Fall is the Perfect Time to Start a Food Forest

Permaculture and edible landscapes leave a legacy.

I recently had the privilege of teaching a family how to start a permaculture garden.  Permaculture landscapes simply strive to imitate the patterns and relationships we see in nature.  Nature doesn’t dig up the ground after each harvest, does it?  Instead, nature produces co-dependent and co-existing communities, and regenerates.  It’s not complicated.

Trees are the backbone of permaculture gardens.

The foundation of any food forest,(another word for a permaculture garden), are the trees.  In the case of an edible landscape these are mainly fruit trees.  Depending on which part of the state you live in, you will need to choose your trees appropriately.

You may not want to plant a forest, as I did, but almost any homeowner can plant at least one fruit tree.  Some of our most precious memories as children are of picking fresh fruit off a tree, whether it’s an apple, cherry, orange, mango, or avocado.  Always plant what you and your family like, according to the region of the country you live in.

Shrubs and other perennial plants come next.

The second most important layer in permaculture is the shrub layer, and this is where we find many popular fruits such as blueberries, perennial herbs and vegetables. Perennial means that it does not have to be planted each year.  Be sure to consider the amount of sun needed and plant appropriately.  Also be sure to have a source of water nearby so that you can keep plants well hydrated as they get established, and during times of drought.

Now is the time!

Fall is one of the best times to plant shrubs and trees in the landscape.  The onset of winter will give them time to develop strong roots during the cooler weather and give them a head start in spring.

Trees and shrubs are an investment in the future.

Trees and shrubs are the mainstay of the landscape, but they also take the longest time to grow, so don’t delay!  However, they are worth the wait because trees often give the highest yields.  Also, once established, they are the easiest to maintain, needing little water or fertilization if pruned and managed well.  Trees are your best investment overall and provide the framework for your garden.

These woody plants will become permanent in the landscape and provide many nooks and crannies (micro-climates) to plant other elements and even container or raised bed gardens.  Creating a food forest with your family can be one of the most rewarding and creative things you do together.

Thank you to the Crain family for the permission to share these photos .

Planting the permaculture way provides multiple benefits.

When you plant a food forest, you are planting food security for uncertain times, providing habitat for birds and butterflies and teaching others that no matter how much technology advances, we still rely on agriculture for our greatest need: food.

Don’t let this season pass you by without planting something new in your landscape.  Perhaps a fruit tree, shrub or just some perennial herbs or wildflowers.  If you can’t plant a tree in the ground, plant a dwarf one in a pot on your patio.  Grow something you can eat.  The hope and excitement for that first bite will make you feel like a kid again.


donna corbelli castro
Posted: October 26, 2023

Category: 4-H & Youth, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Health & Nutrition, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, , Work & Life

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