Forest Gardening: Choosing Smaller Trees & Shrubs


 Tim Harland at the lower sunny edge of the forest garden 

In my last blog I described how a forest garden is designed to mimic a small woodland or forest comprising up to seven ‘layers’. These are usually made up of edible, medicinal or useful plants, trees, shrubs, climbers, herbs, ground cover and bulbs or tubers. I also explained what kind of trees you can choose to make up the tallest part of the canopy. 

I suggested Mulberry, as one option. The variety Illinois Everbearing is our variety of choice because it is almost seedless, hardy, with long yields though the summer and it fruits relatively quickly in its growing life. Since writing the blog, my two mulberry trees have come into fruit. Whereas a friend’s mulberry planted like an ornamental in a more conventional garden has been raided by the birds, mine are nestling at the back of my forest garden, peaking out above the lower trees in its own eco-system, another advantage of my semi-wild forest garden.   

The Next Layer: 

Small Trees & Large Shrubs 

In a cooler temperate climate more careful spacing of trees is important because we lack light. If you are reading this blog in warmer climes like Florida you can cram in far more trees and shrubs but the principles are the same, just the vertical ‘stacking’ of biomasss within the space can be more intense.  

Trees of course can be pruned but I favour choosing the right rootstock for smaller trees rather than pruning trees on vigorous rootstocks back every year. The best rootstock for smaller apple and pear trees is M9 and MM106 which are semi-dwarfing. Both were developed in the UK at East Malling Research Station in Kent. 

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