A permaculture citrus guild (in Australia)

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At Lewisham House, we love growing citrus. But it’s a hungry crop, and high maintenance.

Now one of the core concepts in permaculture is that of a “guild”. The idea is that instead of just planting a tree by itself, you plant it with a community (a “guild”) of other plants, which provide supporting services. This might include extra nutrients, attractants for beneficial bugs, and the like.

If you search the net, you’ll find plenty of diagrams for apple tree guilds, hazelnut guilds, and other northern hemisphere deciduous trees. But not for citrus trees (that I could find).

So I did a fair bit of reading and thinking, and these are my draft citrus guilds, for Australian warm temperate conditions. All feedback welcome!

Design principles

  • Citrus trees are gross feeders. So the guild has to produce a lot of nitrogen, and other fertilisers, to support the citrus.
  • Design for full-sized and dwarf trees. Dwarfed citrus trees are widely available, and can be very useful in a permaculture context.
  • Minimal maintenance. Ideally, once setup, the guild runs itself.
  • Plants have to be available in Australia. There are plenty of great permaculture plants (like goumi), which I just can’t find in Oz.
  • Australian natives wherever possible. Rainforest plants are particularly useful, as they’re acclimatised to shade and competition.
  • Warm temperate or sub-tropical. Some of the species I’ve chosen would likely struggle in colder conditions.

Citrus guild (full-sized trees; version 1.0)

Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)

Citrus guild (dwarf trees; version 1.0)

Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)

Notes and questions

  • I’ve packed in as many nitrogen-fixing species that I can, with a mix of native and introduced species.
  • Acacia (wattle) are great nitrogen-fixers, and they thrive in most conditions. But the big question from what I’ve read is: do acacias release that nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of other trees, or just keep it for themselves. An answer please! (I’ve done a lot of looking, and I’m still uncertain.)
  • A linear arrangement is just one possibility, and it happened to match some other design work that I was doing at the time.
  • Does this guild work in practice? I’m just starting to experiment in the real world, so all feedback and suggestions welcome.
  • Have I missed any good plants that can serve a productive purpose in the guild? Again, all suggestions encouraged.
  • Are there other citrus guild drawings that I’ve missed? Please post links in the comments below.



8 thoughts on “A permaculture citrus guild (in Australia)

    Michael Sampson said:
    December 1, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Wow. This is not an area of interest of mine, but what cool work you are doing here. Great to see your process of thinking and exploration.

    Nick Ritar said:
    December 16, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Hi James,

    The only companion that immediate comes to mind is planting nettles under them to stop kids damaging thier delicate surface roots… but I can’t remember where i heard that.

    I like the idea of packing in the nitrogen fixers as citrus are renowned heavy feeders. I’m not sure if they will provide much while they are growing but when you inevitably cut them back (when they start to crowd the citrus) they should release a lot of nitrogen in the root zone. You can also use thier pruning as mulch.

    Have you read Dave Jacke’s – Edible Forest Gardening… there is some great stuff in there about different types of guilds. Mutual support and resource partitioning are what you are after here. There is a breakdown on our blog here.

    Looking forward to seeing photos


    […] outlined in our post on citrus guilds, there’s a big focus on nitrogen-fixing plants to support the hungry fruit […]

    Arnold Phommatheth said:
    February 22, 2018 at 9:12 am

    For example, the simplistic model of the Solar System as a group of point-plenty orbiting round one
    other, much heavier, level-mass, is extremely helpful https://math-problem-solver.com/ .
    It is very most likely that she or he has studied a number
    of courses as much as a graduate degree.

    Charlie Walshe said:
    April 1, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    here in Brisbane I have citrus, coffee and chilli growing under pidgin pea quite successfully. also ginger and turmeric love being under them. the chilli has zero fruit fly attacks this year in comparison to a chilli out in the open which was decimated by fruit fly.

    Tim said:
    May 12, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    You should check out native legumes: https://www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr/cd-keys/peakey/key/The%20Pea%20Key/Media/Html/about_peas.html

    Very beautiful flowers and Hardenbergia violacea ‘Happy Wanderer’ is easy to grow. Could be trained to climb up the citrus. Would out compete weeds at the trees base
    Also consider a key hole vegetable garden in the center of a ring of citrus. The worms break down kitchen scraps and fertilise+improve soil structure. N2 fixing species or green manure could be used improve soil until it could support veges. Worm tubes could also be placed near the base of citrus as their casting are very high in nitrogen.

    If you have a lot of green waste consider black soldier fly larvea vermicomposting (best chicken/ fish food – 40% protein). If you have a lot of dry biomass consider biochar production to increase soil structure + nutrient and water carrying capacity.

    […] This isn’t what we’ve done. Instead, we’ve been creating a citrus guild. […]

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