I have an area along one side of my backyard that has been planted with mostly fruit trees a bit like an orchard.  We put down a concrete edge, then piled up green wood chips over the grass (so that we didn't have to weed it).  Well the wood chips have mostly broken down (need to organise more to be delivered) and the soil looks pretty healthy with worms.

Reading I have heard of 'understory' plants and understand that in a forest the ground is never bare... but what can I plant that is not going to take the nutrients from the fruit trees?

At the moment I am experimenting with using living ground cover as mulch and have planted some sweet potato cuttings, and last year planted watermelon and allowed it to ramble amongst the trees.. the same can be said of pumpkins.  This is also where I am planting some more perennial style plants so that the beds don't get hogged for such long periods of time - eggplants, pigeon pea, taro, etc. 

I guess what I am trying to understand is:

How close to the trees can I plant - does it depend on the type of tree because of the different root structures?  At the moment there is quite a mix of trees citrus, paw paw, tamarillo, chocolate pudding, avocado, pepino, and guava...

What kind of plants can I plant - just things like ground covers mentioned above or is there specific vegetable plants that have shallow root systems that are gong to be fine?  Or maybe some sort of clover?

Am I better off getting a whole heap of styrafoam boxes and putting these under the trees to plant in and stick to the heavy mulch as moisture retention/ weed control?

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  • depends how big your trees are i reckon. once they get big and arch over they produce so much shade it's hard to grow much under a citrus - best off with pots probably. good spot for orchids/ bromeliads - either in pots or growing in thick mulch. can grow a bunch of things once you're clear of the drip line - interplanting. like in forests that haven't been grazed - there is always a shrub understorey (often grevillea/ banksia/ wattle/ bracken/ and other less widespread bits and bobs in Aust. forests). a good plan is to draw a plan and mark out the mature size of the trees. any gaps in between is where you can plant shrubs. some good shrubby contenders might be: raspberries, fennel, cassava, pigeon pea, pawpaws, bananas, lemon grass, coffee, turmeric, galangal, pineapple, garlic, cardamon, ginger, perennial basil, rosemary. everywhere else in the orchard you either need mulch or ground cover (not grass!).

    letting your chickens free range in the orchard is always a good idea - they'll keep it grass free, eat insect pests for you, clean up fallen fruit, and fertilise - but they'll scratch out anything you're trying to establish and clear shrubs and ground covers depending on the stocking rate - basically assume you'll be ground cover free if you are ranging chooks and you may need to protect the root zones of shrubs - and chuck a hay bale or two in there to protect the fruit tree roots too.

    but if you're chook free, some good ground cover contenders might be: sweet potato, peanut, comfrey, clover, gotu kola, alyssum, nasturtium, wildflower mixes. the permaculture books (I, II and the manual) have heaps on info on designs for food forests and orchards - highly recommended. best ground covers are legumes - fix nitrogen.
    • also borage, oregano, marjoram for ground cover
  • I think I am going to start putting pots under trees as the number of pots I have increased due to me keep buying knowing there's no more space in the ground for trees ^^.. and some of these trees I wouldn't put them in the ground anyways

    I do need to find a suitable ground cover for my walkways though... I am reluctant to put grass back in, but the no mow grass I tried did not stand up to the level of traffic its subjected to...
    • As Elaine suggested maybe worth just getting some more green chips (I got mine free) and keep using these... if it ever gets too high you could rake it lower and steal it for a bed :)
    • There's nothing tougher than grass. The no-mow grass I use on the front footpath is as tough as, but then there's not as many feet walking on it as would be in your own yard (or mine for that matter). If you are going to have grass or indeed any other ground cover, to make it simpler to keep it under control, some kind of mower strip and/or a garden edge and whipper-snip the grass. But that increases your environmental footprint (what doesn't?). Alternative is to have paths paved or use bark or wood chips and just keep adding as it sinks into the soil.
  • Now im wondering if this would be OK. (Costa garden show and many other garden shows on the telly) I havent seen it done right under the tree but because of roots from trees etc, etc...they place down some matting, so the tree roots cant come up into the garden beds and the veges wont go down into the tree roots....(i forget what its called) but its white and allows water thru to the tree roots but so they are not fighting for water ither.
    I wonder if this would work and only plant none thursty plants under the tree, water well enough so both tree and plants are getting enough water....and bobs your ungle....LOL...i just thinking if it would work??
  • I've let anything grow from the compost next to my fruit trees, so I have a huge parsley and capsicum that are almost as big as the tree (orange). I planted chives in as a companion plant for the orange so you could try that. Will look up some other things that you could try as companions....
    • For a peach tree: Grape, Garlic, Onion and Asparagus may be planted under or near peach trees. In particular garlic may help repel peach tree borers which are a big problem for peach growers. Keep Potato, Tomato and Raspberry away from peaches

      Fruit trees in general: nettles, garlic, chives, tansy, southernwood and horseradish

      Someone's already said it but alyssum is good for attracting bees, might be a little late to plant now though as they like the cooler weather.

      Leeks and chives around apple trees, garlic near apple, peach and pear trees
    • @ Vanessa did you plant the parsley right under the tree...near its trunk??? or away from it??? (got lots of those seeds heehee and Yes i agree with Donna, would love to see what could be planted under a orange tree....Just seems such a waste.
      • Vanessa, yes it's right under the tree, but that wasn't planned. It just grew there and I never pulled it out. Probably not a great idea at least until the tree is established as I think it's probably competing for nutrients. Same for the capsicum, but all other capsicums I've tried growing get sick and die and this one is incredibly healthy so I'm definitely not touching it.

        Apparently parsley enhances the scent of roses, so maybe it works on fruit trees too.
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