Choosing the right perennials for your edible food forest can be a lot of fun. In this post, I will give you some great examples that you can pick from. I have broken these by levels of the food forest. Of course, you should keep in mind that you need to make sure you plant these perennials during the right season for your zone and in the right location. You can find your climate and zone information here.
If you are new to the idea of an edible food forest, you can learn more by reading How To Establish a Fantastic Food Forest Easily. That post is an extensive post that provides an understanding of what a food forest is and more.
The Most Popular Options For Food Forest Perennials
Canopy Layer Perennials
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.
Tall Trees for the Canopy
- 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 Trees for the Canopy
- 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
Perennials for the Shrub Layer
The shrub layer includes perennials that flower, fruit, and attract wildlife.
- Butterfly Bush
- Service Berry
- Elaeagnus (nitrogen-fixing)
- Siberian pea shrub
- Ever-bearing Strawberry
Perennials for the Herb Layer
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
- Sea Kale
- Malabar Spinach
- Lemony Sorrel
- Patience Dock
Perennials that Reseed
- Lambs Quarters
Perennials for The Ground Cover Level
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)
Perennials for the Vine Layer
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
Perennials for the Root Layer
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. Will you be using these and others to establish your own food forest? Drop a note in the comments and tell me about it.