Here are the steps to take: Get familiar with food forests, assess your site, design a layout and select your plants, prepare your site, buy your plants, plant your plants, and maintain your food forest. Learn more about each step below.
1. Get familiar with food forests
Take a walk in a forest to get inspired!
Observe how all the species interact with one another and how a forest creates its own mulch and doesn’t require watering.
Notice the layers in the plant community, from the little guys on the forest floor to the tallest trees and how they interact with one another. What gets the most light? What doesn’t need any light?
Volunteer at and/or check out a nearby food forest.
Where does the light fall, and what areas are shadiest?
How does the water flow across your site? Is there a water source close by?
What plants will grow best in your soil? Consider getting a soil test.
3. Design a layout and select your plants
Consider which plants you would like for each layer. What plants do you like to eat? How much time will you have for maintenance? There are 7 layers of a food forest, but you can start with three layers (trees, shrubs, and ground covers) and build from there. Here are some suggested plants. If you have questions, we are happy to help.
Tall trees – only if you have the space. Consider Chinese Chestnuts or hybrids, Heartnut, Hickories, American Persimmon, Sugar Maple.
Shorter trees like Tart Cherry, Pawpaw, Fruit trees on Semi-Dwarf Rootstock, Wild Plum
To best maintain your food forest, you should create a schedule based on your plants’ needs – this is especially important when your forest is first getting established.
Most food forests will need weekly watering during the first growing season. Eventually, if you’ve designed well, you’ll need to water less as the food forest adjusts to the climate.
Weeding, topping off the wood chips and adding small amounts of compost is helpful the first few years, but eventually the plants will increase soil fertility on their own, and the leaves from your trees will provide a source for mulch.
Be Patient – especially with your trees!
Most fruit and nut trees take years to produce, but once they start you’ll be able to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of your labors.
Plan for the final product: don’t plant a baby apple tree in a space too small for one that’s full grown.
Over-plant (you can always share if you have too many survivors).
Plant a variety of edibles, but also consider flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects, legumes to fix nitrogen into the soil, and plants with taproots to break up compacted earth.