These plants are planted around the base of young trees to provide a number of different services:
Comfrey: Considered a “dynamic accumulator,” comfrey has deep tap roots that mine the subsoil for minerals which it makes available to the tree when its leaves die or are slashed periodically throughout the growing season. Comfrey is a “must-have” for every permaculture garden or orchard. It is useful for herbal salves, a wonderful high-protein animal fodder, and attracts beneficial insects. Its leaves are high in nitrogen, and it is used by many organic gardeners as a compost activator. Planted in a ring around a young fruit tree, comfrey grows vigorously, spreads by clumping out and keeps out weeds when full sun is available under the tree (a living mulch). It will gradually die back as the tree gets bigger and casts more shade.
Our comfrey is a variety that is sterile - will not spread by seed. But it is e
xtremely easy to propagate by divisions and root-cuttings. Note: once established, comfrey is almost impossible to get rid of – plant it where you’re sure you want it to stay! Gal* pots (contain at least 6 plants per pot to be divided) $12 +tax; Also available by the shovelful to divide and propagate yourself $12/shovelful +tax
Horseradish: Also a “dynamic accumulator” similar to comfrey in growth habit, it has deep tap roots that mine the subsoil for minerals which it makes available to the tree when its leaves die or are slashed periodically throughout the growing season. Not quite as good at out-competing other weeds as comfrey is, but has the benefit of being useful as a culinary herb. Spreads by root-runners, so can be somewhat more invasive than comfrey, but not as bad as mint. Easy to propagate by divisions and root-cuttings. Note: once established, it is almost impossible to get rid of – plant it where you’re sure you want it to stay!
Quart pots $6; gallon* pots $12 +tax
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum): A great productive and adaptable variety we got starts from on a local Amish farm. The variety name is unknown, though it might be ’MacDonald’ or ‘Victoria’. The stems are not as crimson red as some other varieties, but still have a nice amount of red blush to keep the plant very pretty. Flavor is no different than the bright red types. We have not noticed as much ‘random die-off’ with this variety as with the more standard red varieties we have tried from other nurseries over the years. You can plant rhubarb 5’ out from fruit trees to provide a beautiful and edible living mulch (though rhubarb is a heavy feeder and needs to be fertilized every year or two).
Quart pots $6; gallon* pots $12 +tax NOT AVAILABLE 2016
Brambleberry's Bombproof Big-Bulbil Garlic: Found growing wild in a ditch up the road where it has formed very thick stands that compete well with sod. Appears to have rather small cloves, at least in it's wild growing conditions, but is useful as scallions (green garlic). One of it's most distinctive features is the large bulbils that form at the top of the flowering stalks. This seems to be the secret to it's vigorous spreading habit, and offers great potential for easy propagation in large-scale plantings. Seasonal availability as multiple plants in quart pots for $6 or bulbs for $2/oz, or bulbils for $3/oz. +tax
Chives: Beautiful purple globe flowers attract beneficial insects. Thrive in light shade under fruit trees. This is the standard chive most often used in cooking. Don't die back in summer like Garlic. Quart pots (contain multiple plants to be divided) $6 +tax
Garlic Chives: Beautiful abundant white flowers attract beneficial insects. Garlic chives love the light shade cast by a well-pruned fruit tree and will provide plenty of seasoning for your cooking. Don't die back in summer like Garlic. Garlic chives are more vigorous and spreading than regular chives. Quart pots (contain multiple plants to be divided) $6 +tax
NEW! Amorpha or False Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruiticosa): is an attractive native wildflower shrub. It is a legume, and is often used in permaculture plantings as a nitrogen fixer - usually with the plan to coppice the bush because it will reach a fairly substantial size if not chopped down frequently. 15-18' tall and spreading up to twice that width. NOT edible, it's practical benefits are mostly beauty, nitrogen fixing and soil stabilization, and it also has some potential as a natural insecticide. Fast growing, thornless. 2" plugs $3; quart pots $6 +tax
Herbs: Check for availability: We often have a small selection of edible and medicinal herbs such as Valerian, tarragon, thyme, licorice, etc. We are also happy to dig starts from our landscape beds when we have an abundant supply.
Other useful companions for trees: Siberian pea shrub, Goumi (Nitrogen-fixers)
Also: All of the bush fruits can be planted adjacent to trees to make use of sun while the trees are still growing, and then cut down or moved when the trees are shading them too much. Some growers like to trellis a concord grape vine on a fruit tree (if you do this make sure you prune the grape back severely every year or it will overtake the tree. Also prune off all tendrils each year or they will girdle the tree branches). Know that the extra shrubs you put around a tree often have a similar root zone/structure and will be competing a little for nutrients and water. This can be a problem in a drought (we have lost gooseberries under mature fruit trees). Deeply tap-rooted trees like walnuts and pecans can avoid this phenomenon.
*size designations are nominal. We use “trade gallons” (which are slightly less than a gallon) as well as recycled pots that may vary in exact size. There are a limited number of two gallon plants available – first come first serve.