.

    Nasturtiums self seed and are a nice bio-mass producer. The flowers are edible and make a nice companion for citrus guilds.

    Stinging nettle does well in deep shade and seems to do well in dry conditions as well. I just posted my stinging nettle pesto recipe in the kitchen forum. Lady bugs like it.

    If left untended, lemon balm can be a bit invasive, like mint. Stay on top of it.

    If you're growing thyme, throw in a couple of rosemary plants as well. One upright, and one creeping. They are good friends in the garden, and once established, they'll do well in dryer conditions. A well established lemon tree will suck the water out of the soil pretty quickly.

    Fennel is a nice dynamic accumulator. Once it seeds, you'll forever get volunteer fennel plants coming up. But try to pull the ones you want out while they are young, as they send a thick tap root pretty deep and are tough to thin once they've taken deep root.

    I think its lovely that you'll have a little herb garden under your lemon tree. Once established, herbs don't need much water --- at least perennial herbs tend to do well in dry conditions.

    "The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf

    Guilding the Plum

    In permaculture, fruit tree guilds are a way of creating a miniature sustainable ecosystem in your yard. Instead of sticking a fruit tree in the ground in the middle of a field and watering and fertilizing and spraying it conventionally, a guild is humans mimicking nature’s way of doing these things.

    After all, in natural settings, trees are fruitful and successful without any of the deer having to run over to the Co-op to buy fertilizer–not that I have seen.

    We create a mini-natural ecosystem in our backyards by observing what happens in nature and copying it. This way we can benefit from the low-tech, low-effort, self-perpetuating natural processes in our own yards.

    In the following example, my plum guild, I truly mean MINI. Guilds can get huge, and become actual edible forests, but I live in the suburbs and I am starting small.

    The tree was planted last fall, so I dug out a trench around the existing tree, but this can be done at the time of planting.

    The tree or shrub

    This can be anything you want to have in your yard: fruit or nut tree or shrub. Just like nature, though, select something that does well in your region. In this case I selected a Chickasaw plum, which is native to my state and region and is known for being adaptable and disease-resistant. The fruit is tart and tasty. It can also take dappled light, although it prefers full sun.

    Insect Nectary Plants

    These are blooming plants which attract beneficial pollinators and other beneficial insects. I planted yarrow (achillea millefolia), which is a terrific companion plant I grow throughout my vegetable garden. It attracts butterflies, predatory wasps, and ladybugs, among others, and repels ants, flies, and mosquitoes. (It makes a good insect repellent when tinctured). I also planted daffodil bulbs around the plum tree. In addition to their blooms, they are known to repel voles and so protect the baby plum tree root system.

    Soil Conditioners/Fertilizers

    These are elements that improve the tilth of the soil around the plant and add nutrition to the soil for the plant to thrive. I chose comfrey, a medicinal perennial that puts down deep roots to break up the clay and mines trace minerals from deep in the soil. It also has a nice bloom that attracts pollinators and looks pretty. The large leaves shade the soil, prevent weeds, and can be cut down a couple of times a year and left around the tree to fertilize the soil with all those good minerals that the deep roots sucked up. Comfrey roots easily from small pieces of root dug up from existing plants. I just ringed the tree with these chunks of root and they will sprout and come up later this year.

    I put down some shredded bark from Mulch Mountain II (no longer PU!) to help keep the weeds down and keep a buffer zone around the tree for the lawn mower. The guild will grow up as the tree grows, spreading and maturing, and making friends with the chickens. I’m gradually guilding my other fruit trees, too. I’ll report on their progress as it goes.

    P.S. The tomato cage isn’t a part of permaculture design. It’s because the tree is a little too close to the basketball goal.

    Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

    Do you have any concerns about the yarrow and comfrey spreading all over the rest of your yard? I really appreciate you sharing this!

    I was wondering about the use of yarrow. It is very invasive, how do you control it in your guild so that it doesn’t become a problem?

    I love reading about permaculture! It’s always so interesting to see companion planting and ways to build mini eco-systems. I hope the plum trees grow beautifully and deliciously!

    Just started an online permaculture design certificate course with Geoff Lawton. He has a slew of free videos at his website (down for a while, but will be back up soon). Inspiring and informative. Lots of vids on Youtube as well, by any number of authors. Hope lots of people read about permaculture and adopt the ethic underlying it: Care of People, Care of Planet, Share the surplus! Good for personal resilience and food security….

    Chickasaw plums grow wild here. They make the best tasting and most beautiful jelly. The color is fantastic. I juice my plums and then freeze the juice for jelly making. I love to do it for Christmas presents. This is my “most favorite” jelly. Enjoy!

    Cynthia–I haven’t had too much of a problem with it in my veg beds. I can always divide it up and move or give it away.

    Julie–My comfrey is the noninvasive type and the yarrow is pretty well behaved. I let it go up to a point then divide it.

    What’s the best way to find out what plants to “guild” with for a particular tree if you don’t have time to take courses?

    Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

    For those who aren’t familiar a fruit tree guild is a permaculture method of planting a fruit tree in combination with other plants that will grow together to create a mini ecosystem around the tree. While there hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of tree guilds they do show a lot of potential. Research has shown that intercropping (planting more than one species together) can be a valuable tool for increasing yields and crop health. Plus, tree guilds, in stark contrast with monoculture orchards are space saving and great for wildlife.

    Selecting Plants

    The first step is to research the type of tree you’d like to start with. For an example I’ll be talking about a peach tree guild but you can use any type of tree whether it’s an existing tree on your property or one you’d like to plant this spring. The important part is that you do some research into the tree such as its growth pattern and mature size. Also consider what soil types it prefers, where you’ll be planting it, and if it’s prone to any disease or pest problems.

    Based on your research you’ll select companion plants. Tree guilds are typically made up of six categories: suppressors, attractors, repellers, mulchers, accumulators, and fixers though there are variations and there’s no rule that you have to plant all of these or can’t plant more than one species from each category. If you see a need you can even make up your own category!

    If you’re planting a particularly tall tree or working with a mature tree you can include perennial shrubs on your plant list. Just be careful with smaller, newer trees that they don’t compete for light.


    These are plants that suppress weed growth through there own growth habits. Good examples include vining winter squash which shades out weeds, mint or buckwheat which outcompete weeds through rapid, thick growth, or strawberries, pennyroyal, or thyme whose vines form a thick mat of ground cover. For a peach tree guild I would choose strawberries partially because I enjoy eating them but also because they’re an excellent suppressor and their early flowers draw in pollinators.

    Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insect to the tree. Examples include yarrow, buckwheat, butterfly weed, and mustards. Many other species can also be used but it’s important to find something that will work well for your chosen tree. For a peach tree guild I would choose to plant cosmos as they attract trichogramma wasps which are a helpful beneficial insect and a natural enemy of oriental fruit moths which can severely damage peach trees.

    These plants job is to repel unwanted pests from feeding on your fruit tree. Lemon grass, marigolds, lemon balm, and almost any allium like garlic, chives, or perennial onions are all commonly used to repel pests. Knowing your specific tree’s common pest issues will allow you to best select a variety. For the peach tree example I’d use garlic as there’s some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel peach tree borers.

    Fixers refers to plants that are nitrogen fixing meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Great examples of these plants include white clover, red clover, beans, alfalfa, lupine, and peas. For a peach tree guild I would choose red clover. It attracts pollinators, beneficial insects including trichogramma wasps, and makes a wonderful tea.

    Probably the most commonly used mulcher plant in permaculture designs is comfrey. It’s hardy, perennial, easy to care for, and its leaves do in fact make excellent mulch. Hostas have the same benefits. You can also use annual cover crops like buckwheat that winter kill and provide good mulch. Buckwheat also has the added benefit of self seeding. For this example comfrey will be used because it doubles as an accumulator.


    These are plants that “mine” nutrients from deep in the soil and bring the to the surface where other plants will be able to access them. Good examples include alfalfa, comfrey, borage, and chicory. For more ideas look at deep rooted perennial plants. For my peach tree guild I would opt for chicory as it offers medicinal benefits for both humans and livestock.

    Once you’ve got all your plants you can begin planting. Obviously it’s easiest to start with the tree and work your way out. You should consider how much space it will need and shade it will create as it grows when selecting locations for other perennials.

    Utilizing this permaculture method can help you make the most out of your orchard space by incorporating other edible, medicinal, or flowering crops into your design and keeping your trees healthy and productive. It can also make your space more habitable for beneficial wildlife like birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects which lose habitat when space between trees is mowed. Lastly it may even help reduce erosion when compared to traditional orchard set ups. What’s there to lose?

    Watch the video: Planting a Cherry Tree!