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

Comment by Kate Heiber-Cobb on March 14, 2009 at 10:10pm
Have to be honest. I'm still experimenting. Cannot say what really works and what does not at this point. Looking forward to others input. I know this year I am working towards more diversity in all my beds and growing areas. One of my priorities in my yard this year is to create guilds around all of the fruit and nut trees and shrubs. At least, a good start.
Comment by Bryce Ruddock on March 15, 2009 at 9:04am
Here are two plant guilds that I've used at our property in South Milwaukee.
1. Tall hazels such as Turkish Tree Hazel or Filazel as the overstory.Black Elderberry as the shrub layer. mushroom logs as the bottom layer.
The hazels can grow tall to about 15 to 20 feet at which point I need to prune them back because of electrical lines. The elderberries have dense spreading branches and a height of 7 feet. When loaded with fruit the branches hang low to the ground making a very dense shade. Hence the mushroom logs. It should also be possible to plant some spring bulbs beneath the elderberries to take advantage of the early season lack of shade beneath .Elderberries can be used as an edible flower, A fruit juice, and an herbal remedy for the flu.
2. A tall flint corn variety such as Longfellow which grows to 8 feet high in hills. A pole bean variety planted with the corn to utilise the vertical space to climb on and to provide the dried beans to cook with the corn later for complete protein meals. Between the corn hills plant a vining squash variety of your choice. I use any type from the butternut group,Cucurbita moschata , since those have a higher resistance to the squash vine borer a nasty insect pest here.Lastly the empty spaces between the corn and squash can be planted with crimson clover a nitrogen fixer and herbal tea ingredient both tasty and vitamin rich. The corn ,beans , and squash all mature at about the same time in late summer to early fall. The clover grows quickly in the mid spring and by early summer has peaked at its low height of 12 inches and begun to die back and releases seed for new growth in late summer. This is a modified 3 Sisters guild to include a living mulch of the crimson clover. At the end of the harvest ,as long as its no later than late September in southern Wisconsin, after cutting the corn stalks down it is possible to replant some of the opened area to fava beans. Favas are related to vetch and yield a large bean used in Italian and English recipes. It can grow here in South Milwaukee right up to Thanksgiving Day and will not winter kill until temperatures have dropped to 11 degrees F. It is also one great nitrogen fixer and provides a lot of material to chop in for raising the humus content of the soil.
Comment by Darren Bender-Beauregard on March 20, 2009 at 7:30pm
Hey, this is pretty neat to have a plant guild discussion--I've been wanting one of these for years!

We have a number of guilds established in southern IN, all in our solar arc riding the northern edge of our annual garden beds. Comfrey rings around the trees greatly benefited the establishing roots and they are now starting to fade out as shade deepens. Daffodils, ramps, and shallots/potato onions against the trunks (only one species at each tree--don't mix daffodils with edible onions, you might happen to confuse them when foraging!). We've found gooseberries and 'Regent' saskatoon serviceberries to be great understory plants for our young fruit trees. We planted them at the same time as the trees, and that gives them a great few years of sun to really get established before the overstory starts closing in. Note we keep our fruit trees very widely spaced and well pruned, so there will still be some direct sun to the understory after they're mature. We planted the mulched area around all these trees and berries with annual produce the first three years with great success (potatoes were fine, by the way--didn't hurt the tree roots to pull the spuds up from below the mulch). Year four, the annual veggies just didn't get enough sun. So we're transitioning the mulch garden beds to perennial grass/clover mix and fencing it off in paddocks to rotate our ducks/geese through.

One problem I've noted with fully perennial guilds is that you always have to manage the herbaceous layer with mulch or weeding or mowing. I'd like to take my scythe to the grass/clover mix, but when gooseberries are in the way, that's just not possible. Our strategy now is getting the poultry in there to mow the understory for us and eat pests/fruit drops on rotations. If I were to do it again, I'd set up straight-ish rows, separate for the trees and berries, so I could mow the pathways between and mulch the trees/berries. Either with gas mower, scythe, or animals (animals easier to rotate with moveable fencing when fence lines are straight!).

Honestly, while I aesthetically love curved pathways, from a practical standpoint, I really encourage you to keep them fairly straight, especially if you have livestock that needs fencing. And plan for versatility in your pc systems--I made the mistake of "really not wanting to even ALLOW the tractor into my garden/food forest" and while that moral highground felt right at the time, I really would have loved to run the 6' disc through there a time or two to mulch down the weeds. Instead we had to resort to hand weeding and mulching, both very labor-intensive! When you plan for mulch and a weed control and fertility strategy, please know that you will be mulching every single year!

Well, dang, sorry I got sort of far away from guilds there. I'll go ahead and wrap it up. Thanks for reading. ..
Comment by Leigh Willbediggin on May 6, 2009 at 7:34pm
Found a neat page on a Willow/Blueberry guild over at http://www.permaculture.info/index.php/Willow/blueberry_guild

Comment by Judy Speer on May 8, 2009 at 1:08pm
Here's a resource that may be valuable for those living in the greater Chicagoland area: "Plants of the Chicago Region" is a large volume by Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm that describes plants found in natural areas, the type of ecosystem they are found in, and the plants they are found with. It's the "bible" for local ecologists and those involved in ecological restoration, and I found it really helpful in designing my new forest garden. It covers the region extending from southwestern Michigan, northern Indiana, northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin. Copies are available for $50 from the Morton Arboretum, or you can borrow it from libraries. In my county, I can go to the conservation district's research field station and peruse their copy.
Comment by jami scholl on May 8, 2009 at 1:31pm
Love this discussion board, and good to see you here, Darren! I am building a guild around an existing black walnut tree in Bloomington, Indiana. My climate zone is zone six, and micro-climate warmer since I live in town.

The plant guild include elderberry, daylily (petals edible), dusty miller, and also a rosa rugosa from raintree nursery bred for large hips, which I thought had died, but all evidence now shows that the two plants may be making a comeback! Hazelnut, gooseberry and mint all doing well.

Although most think that a black walnuts toxicity (from the juglone it exudes) would forbid anything from growing underneath that is beneficial and edible, I am able to prove that this is not the case. I am very happy with the progress, and will continue to experiment and post with any future findings.
Comment by Bill Wilson on May 8, 2009 at 2:00pm
Hey Judy, Jami and Darren...

Thanks for sharing of your resources and successes. Very helpful information…!

Would you all be willing to cut and paste your additions into a separate Discussion Forum above? This way, folks can respond to you directly and as this comment forum gets to be about 100 feet long, we will still be able to find your entrees.

Just click on 'Start Discussion' and a new one opens up. Give it a fun name or title so that it will be easy to locate. Jami, you might title yours 'Walnut Guild' as these are rare to find.

Nice to have you all here… Judy is one of our PDC graduates.

Best… Bill
Comment by Steve Moring on June 4, 2009 at 8:44am
I started development of a food forest last year and placed fruit trees around a mandala garden with a herb understory of garlic, daffodils, borage and St. John's Wort. It seems that the St. John's Wort thrives under my peach trees, and well, I haven't heard any complaints from the peach trees.
Comment by Bryce Ruddock on February 7, 2010 at 10:37am
Wild Rice Guild photos

Planting Wild Rice, 1of 3

Planting Wild Rice, 2 of 3

Planting Wild Rice, 3 of 3

Wild Rice in early May

Upper pond including Wild Rice, Jewelweed, and Water Cress as seen through a potted Oleander

At side of upper pond a Purslane, Verbana canadensis, and Red Root Sage beneath a Juneberry

Close-up of previous photo

The entire pond

Lower pond with Cat-tails, Pickerel, Arrowhead, Marsh Marigold, and Wild Calla

Wild Rice, mid-summer

Pond in August

Early September- Wild Rice ready for Harvest

Harvesting Wild Rice- 1 of 4

Harvesting Wild Rice- 2 of 4

Harvesting Wild Rice- 3 of 4

Harvesting Wild Rice- 4 of 4
Comment by Wayne Weiseman on October 11, 2010 at 6:47pm
Bryce, We want to know if you have any authority with plants


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