A tree guild is a small community of plants that encircles a tree to provide a relatively self-sufficient support system. Each plant in the guild has a role, such as fertilizing, attracting beneficial insects, providing a mulch source, or repelling pests. Planting a tree guild that includes early blooming cultivars of daffodils adds welcome spring color and helps keep most trees healthier year-round.
There’s no set recipe for making a tree guild, because so much in gardening depends on location, climate, and the time each gardener is able to devote. However, most deciduous trees, including fruit and nut trees, will benefit more from a guild of living perennial plants than by a stark circle of mulch that must be replaced each spring.
For example, an apple tree guild might include a mixture of spring-blooming bulbs to attract spring pollinators that aid the tree with fruit set; chives to repel pests; bee balm or yarrow to attract summer pollinators; borage to accumulate nutrients and tap into trace minerals, making them available for the guild; rhubarb for on-site mulch; and echinacea to attract butterflies.
A tree guild works best with a variety of plants that will flower at different times during the growing season and are hardy for your zone. Choosing flower bulbs and perennial native plants with deep root systems will help provide balance in the guild.