In permaculture growing systems, a guild is a group of companion plants which are placed around a main producing tree or shrub in order to aid that main producer and maximise yield. Creating guilds for polytunnel fruit trees and shrubs can be a good way to ensure a good harvest later in the year. There are a range of dwarf fruit trees and shrubs that can be ideal for polytunnel gardening. Each may have slightly different requirements and benefit from different companion plants. Here, however, are some of main categories that you should consider when creating guilds for your polytunnel fruit garden:
A number of plants are chosen for placement in most guilds due to their ability (working with beneficial bacteria in their root rhisomes) to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil, where it can be up-taken by the plants at the heart of each guild. Nitrogen fixing plants which can be useful for guilds for fruit trees and fruiting shrubs include peas, beans and other legumes, clover, vetch, and shrubs such as elaeagnus.
Other plants aid the plants at the centre of a guild through their ability to collect nutrients from deep beneath the soil and return them to the top soil layers where they can be taken up by shallower rooted plants. Plants in this group include comfrey, borage, yarrow and even plants often considered to be weeds, such as the humble dandelion.
Other plants are chosen for their ability to repel of confuse certain pests which can inflict damage on fruit trees or fruiting shrubs. Alliums are a group of plants which can be particularly beneficial in this regard. Alliums include onions, shallots, garlic and chives. These strongly-scented plants can be useful when placed beneath and around your fruiting crops. Some aromatic herbs can also be beneficial in this regard.
Another group of guild members are those which help fruit trees and bushes by attracting beneficial insects and other wildlife. Insects and other creatures may be beneficial in their ability to predate pest species, or for their help in pollination. Herbs and a range of flowers are beneficial in this regard.
Creating guilds for your polytunnel fruit trees and shrubs can help to ensure that these plants remain healthy, and provide a good fruit yield come harvest time.