In a forest garden, perennial bushes and trees form the main structure of the ecosystem. Bushes create a mid-layer between the tree canopy and the herbaceous layer below, helping gardeners to make the most of their space and grow their own food in a beautiful, woodland-inspired setting.
The Benefits of Perennial Planting
Many people choose to grow at least some of their own food at home. But annual vegetable gardening can be a lot of hard work! Forest gardens made up of perennial plants which will endure year after year can be a much easier way to produce an edible yield. Here are some of the benefits of perennial planting:
- Perennial planting, once established, requires less time and fewer resources to manage.
- Perennial plants help to attract wildlife and maintain a vibrant, biodiverse ecosystem.
- Perennial plants are often easy to propagate to increase plant stocks.
Choosing Perennial Bushes for an Edible Forest Garden
Before choosing any plants for your forest garden, it is important to understand not only the needs of any plants you are considering but also the details of climate and conditions where you live. Consider sunlight, wind, precipitation levels, soil conditions and other factors to choose the right plants for the right places.
It is also important to think about why each perennial bush deserves to earn a place in your urban food forest. These shrubs might be selected for their berries or edible leaves. They might be selected due to their ability to fix nitrogen from the air, or as a good source of biomass that can be composted or chopped and dropped to return fertility to the soil.
When selecting perennial bushes for placement in a forest garden setting, it is important to consider how much light is needed by each bush you are considering. Bear in mind the shade that will be cast by the tree layer above them, now, and in future years as trees grow.
Perennial Fruit Bushes to Consider for your Food Forest
In Texas, hardiness zone 8, there are many perennial fruit bushes that will thrive in a backyard food forest. Berry bushes that you might consider in this climate zone include Aronia melanocarpa, blue elderberry, Ceylon gooseberry, Goumi (Elaeagnus), Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), Mulberry, Jostaberry, Serviceberry, Wolfberry, barberry, and certain blackberry and Ribes varieties.
It is a good idea, when selecting your perennial fruit bushes, to speak with experts at a local garden center or plant nursery, who will be able to advise you on the best types varieties of berry bush to grow in your particular area. You should observe which plants thrive in wilderness areas near where you live, as this can give you some clues about which plants may do well in your forest garden.
Other Perennial Bushes to Consider for your Urban Forest Garden
In addition to fruiting and berry-producing bushes, urban forest gardeners should also consider enhancing the environment with a range of other perennial bushes. Shade tolerant shrubs native to this climate zone in Texas that could be beneficial plants to include in your forest garden include various hollies, Indian Hawthorne, forsythia, photinia, abelia, and pittosporum. Some acacias could also be beneficial plants to include in your garden scheme.
There is a benefit to introducing as wide a range of perennial plant species as possible. A more biodiverse ecosystem will be better able to adapt and resist the problems associated with climate change, and will likely be in better balance, reducing the risk of problems with pests and disease.
Planting for Soil Health
Certain perennial shrubs are particularly useful in a forest garden because of their ability to enhance fertility and to promote good soil health. The Elaeagnus bushes and acacia mentioned above, for example, along with a range of other perennial plants, are able to fix nitrogen from the air with the help of bacteria in their root rhizomes. This nitrogen, one of the key nutrients needed for plant growth, can then be taken up by other plants in the vicinity. Choosing some perennial shrubs which enhance soil health is a good way to ensure the long-term sustainability of your food forest.
Planting for Wildlife
Another way in which perennial shrubs can enhance the overall function and health of your food forest is by attracting a range of beneficial local wildlife. It is not only lovely to watch wildlife in your garden, but wildlife can also help you to grow food in your garden in a range of different ways. The success of any food growing scheme, including food forests, involves making sure that you keep a natural balance in your garden. Organic growers can keep pest numbers down by attracting predatory wildlife that will eat insects and other creatures that can damage your food producing plants. Perennial shrubs can also attract pollinators, which are required for many fruits to form. Many flowering shrubs, including many native varieties, are very good at attracting these creatures.
When planting your perennial bushes, make sure that you leave enough space for each one to grow. Consider the fertility, water and sunlight needs of each when placing them, thinking ahead to when trees surrounding the shrubs, and the shrubs themselves, will be fully grown. Consider bushes which provide an edible yield, but also plants which enhance the fertility of surrounding soil, and which can attract beneficial wildlife. Choosing perennial bushes wisely and placing them with consideration will help to ensure that you get the highest yield possible from your edible forest garden.