What to grow under your fruit tree is a question frequently asked by home growers. Many gardeners want to get rid of the weeds under their trees, but aren’t sure what to replace them with.

We always try to answer it by referring to basic principles:

  1. Bare earth is the worst.
  2. Mulch is second-best (and some mulches are better than others).
  3. Best of all is a diverse mix of live plants.

As Dr Christine Jones explained in detail in this masterclass, growing live plants under your trees is healthier for the soil, the microbes, and your fruit trees. Ultimately, it’s also better for your health and the planet!

However, many people get stuck on which plants to grow under their fruit trees, which is why we created this guide to edible flowering plants. And we’re always on the lookout for examples of diverse understory plantings.

The amazing garden beds at Perth Cultural Centre

A visit to Perth led to us stumbling on these incredibly diverse garden beds. They make up the Urban Orchard, a delightful outdoor space that has been created on top of a carpark.

We talk about diverse understory plantings all the time. But this is the first time we’ve found a public garden dedicated to showing people what to grow under their fruit trees.

It’s not often that you get to see so many different combinations actually being tested.

So, with thanks to the Perth Cultural Centre, we’ll share some of the plant groupings here. Some of the trees weren’t looking super healthy, and not all of the understory plants that had been planted had survived.

But the amount of thought and planning that has gone into this garden makes our hearts sing. Most of the plants included in the groupings are edible. And most of the ones that aren’t edible have medicinal value.

In no particular order, here are a selection of the beds. We hope you find them as inspirational as we do.

Bed 10: Nectarine and white shatoot mulberry trees

Plants growing under the trees:

  • Corn (Zea mays). Corn has high levels of antioxidant that increase when you cook it. It’s also high in niacin, potassium, magnesium, and essential fatty acids.
  • Winter savoury (Satureja montana). This medicinal plant is a carminative (which means it helps to reduce farting!) and digestive aid. Also antiseptic and astringent. Can be used to relive insect bites.
  • Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum). The purple variety of basil can be used in the same way as the more common green basil. Contains heaps of vitamins and minerals, and is packed with vitamin K.
  • Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). A medicinal plant, tansy has been used to treat painful joint conditions like arthritis and rheumatism. Can also be used to treat migraines, headaches, sciatica, nerve pain, ulcers, intestinal worms and parasites and to encourage regular menstruation.
  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)
  • Mallow (Malva). An anti-inflammatory herb, can be used to heal digestive and urinary tract infections. Also used for coughs and insect bites. High in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, and Vit A & C. Leaves can be eaten like spinach cooked or raw.
  • Mint (Mentha). Fabulously useful culinary herb.
  • Zucchini (Cucubita pepo)
  • Finger lime (Citrus australasica). Rich in folate, potassium, and Vitamin E. Finger limes have more Vit C than other citrus.
  • Ruby saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa). The leaves and fruits of the Ruby Saltbush are both edible, however excessive quantities can make rheumatism, arthritis, gout, or kidney stones worse.
Bed 10 has a diverse mix of native, edible, and flowering plants that will grow under your fruit trees
Bed 10 has a diverse mix of native, edible, and flowering plants that will grow under your fruit trees

Bed 11: Peach tree

The peach tree in Bed 11 looks a little the worse for wear, but still has new growth and will probably bear a crop of fruit
The peach tree in Bed 11 looks a little the worse for wear, but still has new growth and will probably bear a crop of fruit

Plants growing under the tree:

  • Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora). Contains high levels of Vit C and omega-3 fatty acids. Seeds contain high levels of antioxidant and are said to be useful in combating cancer, viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
  • Rocket (Eruca sativa). A good source of Vit A, lutein, and zeaxanthin – all good for eyes. Also has calcium, potassium, Vit C, folate, and Vit K.
  • Marigolds (Tagetes erecta). These beautiful flowers help to deter pests like nematodes, and are used in skin lotions and balms. Great for attracting good bugs.
  • Amaranth (Amaranthus). Has high levels of antioxidants, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Related to quinoa.
  • Purslane (Portulaca aleracea). An amazing plant that often springs up as a weed in summer. High in Vit A, B, and C, and very high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides). Native spinach with a similar flavour to spinach. Rich in Vit C and antioxidants, however contain high levels of oxalic acid so the leaves must be blanched before cooking.

Bed 16: Mandarine and lime trees

Understory plants:

  • Purple vervain (Verbena bonariensis). Anti-microbial.
  • French lavender (Lavandula stoechas). Lavender oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Lavender is one of the most useful herbs to grow under your fruit trees as it’s good for everything from headaches to insect bites.
  • Wormwood (Artemis absinthinium). Wormwood is best known as a preventive of mites and parasites in chickens, and also has many medicinal uses for people.
  • Salvia Hotlips (Salvia microphylla). High in antioxidants and contains a lot of anti-inflammatory compounds. Also antibacterial and wound-healing.
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Known to help reduce stress and anxiety, make it easier to sleep, and treat cold sores.
  • Indian Ginseng (Withania somnifera). Well known as a medicinal plant, ginseng has been used for anxiety, stress, pain, fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, and epilepsy. Can lower blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). A useful plant for healing wounds, plus can be useful for digestive disorders. Also know for treating anxiety and depression.
  • Comfrey (Symphytum). A fabulous plant to grow under your fruit trees because bees love it. It also has many medicinal uses such as anti-inflammatory.
  • Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). Can be used in cooking similar to ordinary garlic.
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). Contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
  • Salt bush (Atriplex nummularia)

Garden Bed 17: Orange tree

Bed 17 demonstrates a variety of plants you can grow under an orange tree
Bed 17 demonstrates a variety of plants you can grow under an orange tree

Understory plants:

  • Elderflower (Sambucus). Berries and flowers contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamins that can help with immune function. Used to treat inflammation, stress, gut problems, headaches, fever, kidney problems, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Comfrey (Symphytum)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). A useful plant for healing wounds, plus can be useful for stomach problems and anxiety.
  • Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
  • Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana). Mainly known as a culinary herb. Marjoram can also be used to treat digestion and menstruation problems.
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Maroon bush (Scoevola spinascens). Also called Murin, this native plant has been used in traditional medicine for colds and stomach issues.
Bed 17

Number 18: Olive tree (Manzanillo)

Bed 18 - Manzanillo olive tree with a herbal and floral understory
Bed 18 – Manzanillo olive tree with a herbal and floral understory

Understory plants:

  • Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Prostatus)
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Contain Vit K, C, and A. Potentially useful for treating cancer, sleep disorders, and inflammation.
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • It looks like there’s some calendula in there as well, even though it’s not on the board
Bed 18

Hopefully that is making your brain ping with new ideas about what to plant under your fruit trees.

The Urban Orchard was big, varied, and quite complex. Too much for one blog, so we’ll bring you the rest of the beds in another blog.

Related Articles

Permaculture and fruit growing

Permaculture and fruit growing

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes If you’re into fruit growing, there’s a good chance you’ve also heard about permaculture. And if you haven’t,…

read more

Get our FREE ebook – 10 Key Steps to Growing Great Fruit

This useful ebook will give you answers to all the topics you need to know, from pests to pruning, and it’s completely free!

You'll soon be enjoying abundant harvests.

When you download the ebook, you'll also get our free Weekly Fruit Tips newsletter to help you stay on track with the little jobs that keep your trees healthy and fruitful.

Just hit "Get my ebook!" to download your free copy.

You have Successfully Subscribed!