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Designing a food forest from the ground up can be an overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable task at the beginning. Working out what plants are good food forest plants, and even understanding what exactly is a food forest.

I have created a series to help you in the design process. I will hold your hand while you get the hang of it all. I am right there beside you growing my own food forest from scratch with you.

First I suggest you read my post about designing your yard the permaculture way if you haven’t already.

Next I show you the steps to designing and creating a permaculture food forest. Below is a deeper explanation of the 7 layers of a food forest, and a list of food forest plants to get you started in your planning.

If you are a newbie to gardening, or if you want to learn a lot more, check out our very in depth course – The Productive Gardener.

Obviously you can plant any plant you choose in your own forest garden, but the rule of thumb I like to go by, is that every plant needs to fulfill at least 2 roles to qualify to being planted at my place.

A food forest plant might provide flowers for the bees, fruit for me and leaf mulch for the soil. Or it might fix nitrogen and provide a climbing frame for a fruiting vine.

You will need to use plants that are best for your gardening zone, I suggest that you talk with your neighbors and the friendly people at your local plan nursery. The food forest plants listed are hardy to about USDA Zone 5, some even lower.

The plants on my perennial vegetable list are perfect plants for your food forest!

We recommend that you get your annual seeds from Seeds for Generations as they are a homegrown, US family business specializing in heirloom seeds.

The Tall-Tree Layer.

This the canopy – It is made up of full-sized fruit, nut, or other useful trees, with spaces between each tree to let plenty of light reach the lower layers.

Dense, spreading species like the classic shade trees such as maple, sycamore, and beech don’t work well in the forest garden because they cast shadows over a large area.

Better choices are multifunctional fruit and nut trees. These include standard and semistandard apple and pear trees, European plums on large rootstock, and full-sized cherries.

Chestnut trees, Chinese chestnuts, Walnut trees are excellent options, especially if they are pruned to be open to let the light through.

Nitrogen-fixing trees will help build soil, and most bear blossoms that attract insects. These include black locust, mesquite, alder, and, in low-frost climates, acacia, algoroba, tagasaste, and carob.

Since much of the forest garden lies in permaculture landscape zones 1 and 2 (close to the house), timber trees aren’t appropriate as felling trees there would be dangerous.

The canopy trees will define the major patterns of the forest garden, so they must be chosen carefully and planted with plenty of space to let the light through.

Alder Alnus
American Persimmon Diospyros virginiana
Apple Malus sylvestris
Arazole / Mediterranean Medlar Crataegus azarolus
Black locust Robinia pseudoacacia

Carob

Ceratonia siliqua

Cherry

Prunus avium

Chestnut

Castanea dentata

Chinese Chestnut

Castanea mollissima

Cornelian cherries

Cornus mas

European Plum (Myrobalan)

Prunus domestica

Hawthorn

Crataegus spp.

Highbush cranberries

Viburnum trilobum

Honey locusts

Gleditsia triacanthos

Japanese Walnut (Heartnut)

Juglans ailantifolia

Korean Stone Pine

Pinus koraiensis

Northern Pecan

Carya illinoinensis

Pear

Pyrus communis

Siberian Pea Tree

Caragana arborescens

Stone pine

Pinus pinea

Tagasaste/ tree Lucerne

Cytisus proliferus

Walnut

Juglans

Hawthorns

Crataegus monogyna

Medlar

Mespilus germanica

Mulberry

Morus spp.

Quince

Cydonia oblonga

The Low-Tree Layer.

Here are many of the same fruits and nuts as in the canopy, but on dwarf and semidwarf rootstocks to keep them low growing. Also naturally small trees such as apricot, peach, nectarine, almond, medlar, persimmon, pawpaw and mulberry work well here.

In a smaller forest garden, these small trees may serve as the canopy. They can easily be pruned into an open form, which will allow light to reach the other species beneath them.

Other low-growing trees include flowering species, such as dogwood and mountain ash, and some nitrogen fixers, including golden-chain tree, silk tree, and mountain mahogany.

 

Almond dwarf

Prunus dulcis

Apple Dwarf

Malus domestica

Apricot

Prunus armeniaca

Australian Round Lime

Citrus australis

Banana (Lady Finger)

Musa acuminata

Beech

Fagus sylvatica

Cherry Dwarf

Prunus avium

Citrus Dwarf

Citrus spp.

Crab Apple

Malus sp.

Date-plum

Diospyros lotus

Dogwood

Cornus

Elderberry

Sambucus nigra

Japanese peppers

Zanthoxylum spp.

Fruit Salad Plant

Monstera deliciosa

Nectarine

Prunus persica v. nectarina

Olive

Olea europaea

Pawpaw, Papaya

Carica papaya

Peach Dwarf

Prunus persica

Pear Dwarf

Pyrus communis

Persimmon Dwarf

Diospyros spp.

Plum Dwarf

Prunus domestica

Service Tree

Sorbus domestica

Tamarillo, Tree Tomato

Cyphomandra betacea

Tree mugwort

Artemisia arborescens

Bamboo ‘Gracilis’

Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’

Serviceberry

Amelanchier spp.

Silverberry

Elaeagnus

Acacia/Wattles

Acacia spp.

The Shrub Layer.

This tier includes blueberry, rose, hazelnut, butterfly bush, bamboo, serviceberry, the nitrogen-fixing Elaeagnus species and Siberian pea shrub, and many others.

There are a huge range of shrubs available – try to lean towards ones with beneficial qualities – attracting insects, birds, provide food, mulch, nitrogen etc.

Acacia/Wattle

Acacia spp.

Austral Indigo

Indigofera australis

Blackberry

Rubus fruticosus

Blueberry

Vaccinium spp.

Cape Gooseberry

Physalis peruviana

Currants

Ribes spp

Curry Plant

Helichrysum italicum

Edible Savlias

Salvia spp.

Goji berries

Lycium barbarum

Gooseberry

Ribes Uva-crispa

Guavas

Myrtus spp.

Jostaberry

Ribes x culverwellii

Large Kangaroo Apple

Solanum laciniatum

lavender

lavandula angustifolia

Lemon Verbena

Aloysia triphylla

Mountain Marigold

Tagetes lemmonii

Nodding Saltbush

Einadia wutans

Perennial Basil

Ocimum gratissimum

Perennial Chilli, Rocoto Chilli

Capsicum pubescens

Raspberry

Rubus spp.

River Mint

Mentha australis

Rose

Rosa

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

Scented Geraniums

Pelargonium graveolens

Southernwood

Artemisia abrotanum

Tomatillo

Physalis philadelphica

Wormwood

Artemisia absinthium

The Herb Layer.

Herbs in this layer simply means non-woody vegetation: vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants.

Emphasis is on perennials, but we won’t rule out choice annuals and self-seeding species.

Asparagus

Asparagus officinalis

Balm

Melissa officinalis

Borage

Borago officinalis

Broad bean

Vicia faba

Buckwheat

Fagopyrum esculentum

Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Comfrey, Knitbone

Symphytum officinale

Dill

Anethum graveolens

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

French Sorrel

Rumex scutatus

Garden Mint

Mentha sachalinensis

Garlic Chives

Allium tuberosum

Globe Artichoke

Cynara scolymus

Hyssop

Cynara cardunculus

Lemongrass

Cymbopogon spp

Lovage

Levisticum officinale

Marigold

Tagetes

Mint

Mentha spp.

Oregano

Origanum vulgare

Parsley

Petroselinum spp.

Pepino, Pepino Dulce, Melon Pear

Solanum muricatum

Perpetual/Perennial Spinach

Beta vulgaris var. cicla

Phacelia

Phacelia Tanacetifolia

Rhubarb

Rheum rhabarbarum

Sorrel

Rumex acetosa

Stevia

Stevia rebaudiana

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium

The Ground-Cover Layer.

These are low, ground-hugging plants—preferably varieties that offer food or habitat— Sample species include strawberries, nasturtium, clover, creeping thyme, ajuga, and the many prostrate varieties of flowers such as phlox and verbena.

They play a critical role in weed prevention, occupying ground that would otherwise succumb to invaders.

 

Alpine Strawberries

Fragaria x vesca

Sweet Alyssum

Lobularia maritima

Basil Thyme

Acinos arvensi

Black Cumin

Nigella Sativa

Clover

Trifolium

Coral Pea

Hardenbergia violacea

Corsican Mint

Mentha requienii

Cranberry

Vaccinium Oxycoccus spp.

Creeping Oregon Grape

Mahonia aquifolium

Creeping Snowberry

Gaultheria hispidula

Creeping Thyme

Thymus serpyllum

Fat hen

Chenopodium album

Ground Elder

Aegopodium podagraria

Kamchatka Bilberry

Vaccinium praestans

Lingonberries

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Lowbush Blueberries

Vaccinium angustifolium

Marshmallow

Althaea officinalis

Miner’s Lettuce

Claytonia perfoliata

Nasturtium

Tropaeolum majus

Pigface

Carpobrotus modestus

Prostrate Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ or ‘Huntington Carpet’

Roman Chamomile

Chamaemelum nobile

Running Postman

Kennedia spp.

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis

Sweet Violets

Viola odorata

Vervain

Verbena officinali

Warrigal Greens

Tetragonia tetragonoides

Wintergreen

Gaultheria procumbens

The Vine Layer.

This layer is for climbing plants that will use the trees as their climbing frame. Here are food plants, such as kiwifruit, grapes, hops, passionflower, and vining berries; and those for wildlife, such as honeysuckle and trumpet-flower.

These can include climbing annuals such as squash, cucumbers, and melons. Some of the perennial vines can be invasive so they should be used sparingly and with caution.

Cantaloupe

Cucumis melo reticulatus

Chokos

Sechium edule

Climbing peas

Pisum sativum

Coral Pea

Hardenbergia violacea

Cucumbers

Cucumis sativus

Grape -Sultana

Vitis vinifera

Grapes

Vitis spp

Honeydew Melon

Cucumis melo inodorus

Honeysuckle (Blue-berried)

Lonicera caerulea

Hops

Humulus lupulus

Kiwi Berry / Hardy Kiwifruit

Actinidia arguta

Kiwi fruit

Actinidia spp

Malabar Spinach

Basella alba ‘Rubra’

Maypop

Passiflora incarnata

Nasturtium (Climbing)

Tropaeolum majus

Passionfruit

Passiflora edulis

Perennial bean (scarlet runner bean)

Phaseolus coccineus

Pumpkin

Cucurbita pepo

Soybean

Glycine max

Squash

Cucurbita

Sweet Potato (‘Bush Porto Rico’/’Centennial’)

Ipomoea batatas

Watermelon

Citrullus lanatus

Wild grape

Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris

Zucchini

Cucurbita pepo

The Root Layer.

Most of the plants for the root layer should be shallow rooted, such as garlic and onions, or easy-to-dig types such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, otherwise you disrupt the other plants roots too much.

Arrowroot

Maranta arundinacea

Beetroot

Beta vulgaris

Carrot

Daucus carota sativus

Cassava (Tapioca)

Manihot esculenta

Chicory

Cichorium intybus

Chives

Allium schoenoprasum

Daikon

Raphanus sativus L.

Daylilly

Hemerocallis fulva

Echinacea

Echinacea angustifolia

Garlic

Allium sativum

Ginger

Zingiber officinale

Ginseng

Panax spp.

Groundnut

Apios americana

Horseradish

Armoracia rusticana

Jerusalem artichoke

Helianthus tuberosum

Liquorice

Glycyrrhiza spp.

Native ginger

Hornstedtia scottiana

Oca, New Zealand Yam

Oxalis tuberosa

Onion

Allium cepa

Parsnip

Pastinaca sativa

Potato

Solanum tuberosum

Salsify

Tragopogon spp.

Sweet Potato

Ipomoea batatas

Tree/Egyptian Walking Onions

Allium cepa var. proliferum

Welsh onion

Allium fistulosum

Yacon

Smallanthus sonchifolius

Yam Daisy

Microseris scapigera

 

For further reading, I really recommend all of these books. I own every one of them and they are amazing resources!

Do you have a food forest at your place? What are your favorite food forest plants? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Please pin and share!

Designing a food forest can be an overwhelming task at the beginning. I have created a series to help you in the design process including a list of food forest plants. I will hold your hand while you get the hang of it all. I am right there beside you growing my own food forest from scratch with you.

Dana is a homesteading, homeschooling mama to 3, based in the south of New Zealand.

She is a Certified Ketogenic Living Coach, and natural wellness expert, as well as a Registered Nurse, with post grad training in mothers and babies. She has struggled with infertility and PCOS and conceived all 3 babies naturally.

Dana is passionate about natural health and gentle parenting. With a background in well child / baby nursing she loves sharing what she knows with mamas, mamas-to-be and mama-want-to-be’s.

She enjoys getting out in the garden, or just sitting at the beach in the sun. Dana also blogs about fertility and pregnancy at naturalearthymama.com, coaches people through Simplyketogeniclife.com and creates meal plans for earthlarder.com

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