If you’ve planted a fruit tree in your yard, you’ve probably become passionate about its care. After all, there’s nothing quite like biting into a fresh apple after months of hard work maintaining the beautiful tree. After your apple tree blossoms, you may be wondering if there are any plants that you can grow under it to enhance it’s beauty!
The best plants to grow underneath your apple tree are chives, wildflowers, lavender, comfrey, berry bushes, chamomile, and nasturtiums. These plants can help improve soil quality and increase apple production while not taking away any nutrients from the tree.
Keep reading to learn more about the specifics on these beneficial plants, and how their presence improves your apple tree’s environment and the ecosystem around it. Let’s get to it!
What’s Special About Apple Trees?
Besides the obvious—their delicious fruit—apple trees are great for the environment.
Like all trees, they produce essential oxygen. Anytime you plant a tree you are helping everyone on Earth breathe easier by reducing the effects of greenhouse gases.
Secondly, fruit trees help the environment flourish. Whether or not you like it, animals like deer, turkeys, bears, rodents, raccoons, and birds will feast on the apples, helping sustain their populations.
When it comes to bad weather, fruit trees can make a significant impact on the durability of the soil. They suck up the extra moisture from heavy storms that would otherwise erode the soil or carry pollutants into larger water sources.
Additionally, fruit trees can also be beneficial for rocky soils, improving the health of almost any ecosystem.
Some people solve drainage problems in their yards by planting trees. – which soak up that excess water!
So, planting a fruit tree means introducing a friendly neighbor into your local neighborhood. Now it’s time to decide what to plant next to it.
Why Should I Plant Something Under My Apple Tree?
Giving your apple tree some “companions” can have some excellent benefits like increased production, weed prevention, and pest deterrents.
Many gardeners will purposefully plant-specific things that are beneficial to each other as a whole. They are called companion plants.
A companion plant benefits its neighbors in the following ways:
- Improves soil
- Amends growing conditions
- Attracts pollinators
- Repels pests
- Stifles the spread of weeds
This companionship is a great little biological function called symbiosis at work here, and this is when two or more organisms mutually benefit each other as they live nearby.
In horticulture, gardeners use the term “guild” to describe the network of plants they’ve planted to achieve a goal. This could be anything from increased fruit yields to attractive ground cover.
When you plant a “guild”, you need to be sure that they all work together in symbiosis to create as healthy of an environment as possible.
This is especially important for fruit trees or vegetable plants as their purpose is to produce large, healthy crops for you to eat. Planting the wrong things could keep your plants from producing to their fullest potential.
If you want to get a good start with your companion plants, consider getting a high quality set of tools, such as this ENGiDOT Heavy Duty Garden Tool Set!
Luckily, the rest of this article will detail the best plants for you to plant underneath your apple trees that will make them as healthy and as fruitful as possible!
Can I Just Plant Grass Under My Apple Tree?
If you want to keep your yard looking minimal and only surround your apple tree with grass, this is okay too but isn’t considered very beneficial unless the tree is young.
When the tree is immature, its roots are shallower. This means the battle for nutrients will be much harder because it’ll be shared among all the grass. The deeper and older the tree roots grow, the easier it’ll be for it to get nourishment.
For that reason, you should wait to plant grass near an apple tree until it has matured, around 5 years.
You may dislike grass, however, because it can become patchy or dry and riddled with weeds like dandelions, which are the bane of many a homeowner’s existence.
Oddly, dandelions have become so unpopular over the years though because dandelions are some of the absolute best plants to have around your garden.
If you’re up to it, let the dandelions grow freely in your yard and you’ll get their array of benefits. They’re the first companion plant I’d suggest for your apple trees, but it isn’t a part of the official list because it’s so unpopular.
So, if you want to keep a simple aesthetic and just surround your apple tree with grass, wait until the tree has matured before you grow grass close to it. This way the tree won’t have to battle for resources with another plant.
How To Build A “Guild” Of Plants Around Your Apple Tree
Before you choose what to plant underneath your matured apple tree, it’s important to know exactly what to do with them to make them the best possible companions.
When you build a “guild” of plants around trees, make sure to water them regularly for one year to establish their roots and keep them from taking away moisture from the tree in the process.
If you’re using mulch, do not put too much. Many people have ruined their trees by piling mulch around their bases (you can view our article on how to properly mulch the base of a tree here.)
A little mulch is fine. It regulates soil temperature and maintains moisture. It looks good. But too much mulch is fatal. It can hide issues that appear on the base of the tree, it can retain too much moisture, and it can suffocate the roots.
With that in mind, use mulch with care. You can tell if you’ve over-mulched your tree if the leaves are abnormally small or oddly colored or if the twigs or branches have seen their better days.
The last thing you should remember when you’re growing a “guild”, don’t forget to research!
You want to be very careful in choosing the right plant before planting it near a fruit tree as it could have devastating consequences and prevent the tree from growing. I’ve listed what not to plant under an apple tree at the end of this piece if you fancy a look!
For now, start with WHAT you should grow underneath your apple tree!
What To Plant Under Your Apple Tree
Now, onto the good stuff!
These are the best plants to plant underneath your apple tree that will complement and benefit both the tree and the entire yard.
Gardeners love chives not just because they’re tasty but because they’re beautiful and awesome companion plants, too!
Because of their high sulfur content, chives are great for preventing mildew. All you have to do is boil chopped chives in water, let it cool, and spray it on leaves.
They also prevent soil erosion. Chives have super dense roots that help your soil stay in place, so they can be a huge factor in preventing erosion in your yard.
For apple trees specifically, chives are extraordinary partners.
Their flowers attract bees and wasps that feed on a variety of apple-loving pests who come near the tree.
And, of course, chives are smelly. Their strong odor (in high volume) can ward off pests like deer, rabbits, and beetles.
Most importantly, a chive’s strong odor deters aphids. These are the most common pests that invade orchards and they cause a lot of damage to fruit trees.
Aphids are the thorns in many tree lovers’ sides because they suck out the juices from leaves, turning them into yellow, moldy, and twisted shells.
If the apple tree isn’t mature, aphids can completely stop growth development and kill them. Fortunately, they rarely take down mature trees.
Aphids are known for loving fruit trees. They particularly have a taste for apple trees, so you may want to research some pest prevention tips as well!
The last reason why chives make such good neighbors to apple trees is that they prevent apple scab.
Apple scab is a severe issue that attacks every type of apple tree and can have devastating effects. It destroys leaves and can leave the tree bare, sometimes totally.
It also greatly reduces fruit production and it can make the fruit crack, fall, and look misshapen or diseased with olive-green spots.
Although it’s not detrimental, apple scab can render your tree so weak that it can easily be affected by other common issues.
If you are looking to start chives on a budget, you should try starting from seed. Brands such as Gaea’s Blessing Chive Seeds offer you some great ways to get a start on growing!
If you’re considering chives, keep in mind that they spread fast, so they’ll take over your garden bed quickly if you don’t keep them in check. Use their clippings as mulch.
Comfrey plants are beautiful additions to yards and are great for every plant around them, especially apple trees.
They’re considered one of the best partners for apple trees because of their numerous benefits.
For one, they’re expert weed preventers. When planted in a line, they act as barriers and keep weeds from spreading into their “circle”.
Be careful with the comfrey plant! They are like weeds in that they grow like wildfire. Every offshoot can grow into a separate plant and it is very hard to get rid of once fully established. Do not rototill it!
Despite their aggressive growth, gardeners love them! Besides weed prevention, comfrey plants provide essential nutrients to the soil that apple trees (and many other plants) need including phosphorus and potassium.
They also prevent pests and draw in pollinators and insects that eat the pests that manage to get close.
Some gardeners have even reported fewer deer in areas with comfrey present! There’s no question why they’re highly recommended by horticulturalists.
Apple trees love lavender plants because they keep codling moths at bay. They have a confusing scent to insects, so they’ll drive away more than just these moths.
Lavender will ward off rodents, fleas, ticks, and other moth species. They draw in beneficial insects like butterflies, too.
The deterring of the codling moth, though, is the most important thing about lavender because they are very damaging to apples and will render them inedible.
Female moths will lay upwards of a hundred eggs on young, small apples and the larvae feed on them, eventually burrowing into the fruit.
You can tell you have a codling moth infestation if your apples have brownish-red spots on the surface or tunnels inside.
Once it reaches this point, only pesticides or traps will get rid of them.
Luckily, though, planting lavender around the tree may very well keep the moth invasion from ever occurring! Just make sure it’s not too close to the base of the tree because lavender needs full sun to flourish.
As a bonus, lavender attracts all sorts of good insects to your yard like bees and butterflies.
The list goes on and on for the reasons why wildflowers are good for not just your apple tree, but your entire yard.
First, just like lavender, they attract the best insects for your local ecosystem—particularly pollinators.
A common wildflower species named milkweed is the only type of flower that a monarch caterpillar will eat before metamorphosizing. It’s not just beautiful, it’s vital.
As for your apple tree, adding wildflowers as a companion means a significant improvement in soil quality.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests adding native wildflowers to your local ecosystem to boost soil health, improve water quality, prevent erosion, and increase food production.
This is great news for your apple tree. Adding wildflowers will not only bring colors and vibrancy to your yard, but it’ll also help the tree grow as tall and as fruitful as possible.
You’ll be doing your local ecosystem a favor, too. What’s better than that?
Typically we think of sleepy time tea when we hear the word chamomile. It’s also a pretty, dainty little flower that pairs well with apple trees for multiple reasons.
Like other plants on this list, chamomile is a great companion for fruit trees because it attracts pollinators when blooming. Any time we can support these vital animals in their quest to spread pollen is beneficial to the entire ecosystem.
Some of the other insects that chamomile can attract are hoverflies and ladybugs, which will eat harmful pests like aphids.
Besides that, it’s really easy to grow. It only needs a partial shade, so it’s perfect along the east side of the trees so it can get the morning sun.
Perhaps the most impactful benefit of chamomile is its effect on soil. Research published in Frontiers in Microbiology found that chamomile balanced the levels of nitrogen in the soil by producing the good bacteria that store it.
And nitrogen-rich soil is a must for apple trees.
Clemson University noted that fruit trees need nitrogen to produce amino acids and proteins, both of which are necessary for healthy fruit yields.
This means chamomile is an excellent choice as your apple tree’s companion. It’s probably one of the best options out there.
Nasturtium is commonly used as a ground cover because of its full horizontal growth and richly colored red flowers.
Pollinators are obsessed with it because it’s rich in sucrose. You can eat the flowers to taste for yourself, too!
And it doesn’t just attract pollinators. Nasturtiums draw aphids away from other plants and survive their pestering. They’re really tough and can take on these pests better than your apple tree would.
Best of all, this plant is easy to grow and its roots are shallow, too, meaning it won’t be competing with your apple tree for nutrients.
As a ground cover plant, the shallow roots of the nasturtium prevent soil erosion and its abundance of shade reduces evaporation, benefiting the entire soil system around it.
Planting a berry bush under your apple tree will not only produce more fruit for you, but it’ll also benefit the tree directly.
Just like chamomile, berry bushes increase the nitrogen levels in the soil.
Berry bushes are nitrogen-fixing, meaning they transport the nitrogen in the air into the soil to be used by every plant around it. As you know, this is essential for proper fruit production.
Most berry bushes are also great for deterring grazers.
Animals like deer and raccoons love apples, as you know, so putting up any kind of barrier is a great way to keep them away. Berry bushes are excellent barriers because of their thick brambles. This keeps most grazers at bay.
The only type of berry bush that doesn’t produce brambles are strawberry bushes. They grow horizontally as ground cover, so they reduce evaporation and promote a proper soil ecosystem just like other ground cover plants.
These plants are also beneficial when they are ground up and left as mulch for the tree. The residual nutrients get absorbed through the tree’s roots and increase its production and growth.
What Shouldn’t I Plant Under My Apple Tree?
There are a few plants you should avoid planting near your apple tree because they attract the wrong kind of insects, they steal essential nutrients, and they don’t survive the shaded areas under the tree.
Here’s a list of anti-companions for apple trees:
Now let’s get into the plants your apple trees will love!
So, the best plants to plant under an apple tree are:
- Berry bushes
These companions are sure to help your apple tree produce the biggest and the healthiest yields every year.
Benjamin, Jocelyn. “Wildflowers Benefit Agricultural Operations, Ecosystems.” Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 1 May 2017.
Layne, Desmond. “The Importance of Nitrogen.” College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences, Clemson University, North Carolina, Mar. 2006.
Schmidt, Ruth, et al. “Effects of Bacterial Inoculants on the Indigenous Microbiome and Secondary Metabolites of Chamomile Plants.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 5, Feb. 2014.
Schrader, Tom. “Aphids on Apple Trees.” Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, 20 June 2021.