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 teaching you how to choose the right 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.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

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.

Just so you know: This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay! For more information, please see my Affiliate Disclosure.

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.

Cherry Tree
Cherry Tree

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)
  • Pecan
Persimmon tree
Persimmon Tree

Lower Level Canopy Trees

  • Apricot
  • Peach
  • Nectarine
  • Almond
  • Medlar
  • Mulberry
  • 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)
  • Banana
  • Any Citrus
  • Dates
Butterfly bush
Butterfly Bush

Shrub Layer Perennials

The shrub layer includes perennials that flower, fruit, and attract wildlife.

  • Blueberry
  • Rose
  • Hazelnut
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Bamboo
  • Service Berry
  • Elaeagnus (nitrogen-fixing)
  • Siberian pea shrub
  • Ever-bearing Strawberry
  • Mulberry
  • Blackberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Currants
  • Raspberries
  • Beautyberry

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.

Traditional Herbs

  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Bay Laurel
  • Chives
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Lavender
  • Dill
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Basil


  • Ramps
  • Asparagus
  • Rhubarb
  • Artichokes
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Radicchio
  • Horseradish
  • Egyptian Walking Onions


  • Sea Kale
  • Malabar Spinach
  • Chives
  • Lemony Sorrel
  • Patience Dock

Perennials that Reseed

  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Marigold
  • Tomatillos
  • Amaranth
  • Lambs Quarters
  • Cilantro
  • Chamomile
  • Mustard

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.

  • Strawberries
  • Nasturtium
  • Clover
  • Creeping Thyme
  • Ajuga
  • Flowers such as Phlox and Verbena
  • Sorrel (french salad green)
  • Watercress
  • Nasturtiums
  • Nettle
  • Clover

Vine Layer Perennial

This layer is for the plants that climb over and around other perennials in the food forest.

Food Plants

  • Kiwifruit
  • Grapes
  • Hops
  • Passionflower
  • Vining Berries
  • Goji Berry
  • Scarlet Runner Beans
  • Chayote

Wildlife Attracting Plants

  • Honeysuckle
  • Trumpet-Flower
  • Jasmine

Root Layer Perennials

These are shallow-rooted, easy-to-dig root crops.

  • Potatoes
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Radish

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 plant suggestions for your growing zone for every layer.

Just click the image below to learn more.

Plants of the Food Forest

Will you be using these and others to establish your own food forest? Drop a note in the comments and tell me about it.

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