1. Know Your Grow Zone or Climate Zone

No, you can’t just grow mangoes in Tennessee just because you love mangoes. Trust me, I want to grow mangoes in Tennessee too. The problem with trying to grow mangoes in Tennessee is, mango trees are tropical fruit trees and Tennessee, unfortunately, gets pretty cold in the winter. Tropical trees can’t tolerate cold very well and will die. Which wastes time and money and brings about heartbreak because then you won’t get any mangoes.

Knowing and respecting your growing zone will help you to avoid a lot of the heartbreak that comes with attempting to grow things that have a slim chance of survival in your climate. This will also save you money and time because you can instead invest your efforts and funds in fruit trees and plants that will thrive in the area where you are starting your edible landscape.

This does not mean that in the future, once your edible landscape or food forest is more established, that you cannot try zone pushing, or designing your edible landscape in a way that helps protect plants that would not normally grow in your climate, so that you are able to keep them alive. But I have found that it is easier to zone push once you have an established system first as zone pushing may require many plants, a pond, or a thick layer of mulch, in order to create the necessary microclimate to keep a tree or plant alive that is not recommended for your grow zone.

So until that time, respecting your grow zone is best.

2. Learn to Wait and Watch Your Plants For Signs of Stress and Growth

Learning to recognize when plants are not doing well will help you to be able to make changes like moving the plant or to fertilize or do something to help save your plants before they can die. This not only will help save a ton of money from lost plants but save you from a lot of heartache and lost time from having to replace, replant, and regrow something you were really looking forward to.

The more you learn to read the signs of plant stress, the better you will become at keeping your plants alive. Some signs that your plants may be in danger include: yellowing of leaves, sudden leaf drop, graying of tree bark, wilting, and crisping of leaves. This is not a comprehensive list but merely some of the signs I have noticed, in hindsight, before losing some of my own plants during this tough journey as a food forester.

When the worms aren't around, you add them! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾

3. Start Your Edible Landscape or Food Forest With Easy To Grow Plants To Build Your Confidence and Reduce Financial Losses

Plants that are easy to grow for your edible landscape will depend on your grow zone and the composition of your soil. Some plants that may tolerate or thrive in heavy clay may shrivel up and perish quickly in a sandy soil. These are things to consider when you start buying or propagating plants for your edible landscape.

Easy to grow plants will also help your food forest to develop more quickly as these plants will usually be well-acclimated to your climate and may need a lot less care and attention than other plants. They will usually be known to be fast-growing in your grow zone and must be recommended to be safely grown outdoors in the ground year round.

Here, in Zone 7, I have found that fig trees, peach trees, and apple trees grow with little effort and minimal care especially when planted while the fruit trees are dormant in the winter season. This puts less stress on the trees which will not struggle to maintain leaves while they put down new roots in their new homes. This also gives the trees several months to grow new roots and be comfortable in their new places when the spring rains arrive.

Asparagus is a super inexpensive, easy to grow plant and will give you something green to look at all year round.

4. Variety of Plants Is The Key To Success

Plants help to grow other plants. It’s the Circle of Life. Some plants are better at it than others. Some plants are great for providing shade for young trees that may not yet be old enough to tolerate full sun.

5. Grow Healthy Soil and The Soil Will Grow Your Plants

It’s not enough to pray and ask Zeus to protect your plants from drought. The best defense against any extreme conditions is…a healthy plant. All those sprays and pesticides disrupt the natural environment in a permaculture edible landscape and do far more damage than good. You can help your plants to fight off disease and pests by strengthening them. Providing your fruit trees and edible plants with plenty of nutrition will help give them the strength to keep going until an appropriate predator for whatever disease or pest problem you’re having comes along to solve it.

Growing good soil also allows your plants to put down deeper, hardier roots, making them more drought tolerate and better able to withstand wicked weather conditions. Good soil nutrition is the key to speeding along the progress of your edible landscape and there are many ways to go about improving the soil.

Tree collards also grow year round and can be propagated from cuttings

6. Keep As Much Water In Your Edible Landscape/Food Forest As Possible

Whether you dig a pond, use kiddie pools to make compost tea, or add 3 feet of mulch to prevent rain from evaporating as quickly, keeping your edible landscape moist is a must-do. Many plants will grow more slowly or die from a lack of water, so it is imperative for getting an edible landscape established to be able to get water to the plants on a regular basis.

The cutest reason for adding a pond to the food forest…but it also has water. 🤣🤣🤣

7. Grow Plants That Work As Hard As You Do

What is “invasive”? You’re trying to grow a whole forest! I have found that as a food forester, it does not pay to fear plants that are usually known to be “weeds”, “invasive”, or “nuisances”. A lot of these plants are excellent at cracking clay soils for your fruit trees or thin rooted plants and usually make great plants for chopping and dropping.

I’ve compiled a list of great plants that will be fighting the clay and putting down good, strong roots to help your food forest grow here.

8. Always Keep The Ground Covered With Mulch Or Plants Or Both

Strawberries are one of my favorite choices for growing a food-producing ground cover in the edible landscape

Whether you do chipped tree mulch or cover crops, both will help support the growth in your edible landscape while helping to build soil. Due to wood chips’ high carbon content, adding a source of nitrogen to help break your mulch down swiftly, will reduce any negative impacts from adding tree mulch due to nitrogen tie-up.

I’ve found that my favorite method of doing this is to add animals to your food forest setup and allow them to free range.

9. Add A Couple Of Feathered Food Forest Employees

Keeping Ducks, Chickens, Or Geese Increase Soil Fertility And Fight Annoying Pest Problems At the Same D🦆mn Time

Growing and maintaining an entire edible landscape can be a lot of work. You can help take some of the load off by bringing in chickens or ducks who will not only turn your pest problems into fresh fertilizer everyday, but will also eat weeds, maintain pathways by digging/walking them repeatedly, and help speed up the growth rate of your plants.

The absolute force of adding poultry to your permaculture setup will be felt in as little as a couple months. Of course, this greatly depends on when you add your feathered friends to your food forest. Since I added my Indian Runner Ducklings to my food forest during the summer months and had the addition of a duck pond, one of my apple trees, with its roots growing directly into the duck pond grew 3 feet!

Ducks are surprisingly friendly if they are used to being handled early on as ducklings

Ducks are great because they eat 300 different foods you can grow directly in the edible landscape

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