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All About Fruit Tree Companion Planting - for California Wild Gardeners

We all know that basil goes great with tomatoes but what goes great with our fruit trees? And why?

There’s big perks when it comes to companion planting your fruit trees. Even in a drought-prone environment. No one plant does it all. And if there’s too much going on it’s hard to monitor a young system. So start with 3-5 different companion species  and add a few more per season once you get things off the ground.

Some companion plants offer moisture regulation and minimize stress on larger plants by sucking up excess water (or nutrients) and releasing them back into the soil when times are lean. Others colonize soil microbes to naturally fertilize and aerate your dirt. Some support the animals that support your food plants, like pollinators, aphid-eating insects, pest-eating birds, rodent-hunting owls, hawks and more. Still others slow wildfire.

One Important Tip for Caring for Backyard Fruit Trees in California

One of the most important things to know about backyard fruit trees, according to Fruitstitute Founder J. Glovinsky, is that "modern day fruit tree rootstock has its feeder roots in the top 3" of soil." This makes watering and fertilizing in a commercial setting easier. But it means produce aisle staple varieties (apples, plums, peaches) are especially sensitive to competition in the landscape. So never plant anything within 2-3' of conventional Fruit tree's trunks and always water and apply fertilizer or amendments within this zone. Older, wilder or non-grafted fruit tree varieties are not affected by this condition (i.e. American persimmon, Mexican guava, Mission fig, volunteer fruit trees etc.). 


Companion planting diagram for california fruit trees. Salvia, ornamental grasses, citrus, acacia and geranium make up this drought-tolerant backyard orchard.
Here's a quick companion planting diagram for California fruit trees. Pollinator-attracting Mexican salvia, insect accommodating ornamental grasses, easy-to-grow citrus, soil-improving acacia and medicinal herbs like wormwood and geranium make up this drought-tolerant backyard orchard. And below is a chart to give you some more ideas about other great plant species you can pair. 
Benefits S-M Plants Lg - Tree How it Works
Nitrogen Fixing Lupines, Dalea, Senna, Caesalpinia, Wisteria Ceanothus, Acacia, Palo Verde, Myrica, Calliandra

Plants colonize this key fertilizing nutrient on roots. Prune or till in their material to release it to surrounding plants. 

Other Nutrients

("dyanimic accumulators")

Yarrow, Onion Strawberry,  *Dandelion, Erio- gonum, Artichoke,

Birch, Asparagus, Mayan spinach, Fern, Dogwood, Walnut

Plants colonize a variety of other nutrients on their roots (potassium, calcium, magnesium etc.). Prune or till in their material to release it to surrounding plants.

Pollinator Attracting  

Lavender, Rosemary, *Salvias, *Yarrow, *Eriogonum, Penstemon

Chitalpa, Mock Orange, *Manzanita,  Grevillea, Bottlebrush

These plants attract pollinators to your garden for fruit set. Pollinators can be anything from honeybees to hummingbirds & even certain species of microscopic wasps.

Predatory Insect Friendly or Pest Repelling Lemon Balm, Thyme, Garlic, Dill, Ornamental Grass, Verbena

Alder, Currant, Elderberry, Sugarbush, Raspberry, Bay Laurel 

These plants either attract predatory insects that eat herbaceous (leaf-eating) insects or have qualities that repel common garden pests.

Want more? click here to get the 5-page PDF companion planting guide. 

Other types of companion plants include Indicator species, that alert you to important conditions in your garden. Like lilacs which bloom after danger of frost has passed. Or cilantro or basil which wilt from dryness hours before larger plants, giving you a grace period to water your precious tomatoes before they're stressed. PH supporters, which help tip the scales in your soil. Like pine trees or azaleas for acid-loving blueberries. Fire suppressors like California native Banana yucca (yucca baccata). Or fire resistant shrubs like ceanothus, native salvias and prickly pears. 

A big favorite for California edible landscaping companions are moisture regulating succulents and cactus. These plants absorb extra water in the environment and release it slowly to surrounding companions as conditions dry. Some small plants can even be safely planted directly into the root zone of other species. Such as aloe vera's which companion well with orchids in containers, extending their bloom cycle and preventing excess humidity which orchids resent. 

There are also edible companion planting species that provide a multitude of benefits in the landscape. And fill-in awkward canopy layers. Such as passionfruit (Passiflora edulis*), which is a powerhouse plant for butterfly attraction and offers a variety of edible and purported medicinal qualities outside of its purple fruits (flowers, buds, leaves). *Note edulis is the primary edible species in this family, almost all others are toxic

Easiest Fruit Trees to grow in Southern California

  • Exotic Species: Fig, Pomegranate, Mexican Guava, Mulberry, Mayan Spinach
  • Native Species: Golden Currant, Thornless prickly pear, Alpine strawberry, Catalina Cherry, Banana Yucca, Blue Elderberry
  • Conventional Fruit Trees: Apple 'Anna', Apricot, Avocado, Plum


Fungi can make great garden companions. Thriving in shady nooks or rotten logs. King strofaria (the Winecap mushroom) is known to increase the size of berries and veggies in surrounding beds. It is exceptionally easy to establish them where wood chip and moderate shade abound. Just add a bit of mycelium or inoculated wood chip to your shaded mulch and off you go. Plus, this humungous fungus is delicious and completely non-toxic.

Shitake logs and oyster mushrooms are popular choices for more advanced mycelium cultivators, who don't mind doing prep work on their growing media (logs or sterilized straw). And occassionally moving them to a cool shaded space like a garage. 


Nitrogen is the most vital nutrient for fruiting plants. You can grow your own with Nitrogen fixing species as long as the right bacteria are present in the soil (inoculant packs are readily available online if your dirt seems dead). Sustainable orchards plant 1/3 of the garden to nitrogen-fixing species to eliminate the need for topical fertilizers. Pruning heavily instead. These plants tend to grow very fast and can even be invasive so hard trimming works well.

Famine Foods

Awe-Inspiring Food Forests 

One of the better known continually cultivated food forests in the world is in the deserts of Egypt. A simple canal floods it a few times a year for irrigation. A glorious over story of Date palms filters out the harshest sun and heat so that the understory of figs, pomegranates, pistachios, apricots, almonds and grapes can thrive. At the ground level herbs, Egyptian onions, pollinator-attracting flowers and nitrogen-fixing annuals abound with other small edibles & medicinals.

Or there's the wild remains of the Sonoran desert's terraced farms. These level garden beds were built on hillsides by the Tarahumara First Nation 800 years ago. They used cactus to secure and store water on the steep edge of their garden levels. The large growing succulents provided protection and an emergency foodshed when required.  Prickly pear & agaves are the most effective water use plants in the world. They were even been incorporated into the ancient Arab terrace farms of Oman and Yemen nearly a century ago. These middle eastern food-producing gardens have been continually cultivated for over 4,000 years (source).

Building a family (or community) of plants is a game-changer for your garden. It uses natural faculties to improve and replenish soil instead of machinery and mined nutrients. It wards off pests and maximizes space.  Nailing the competition is everything. Because you want root architecture and nutrient preferences to benefit & support - not suffocate & starve - each other. But once it gets off the ground it’s like a garden party where everyone’s invited! Watch for signs of stress while things are young and then enjoy the growth. Pruning and moving things as needed.

Companion planted fruit trees with succulents and medicinal herbs

Looking for Pre-Blended Backyard Orchard Gardens? Click here to shop edible packages. 


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