Planning a Food Forest

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Planning a forest is essentially creating a small ecosystem on your property. You may be tempted to start by just buying fruit trees and planting around your perimeter, but plants thrive in communities. Instead you need to consider how plants naturally group up in the wild. botanical life exists in 7 distinct layers of any forest. Your personal food forest should have representatives from each of these layers to have the best chance of thriving.

  • High Canopy (20’+)
  • Lower Canopy (10′-20′)
  • Shrub Layer (4′-10′)
  • Herbaceous Layer (1′-4′)
  • Vertical Layer (climbers)
  • Groundcover Layer (0-1′)
  • Root Layer (underground)

Each of these layers should be designed for their growth compatibility. Some plants are great companions, and others stunt their neighbors growth. I will have a separate article on companion planting which will go into more detail. however the general rule of thumb is the more dense you pack your vegetation, the more you’ll need to supplement with nutrients to avoid competition. Its advisable to intercrop and not have plants of the same species to closely since they will abosorb the exact same nutrients. Instead plants such as beans are a popular intercrop to tomatoes, bananas, etc. Heavy nitrogen feeders benefit from being neighbored by beans.

Your vertical layer may not need independent support if it can be grown up against your canopy layer. Dragonfruit for example will gladly accept a tree trunk just as readily as a trellis and not cause any damage to the tree in the process.

The thicker of a canopy you create, you’ll need to modify your undergrowth layers to be more shade tolerant species so be prepared to evolve your forest as your plants grow stronger. Initially your biggest trees will be small and your groundcover and lower layers will need to be adapted to full sun. Some plants may thrive in full sun or shade, but still tolerate the reverse. If you want to do minimal seasonal and annual renovations in your forest, choose plants that are more tolerant of different amounts of water, sun, and care.

Check out the articles for individual canopy layers for suggested plants to fill those roles