Forest gardening: Choosing smaller trees and shrubs – Mother Earth News

In my last blog, I described how a forest garden is designed to mimic a small wood or forest with up to seven “layers”. These usually consist of edible, medicinal or useful plants, trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, ground covers and bulbs or tubers. I also explained what kind of trees you can choose to make up the highest part of the canopy.

I suggested Mulberry as an option. The Illinois Everbearing variety is our variety of choice because it is nearly seedless, hardy, with long yields all summer long, and it fruits relatively quickly in its growing life. Since I wrote the blog, my two mulberry trees have come into fruition. While a friend’s mulberry tree planted as an ornamental in a more conventional garden was attacked by birds, mine is nestled at the bottom of my forest garden, towering above the lower trees in its own ecosystem, another bonus from my semi-wild forest garden.

The next layer:

Small trees and large shrubs

In a cooler temperate climate, more careful spacing of trees is important as we lack light. If you’re reading this blog in warmer climates like Florida, you can cram a lot more trees and shrubs, but the principles are the same, only the vertical “stacking” of biomasses in space can be more intense.

Trees can of course be pruned, but I prefer to choose the right rootstock for small trees rather than pruning trees on vigorous rootstocks every year. The best rootstocks for small apple and pear trees are M9 and MM106 which are semi-dwarf. Both were developed in the UK at East Malling Research Station in Kent.

The M9reach a height of 8–10 feet (2.4–3.0 m), coming into fruit after 3–4 years, reaching full capacity of 50–65 pounds (23–29 kg) after 5–6 years.

MM106 is a little more vigorous and reaches a height of 14 to 18 feet (4.3 to 5.5 m). Trees from this stock begin to produce fruit within three to four years and produce 90 to 110 pounds (41 to 50 kg) after about seven or eight years. It is better on poorer soil. Apples and pears form the base of this layer of our forest garden and are selected for their preference for our soil type, climate, taste, ability to cross pollinate and also to harvest sequentially throughout the season. harvest season. The idea is to try to spread out your harvest as long as possible with early, mid and late harvests rather than planting tree crops that all come in at once.

Other trees in this layer are damsons, plums, and pawns, especially the succulent green and gold pawns. Our favorite is Oulin’s Golden Gage, a magnificent fruit that tastes simply divine.

In my forest garden I also have medlar, an unusual tree, native to Turkey, which produces fruit that can be made into jams, chutneys and wine. The fruit is left to “bleed” on the tree (i.e. until after the first frost which breaks down the fibers and causes it to ripen). We also grow Nepal pepper, a beautiful tree that produces a delicately spiced corn that can be dried and ground for the table.

Another smaller tree is the cobnut of which there are a number of varieties. They produce larger hazelnuts than our native hazel trees and we grow them as small standards which makes them easier to harvest. They tend to sucker, which we discourage by cutting off the suckers to leave the energy to the tree itself.

Other smaller trees we have are Chinese Dogwood, Siberian Pea (nitrogen fixer), Truffle Inoculated Hazel, and some tall shrubs like Josterberry and Worcesterberry. We mainly grow standard varieties, but you can select more unusual trees and the Agroforestry Trust website will give you some good ideas. As I said in my last blog, however, always choose trees, shrubs, and plants that work well in your climate and soil. For example, don’t try to grow acid-loving plants on alkaline soil, it’s usually not worth it.

Celebrate local and heritage varieties

Look for heirloom varieties and those that may be local to your area. We have an apple tree whose recorded history goes back several hundred years from the nearby village three miles away – now that’s the location. These rarer varieties may not have the commercial qualities required by supermarkets, but they are often extremely tasty. See your garden as an opportunity for organic preservation and celebrate the local, the heritage and the non-commercial. I love my older strains with lovely names. They resonate with another era when people lived without oil and ate local products. I have no doubt that the time will return.

Top photo credit copyright Finn Bruce. All Others by Tim Harland.

Shortly! Choose smaller shrubs

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine. To find out more about permaculture, go to