Guild planting has so many benefits for your permaculture garden. By growing certain species together, you increase the chances of having a bountiful, productive site. Here’s are the main reasons why.
Guild planting means you can get more, different types of plant into your beds. The beneficial, symbiotic relationships that plants growing together develop help them all to thrive, giving you a more abundant and diverse harvest from the garden. The variety that guild planting encourages is also important in increasing biodiversity in your site, which creates a more effective, resilient ecosystem, making your permaculture garden less likely to collapse if it is subject to adverse conditions. Plus, having a wide variety of plants in your garden is more aesthetically pleasing than a single or a handful of crops. Guild planting lets you experience the great diversity and natural bounty of nature.
Plants grown together in guilds complement each other. They each bring different benefits to bear upon the guild that help the other plants around them , and in turn they receive benefits from their companions. This promotes healthy, abundant growth and maximizes the productivity of the guild. For example, onions and carrots are ideal companion plants. Onions have shallow roots, straight leaves and deter carrot fly. Carrots, meanwhile, have deep roots, feathery leaves and deter onion fly. By planting hem together you maximize the chances of both flourishing.
All plants need nutrients. Some plants are better than others at ‘fixing’ certain nutrients in the soil. Guild planting means that you plant companion species that provide high levels of nutrients that others might not be so adapt at securing. Take nitrogen, for instance. All plants need it to grow, but some are better at taking it from the air and fixing it in a form that plants can use (via bacteria that live on their root nodules. Primary among these are the legumes, such as peas, beans and clover. Plants nearby benefit from the legumes’ ability to fix nitrogen, making for healthier, more nutrient-soil, which, in turn, promotes robust plant growth.
Besides increasing the amount of nutrients ion the soil, guild planting also helps to improve the soil’s structure. Planting guilds that include deep-rooting plants – like trees – means that their roots act to break up the soil, allowing those with shallower, less robust roots to more easily access the moisture and nutrients that are in the soil. Deep rooting plants also bring minerals up to the surface layers of soil where shallow rooting plants can then make use of it.
Guild planting allows the permaculture gardener to practice the principle of stacking. This involves planting species that grow to different heights, meaning not only can you get more biomass into a site, but also the variety of heights themselves provides benefits. Taller plants that need more sunlight can help lower growing plants that require a greater proportion of shade, while those lower plants can provide ground cover that helps protect the soil from the sun, retaining moisture that the taller plants can then access.
Sometimes early-stage plants need some help to establish themselves in a site. Compost and mulching have their part to play in this, but guild planting is also an important element. Planting seedlings or young plants with others that provide protection from the elements, either through their height, foliage density or both can provide a nursery, affording the more vulnerable plants protection from sun, wind or frost until they grow hardy enough to fend for themselves. As an example, young tomato plants can benefit from proximity to salad species, which provide shade for the more delicate tomatoes.
Guild planting is an excellent technique to protect certain species of plant from attack by insects. Choosing the correct companion species can help to camouflage vulnerable plants, by disguising the scent or visual shape of a plant so that insects cannot distinguish it. You can also use guild plants to act as a decoy, attracting insects away from more vulnerable species. And, of course, guild planting can also be used to attract beneficial insects, such as pollinators or predators of less beneficial insects. And it is not just insect behaviour that can be modified by judicious guild planting. Including plants that make a habitat they prefer, the guild gardener can attract other animals to the site, such as birds, frogs and lizards, which in turn can prey on insects. Even larger animals that you wish to deter from the site, such as foxes or goats, can be put off by guild planting with thorny bushes and dense foliage.
The benefits that plants growing together in a guild give to one another are not just present when they are in the ground – they are also evident after you have harvested them as well. Some companion plants actually improve the taste of those they grow with. Herbs are the main species that do this, and lend themselves to guild planting with a wide variety of other plants. For instance, planting chives and borage in a guild with strawberries actually improves the taste of the fruits (making them more intensely strawberry-flavored, rather than oniony!).
Not only do guild plants help the taste of their fellow species, they tend to go well when eaten together. This makes picking your harvest easier as well, as you will often pick plants that grow together to eat together. Kale, for example, works well in a guild with onions, herbs and potatoes – all of which would make a lovely soup or stew.
Another brilliant benefit of guild planting is that it means you aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket, crop-wise. Guild planting increases the number of species you have n your site, so that if some fail or do not perform as well as expected, you still have plenty of other plants that will thrive and that you can harvest. If you plant a single crop and it fails, you are left with nothing.