You need to know how to choose the right plants for your food forest before you can create one. Choosing plants for your food forest can be a lot of fun. But it can also be stressful trying to figure out which plants are best for you and your family.
To make the process much simpler, I have written this guide to choosing plants for your food forest. I have listed many plants by the levels of the food forest that they normally grow in.
Of course, you should keep in mind that you need to make sure you plant these during the right season for your zone and in the right location. You can find your climate and zone information on the USDA website.
If you are new to the idea of a food forest, you can learn more by reading my first post, How To Start a Food Forest. That post is an extensive post that provides a detailed understanding of exactly what a food forest is, as well as how you can customize it to fit just about any location.
You can also download a free gardening guide while you are there too.
Choosing the Right Plants
Perennials for the Canopy Layer
The canopy layer is, of course, the tallest layer. There are many options for this layer, however, you must be sure you plant for your climate and conditions.
These are the trees that can grow to 50 feet tall so make sure you choose low maintenance types that don’t require a lot of trimming.
Taller Canopy Trees
- Standard Apple and Pear Trees
- European Plum
- Standard Cherries
- Chestnut and Chinese Chestnuts (need to be pruned for open spaces)
- Korean Pine Nuts
- Black Locust (nitrogen-fixing) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Mesquite (nitrogen-fixing) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Alder (nitrogen-fixing) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Acacia (nitrogen-fixing in low frost climates)
- Algoroba (nitrogen-fixing in low frost climates)
- Tagasaste (nitrogen-fixing in low frost climates)
- Carob (nitrogen-fixing in low frost climates)
Lower Level Canopy Trees
- Persimmon (shade-tolerant)
- Pawpaw (shade-tolerant)
- Dogwood (flowering species)
- Mountain Ash (flowering species)
- Golden-Chain Tree (nitrogen-fixers) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Silk Tree (nitrogen-fixers) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Mountain Mahogany (nitrogen-fixers) (can be pruned heavily for mulch)
- Any Citrus
Shrub Layer Perennials
The shrub layer includes perennials that flower, fruit, and attract wildlife.
- Butterfly Bush
- Service Berry
- Elaeagnus (nitrogen-fixing)
- Siberian pea shrub
- Ever-bearing Strawberry
Herb Layer Perennials
For sake of the food forest, the word ‘herb’ refers to vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants, not just the traditional herbs you may consider.
- Bay Laurel
- Egyptian Walking Onions
- Sea Kale
- Malabar Spinach
- Lemony Sorrel
- Patience Dock
Perennials that Reseed
- Lambs Quarters
Ground Cover Perennials
The plants of this layer are low-growing plants that usually offer food or habitat. These plants are usually nestled in between other taller plants.
- Creeping Thyme
- Flowers such as Phlox and Verbena
- Sorrel (french salad green)
Vine Layer Perennial
This layer is for the plants that climb over and around other perennials in the food forest.
- Vining Berries
- Goji Berry
- Scarlet Runner Beans
Wildlife Attracting Plants
Root Layer Perennials
These are shallow-rooted, easy to dig root crops.
- Jerusalem Artichokes
There you have it. A pretty extensive list of each layer of the food forest and many perennials to choose from. Make sure you check that each species grows well in your climate before purchasing and planting.
Still need more? Purchase my e-book, Plants of the Food Forest!
Get plants suggestions for your growing zone for every layer.
Just click the image below to learn more.
Will you be using these and others to establish your own food forest? Drop a note in the comments and tell me about it.