Midwest Permaculture

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Plant Guilds

Hey permaculturists and gardeners...! Let's get out of the books and share some of our personal successes with each other in creating plant guilds.

Members: 174
Latest Activity: Dec 29, 2020

Successful Plant Guilds

We have asked one of our PDC Graduates and Midwest Permaculture's Official Plant Guy, Bryce Ruddock, and his knowledgeable and experienced wife and partner Debby to host this section of the website.

The two of them have totally transformed their traditional-suburban yard in South Milwaukee into a horticultural and edible Mecca. I bet they have over 300 varieties of food and medicinal plants in their yard. Between the two of them they make up a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge.

We also asked Bryce if he would come up with a handful of plant guild examples to give beginning students of permaculture some great ideas of where and how to begin to place plants into helpful and productive groupings.

9 Plant Guilds - by Bryce Ruddock
Free to Download

Published as a Gift from Bryce and Midwest Permaculture
under the Creative Commons License

And New...Just Released (July 2014)
 -- Integrated Forest Gardening --
"The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds"
Also by Bryce in collaboration with our Friends Dan and Wayne
This is a Great Book!!!  More Here...

Feel free to ask Bryce and Debby any questions you might have on either the Comment Wall or by opening up a new discussion, both are found below.

Please weigh in with your own knowledge and experience as well. Let's share our knowledge and experience with others...Bill Wilson

Discussion Forum

Maple Guild? 1 Reply

Started by Laura Newby. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Dec 29, 2020.

Rain garden, heavy on edible perennials 2 Replies

Started by Scott Miskiel. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Feb 11, 2018.

Bryce--Question on Shade Tolerant Viburnum 1 Reply

Started by Mike Gibbons. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Oct 15, 2017.

Black-Walnut Plant Guilds 43 Replies

Started by Sher-Doc. Yidaki. Last reply by Bill Wilson Feb 12, 2017.

Bryce - help with plant ideas! 4 Replies

Started by Rebecca MacDonald. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Mar 4, 2016.

Paw paws 6 Replies

Started by Annette Bowman. Last reply by Steve Potratz Nov 11, 2015.

2015 What are you planning to Do? 4 Replies

Started by Bryce Ruddock. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Jun 15, 2015.

Bryce, this is a request for help in the sandbox

Started by Wendy Shafer Jun 5, 2015.

Integrated Forest Gardening: the book

Started by Bryce Ruddock Aug 12, 2014.

Who has grown the haycinth bean? (Lablab purpureus) 5 Replies

Started by Bill Wilson. Last reply by Bryce Ruddock Apr 17, 2014.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of Plant Guilds to add comments!

Comment by Bill Wilson on October 9, 2020 at 4:33pm

Good Afternoon Bryce. Just talking with some students online. 


Comment by Laura Newby on April 6, 2020 at 5:06pm

I'm also looking to plant comfrey (for the first time) in an area with existing ash trees and the elderberries, aronia, dogwood, strawberries, and currants I intend to plant. Everyone says it's amazing as a mulch but also invasive. So I'm both eager and terrified to plant it! I don't want it to take over the other plantings and I want it to help them at the same time...insight?

Comment by Bryce Ruddock on October 5, 2019 at 7:13am

Non sod forming grasses with N fixers mixed in can slow down tree growth initially but after a fifteen years are every bit as good as using a mulch over orchard soil according to the study at Cornell. "A fine-leaf fescue within the tree row, mowed monthly at a short height. Trees that grew in complete sod were stunted by competition from the grass during the early years of this treatment, and slower coming into fruit production than the other treatments.
“Trees can’t compete well with herbaceous ground covers for nitrogen or water, “ he said.
What Merwin found surprising, however, was that after the first decade these trees adapted to the grass competition, sending roots deeper beneath the sod, and they eventually became as productive as those in the herbicide or mulch strips.
“After 17 years, they caught up and produced almost as much fruit. The trees finally found a way to get enough nutrients. Apple trees are survivors, and can adapt to weed competition over time. “
Other researchers have found the same thing in other fruits. Over the years, trees adapt to the grass floor cover and may “actually become more efficient,” producing greater fruit yields per unit of tree biomass with somewhat lower pruning costs than more vigorous trees. " Fescue grass is a clumping not rhizomatous root system, which means that it does not form a thick sod that may restrict soil nutrient and water uptake to fruit trees. Fescues are rated as either fine leaved (best for shade) and coarse leaved( best for full sun) and will be patchier  in their coverage unless over seeded. If planted  with the clover , don't worry about it as the clover will fill it in.  Fescues are however water demanding so may not work well in drought areas and so would need frequent replanting. There is a forage grass known as orchard grass that came from Europe but I have found no record of its use here as other than a pasture grass. Keep the grass clover mix away from the trees for the first 5 to 10 years so that the tree roots can delve deep for nutrients unimpeded. After that it should not matter. Yields will increase after then and from what I have seen with both standard and semi dwarf trees that would be normal anyways.

Comment by Laura Newby on October 4, 2019 at 10:20pm

This is very helpful. Thank you, Bryce. We planted a clover fescue ground cover. Will the issues with this be the same as any other turf grass? 

Comment by Bryce Ruddock on October 3, 2019 at 9:00am

Its a question I have wondered about myself at times. Grasses , particularly turf grass species are heavy feeders with a shallow root system. Many, but not all, fruit tree species  have a few deep anchoring roots but their primary feeding roots are in the shallow soil layers. This sets up  competition with  the shallow rooted grasses that can suck up the majority of the  soil nutrients. Spring bulbs are an ephemeral group, meaning that they emerge early, flower , then accumulate  nutrients to store in the bulb for a summer onwards dormant period. An additional benefit of their early emergence is that they tend to accumulate phosphorous in their leaves and flowers  art a time when spring rains tend to wash those away. The nutrients are released as the leaves decay and are then available for tree uptake. Bulbs can suppress turf grasses just because their leaves will shade some of it out. Their allelopathic properties therefore are physical rather than chemical. Planting them with other  ground covers which are not heavy feeders is an excellent way to get around the turf grass issue. Clumping (non sod forming species) grasses can be used in spot plantings to achieve a pleasing effect  around fruit trees so long as they do not dominates the site. Studies have been done at Cornell U  to determine what the best method of managing ground cover species beneath trees. What was found that clean culture or removal of all species from beneath the drip line and back to the trunk reduced root competition nicely. Not exactly the best option though in a Permaculture designed setting. Grass beneath the trees reduced the growth and yields  of the trees by about one third. Mixed plantings as in Permaculture, reduced yields by much less  but still less than the optimum yield. Heavy mulching with shredded barks proved to be the best option for the trees as it both reduced nutrient composition and built soil fertility. However it has two side effects. Firstly it can alter the soil pH from the optimum for the fruit tree, and second it can increase soil fertility to beyond the optimum thereby causing a reduction in yields. Probably  the best method will be a combination of  mixed planting along with some bark mulches, being sure to keep both away from the base of tree by at least 12 inches.

Comment by Bill Wilson on September 29, 2019 at 3:58am

Hi Bryce.

We had a student post a few great questions regarding plant guilds. Would you like to take a shot at these?  And if so, I thought other readers might appreciate both the questions and answers so I've posted it here.

I have a really basic question. In fruit tree guilds, what does it mean that bulbs (daffodils, garlic, etc) or other plants are "grass suppressors?" How do they suppress grass? Simply by their presence? In other words, since they are there grass can't grow in that exact same spot? Why bulbs over something else? Or do bulbs have some kind of magical grass repelling power? Also, what I've read said that grass competes with the tree for nutrients so you don't want grass to grow near it. But won't the other plants in the guild be competing with the tree for nutrients too? Genuinely confused over here. 

Comment by Bill Wilson on March 5, 2019 at 12:17pm

Hi Bryce... In PDC course #80.  Just showing folks how to find you.

Howdy to you and Debby.

Comment by Mike Gibbons on October 21, 2018 at 5:13pm

Thanks Bryce.  Makes me feel better about using them as I have no shortage of them.

Comment by Bryce Ruddock on October 20, 2018 at 8:40pm

Mike, my understanding of the allelopathy of  hickory (related to walnuts) is that the  juglone is of lesser toxicity. The leaves when dried  have little juglone left in them and  it can be broken by soil bacteria. As for oak (high in tannins)  it  is relatively safe for soils after it breaks down too. Our neighbor has a black walnut directly west of our house and it drops its leaves directly into our yard every year as the wind blows that way. After 34 years there have been no ill effects yet. We compost every leaf that lands here regardless of species.

Comment by Mike Gibbons on October 20, 2018 at 8:23pm

Not sure if this is the right group to ask this question.  Living where I do in Oklahoma, most of the trees on my property are Oak or Hickory.  My understanding is that these trees are at least somewhat allelopathic.  That being said, I was wondering if the leaves can be raked and used as a mulch without affecting existing plants.  The only studies I can find are about oak leaf compost and seed germination and they were less than definitive.


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