Forest Gardening Guide: Know 7 Layers of Forest Garden

Forest Garden is a Unique Food-Producing Ecosystem Next to Your Home

Despite its name, it is not an unexplored large territory but a well-planned productive place of the desired size. It can be located in the backyard, in an urban space, or on your balcony, in different areas. Forest gardens combine the biodiversity of their wild counterparts and easy maintenance. Oxygen production, topsoil strengthening, and creating conditions for wildlife development are the advantages of organizing such an ecosystem.

This guide will cover the basic principles of planning this type of garden. The focus will be on layers, which can be either main three or seven, for experienced gardeners. The latter are tall trees, low trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, vines, and root crops. There are legends about a 13-layer type, but we will leave them for next time.

The idea of food forests is that people familiar with gardening could create a source of food for years. And we will dig into this. 

1. The Tall-Tree Layer 

This is where we talk about high perennial trees that bear yields every year. 

In this case, we apply the general recommendations, as well as to other layers of the future garden:

  • Take into account how much rain falls in your region. Whether the canopy will require additional watering, or whether there is too much moisture for them.
  • Check if the climate in your region is suitable for the trees you want. Don’t make this another story for a deforestation essay, and take this seriously.
  • Determine the fertility and acidity of your soil and whether you need to improve these indicators.

What is important to consider when choosing and planting full-sized trees is how much sun they will need and how much shade they will cast when they grow. Planning is a key point in this case. 

Then you can focus on the preferences of your family. These can be apples, pears, cherries, or nut trees— chestnuts, walnuts. Depending on the region, you can choose different edible trees.

Nitrogen fixers will be useful for your forest garden. These can be a locust tree, alder or mountain mahogany, etc.

2. The Low-Tree Layer 

Since other trees will rise above this layer, first look at shade-tolerant types such as persimmon and pawpaw. Natural small species including almond, peach, medlar, apricot, and nectarine can be good candidates too. To allow them to let in enough sun for greenery that will grow lower — their crowns can be pruned and given the desired shape. But despite this — do not plant the forest garden with such trees too densely, it will complicate the care of the site.

3. The Shrub Layer 

Shrubs are placed between already growing flora. The variety of bushes allows you to fill any niche in your home forest and perform various tasks. In addition to providing fruits, shrubs can be home to insects and birds, be a hedge, or decorate your area. 

A brief selection of what you can choose: blueberry, black, white, and red currants, gooseberries, serviceberry, lilac, spirea, buttonbush, and others.

4. The Herb Layer 

In this case, the herb is used in a broad sense and applies not only to grass. This tier includes flowers, vegetables, herbs, and mulch. The choice here is quite wide, so the main reference point is your taste and needs. It is important to check that these plants get enough moisture and the right amount of sunlight, as there are shade-lovers and full sun admirers.

5. The Ground-Cover Layer

After we have arranged the higher levels we move on to ground-hugging plants. Strawberries, clover, nasturtium, ajuga, creeping thyme, and many others are a resource for the formation of compost. Thus, most of the year the land remains covered. This prevents the spread of invasive species and compaction of the soil. Without direct exposure to sunlight, such ground retains moisture better, which reduces the amount of work for the gardener.

Other greenery may supply additional services. Mint has antifungal properties during the vegetation period. Laurel and sorrel also have one advantage — increase topsoil fertility due to the minerals contained in their leaves. 

6. The Vine Layer 

This includes hops, grapes, passionflower, and even zucchini, cucumbers, melons, and other climbing plants. They can be divided into annuals and perennials. The latter is sometimes used not only for harvest but also as ornamental plants in gardens. However, there is a risk of harming other flora in your forest garden, so use them with caution. 

7. The Root Layer 

The creation of several layers of plants aims not only to create a certain ecosystem but also a great way to provide its owner with a harvest throughout the year. And if roots are part of your diet, this tier is also worth noting.

For this type of plant, it is better to take a separate zone where there is plenty of sunlight and fertile soil. Pro-tip – to increase fertility, you can seed lupines or clover.

It is best to use species with a shallow rootstock so that they can be easily uprooted. It can be potatoes, radishes, onions, garlic, etc.

Low Maintenance and Self-Fertilizing System

The forest garden can be called a constructor with many advantages. At first, a lot of time is spent on bringing all the pieces together, something may seem complicated and time-consuming. Yes, it takes a few years to mature, but the result will pleasantly surprise you. This approach turns seeds into food – fresh vegetables for breakfast, nuts for lunch, potatoes for dinner. 

And here’s more – such a garden is an invaluable contribution to the restoration and preservation of nature. Not only the fact of making but also the popularization of this work is positive. Believe me, your neighbors will want to have the same fruit trees that have grown on your site. In this case, you can not only compete, but also share experiences and useful tips.

So that is high time to start your backyard project. Start with one tree and then follow the instructions provided above.