In his book The Holistic Orchard, fruit tree expert Michael Phillips offers recommendations for the overall health and productivity of fruit trees. Based on his concepts, we spent several hours over the weekend underplanting our home orchard. We removed the grass beneath each tree and added hardwood mulch to allow more nutrients and water to reach the roots of the trees.
Phillips recommends planting a "living mulch," an understory of widely diversified plants, some that attract beneficial insects, others than repel destructive insects. We have plenty to learn in this area, but diversity seems to be the operative concept.
Comfrey (above), known for its medicinal qualities, has a long tap root that pulls up nutrients from deep below ground and distributes them to tree roots. We planted oregano and lemon balm for their bee-friendly qualities. Chives are reported to help with peach leaf curl, so we planted that beneath the peach trees. Bitter herbs are thought to repel fruit pests, so we'll work on that next spring.
Of all the crazy projects we've done around here, this one has garnered most comments from the neighbors because in addition to having function, underplanting is also quite attractive.