Imagine if you could grow an abundance of food year after year without much work. A food forest promises just that. The most elaborate designs have crops at every level from the ground up, but even if you grow a few fruit trees, berry bushes, and edible perennials, you’re well on your way to enjoying a food forest—here are the easiest plants to get you started!
A Canopy of Fruit Trees
Fruit trees can be the canopy of your food forest. In Iowa, we have the ability to grow cherry trees, pear trees, and a variety of apples. Fruit trees require a little maintenance such as pruning, fertilizing and pest protection—and of course, harvesting. Once they start producing, you’ll be wondering what to do with the bounty each year!
An Understory of Berry Bushes
Beneath the fruit trees, you can enjoy a shrub layer of berry bushes—but make sure there’s plenty of light for these sun-lovers. Raspberries and blackberries are just a few of the many berries that thrive here. They grow quickly and most species require annual pruning. But just like fruit trees, they become even more abundant each year, and are hardy to almost anything our climate throws at them.
Edibles Perennials for the Forest Floor
Beneath shrubs in a natural forest, you find a rich blanket of wildflowers and grasses. In your food forest, you can fill this layer with edible perennials like asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries. While fruit trees and berries provide throughout the summer and fall, asparagus and rhubarb give you a spring harvest. Strawberries can form a ground cover of leaves in between your other plants—but keep in mind, all of the above-mentioned perennials will require full sun conditions to produce ample fruit/growth.
A Ground Cover of Herbs
Perennial herbs can round out your forest garden, not only offering beautiful scent and color, but savory leaves as well. Thyme, sage, oregano, mint, lavender, chives, and tarragon are all possibilities. Keep in mind you’ll want to place herbs where they’ll get the appropriate sunlight. Also, it simplifies your watering routine to group together herbs with similar moisture needs.
Besides growing the common herbs mentioned above, many food forests also include edible wildflowers and less common herbs that can be enjoyed for tea, such as lovage, coneflower, borage, sorrel, purslane and summer savory. They’ll attract more pollinators and beneficial insects as well.
The Advantages of a Food Forest
- They are resilient: if something happens to perennials—like hail or rabbit damage—they’ll bounce back from the roots without much trouble.
- Less maintenance: since the crops are perennial, you don’t have to uproot, till, or replant crops every year, and you don’t have as much weeding to do. Fruit trees, berry bushes, and perennials give you reliable food for years.
- Aesthetic appeal: many people want flowering shrubs and trees in their yards anyway. Fruit and berry bushes give you abundant flowers, and leafy foliage, while providing an annual harvest.
- They’re ecological: a perennial garden builds soil over time, and gives reliable sources of food to pollinators and habitat to insects, which spills over to benefit birds and other species in the urban landscape.
Some people redesign their whole yard to create a big food forest and maximize the amount of produce they grow. The yields from an average suburban lot are often nothing less than astonishing. But you don’t have to convert your whole landscape. The beauty about a food forest is that they can be incorporated into a design you already have. Come see us at Ted lare Design, Build & Garden Center—planting fruit trees, berries, and edible perennials is an easy way to get started!