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Iowa forest garden suggestions?

Posts: 17
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Dave, I will soon be starting my food forest. My little farm is all hills so I am starting it in one strip that will more or less be terraced with hugel kultur type mounds, wrapping around the hills. So far the orchard will be made up of mostly heirloom apples and cherry trees. But I get really stumped on the underplantings. Especially when figuring what the best plant is for nitrogen and for fixing other nutrients as well. I want to have one area dedicated to morel mushrooms.

I am in Iowa/ zone five and I'm on what is referred to locally as a clay knob. the soil is coming back from standard agriculture followed by several stints in crp where nothing was done with it. We have spent the last few years getting ahead of the weeds. A lot of mowing to keep it organic. Last fall started making manure tea and applying. I'm also concerned about planting when I don't have the soil totally up to par, but time is of the essence. I will soon have blueberry plants and aronia berries arriving. After that... I kind of hit a wall. Suggestions please?!
Posts: 176
Location: springfield, MO
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Here is a list you could start going through:

TALL TREES for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(50 feet or taller)

Gray Alder, Alnus incana, Zone 2-6
Black Locust, Robnia pseudoacacia, Zone 3b
Japanese Pagoda Tree, Sophora japonica, Zone 4-8

SMALL TREES AND MEDIUM-LARGE SHRUBS for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(3-50 feet tall)

Prarie Acacia, Acacia angustissima, Zone 7-10
Silk Tree or Mimosa, Albizzia julibrisin, Zone 6
Alder,Italian, Alnus cordata, Zone 6
Alder, Speckled, Alnus rugosa, Zone 2-6
Alder, Smooth, Alnus serrulata, Zone 5-8
False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, Zone 3
Siberian Pea Shrub, Caragana arborescens, Zone 2-7
Russian Pea Shrub, Caragana frutex, Zone 2-7
Pygmy Pea Shrub, Caragana pygmaea, Zone 3-7
Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus, Zone 6
Bladder Senna, Colutea arborescens, Zone 5-7
Russian Olive, Elaeagnus angustifolia, Zone 2
Silverberry, Elaeagnus commutata, Zone 2-6
Goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora, Zone 5-8
Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, Zone 3
Elaeagnus, Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Zone 6
Kentucky Coffee Tree, Gymnocladus dioica, Zone 4
Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, Zone 3-7
Golden-chain Tree, Laburnum anagyroides, Zone 5
Bush Clover, Lespedeza bicolor, Zone 4-7
Bush Clover, Lespedza thunbergii, Zone 5
Amur Maackia, Maackia amurensis, Zone 3-7
Southern Bayberry, Myrica cerifera, Zone 6b-9
Northern Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica, Zone 2-7
Honeypod Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, Zone 7
Bristly Locust, Robina hispida, Zone 4-8
Clammy Locust, Robina viscosa, Zone 5-8
Buffaloberry, Shepherdia argentea, Zone 2
Canadian Buffaloberry, Shepherdia canadensis, Zone 2
Spanish Broom, Spartium junceum, Zone 8

HERBACEOUS PLANTS AND SMALL SHRUBS for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(Typically under 3 feet)

Dwarf Prarie Acacia, Acacia angustissima hirta, Zone 7-10
Leadplant, Amorpha canescens, Zone 3
Fragrant False Indigo, Amorpha nana, Zone 3-6
Canadian Milkvetch, Astragalus canadensis, Zone 3-8
Groundplum Milkvetch, Astragalus crassicarpus, Zone 3-8
Milkvetch, Astragalus glycyphyllos, Zone 4-8
Huang-Qi, Astragalus membranaceous, Zone 5
Painted milkvetch, Astragalus pictus-filifolius, Zone 5
Wild Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis, Zone 4-8
Wild Yellow Indigo, Baptisia tinctoria, Zone 4-9
New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, Zone 3b
Mahala Mat, Ceanothus prostatus, Zone 7-10
Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, Zone 2-6
Prostate Broom, Cytisus decumbens, Zone 6-8
Showy Tick Trefoil, Desmodium canadense, Zone 3-6
Pointed-Leaved Tick Trefoil, Desmodium glutinosum, Zone 3-9
Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala, Zone 2-4
Silky-Leaf Woodowaxen, Genista pilosa, Zone 6-8
Trailing Silky-Leaf Woodwaxen, Genista pilosa procumbens, Zone 6-8
Arrow Broom, Genista sagittalis, Zone 3-8
Dryer's Greenwood, Genista tinctoria, Zone 4-7
American Licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, Zone 3-8
European Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Zone 6/7
Chinese Licorice, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Zone 5-9
Sweet Vetch, Hedysarum boreale, Zone 3
Sea Buckthorn "Dorana Dwarf", Hippophae rhamnoides cv., Zone 3-7
Chinese Indigo, Indigofera decora, Zone 5
Round-Headed Bush Clover, Lespedeza capitata, Zone 4-8
Prostate Bird's-Foot Trefoil 'Plena', Lotus corniculatus cv., Zone 5
Lupine, Lupinus species., Zone 3-9
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, Zone 3
Sweet Gale, Myrica gale, Zone 1-6
Breadroot (Prarie Turnip), Psoralea esculenta, Zone 3-7
Two-Flowered Pencil Flower, Stylosanthes biflora, Zone 5
Carolina Bush Pea, Thermopsis villosa, Zone 5-8
Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, Zone 3
White Clover, Trifolium repens, Zone 4

VINES AND CLIMBERS for Temperate Climate Permaculture

Hog Peanut, Amphicarpeaea bracteata, Zone 3-9
Groundnut, Apios americana, Zone 3
Fortune's Groundnut, Apios fortunei, Zone ?
Price's Groundnut, Apios priceana, Zone 6
Butterfly Pea, Clitoria mariana, Zone 6-9
Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus maritima, Zone 3b-7
Perenial (Everlasting) Pea, Lathyrus latifolius, Zone 4-9
Bitter Vetch, Lathyrus linifolius var. montanus, Zone 6b
Earth-Nut Pea, Lathyrus tuberosus, Zone 6b
Scarlet Runner Bean, Phaseolus coccineus, Zone 9 or Annual plant
Wild Bean, Phaseolus polystachios, Zone 6-10
Pea, Pisum sativum, Annual plant
Wild Bean, Stophostyles umbellata, Zone 6-9
American Vetch, Vicia americana, Zone 3-7
Wood Vetch, Vicia caroliniana, Zone 3-9
Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, Zone 6
Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, Zone 4-9
American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens, Zone 5
Kentucky Wisteria, Wisteria macrostachya, Zone 5-9
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Chris Trammell,
Your post was moved to a new topic.
Mary Lou McFarland
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Peter, boy what a list! But it is also a perfect example of why I have hit a wall. I know I am going to need some helper plants that provide nitrogen etc, but I still have to keep the majority of the plants as food production plants. I do have black locust trees in our woods and I have thought about putting a few into my food forest BUT they get HUGE!! I have to balance how much space gets dedicated to them. I also have no idea just how much area of the food forest will be serviced by their nitrogen fixing. Will I have to place a few to service the areas needs, or a bunch? Would it be a wise investment of my space?

There is just so much information missing from lists. I have also found that on some plants the zoning recommendation is pretty optimistic. I watched some of Martin Crawford's youtube videos and he makes a good case for planting comfrey. so that is a suggestion that I am filing away to make use of. Food crops, especially multi purpose food crops will be trumps when there is a general consensus on when we have hit peak oil. Local food will be in demand in pretty short order. I want to have my farm in production when that happens.
Peter Hartman
Posts: 176
Location: springfield, MO
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I have started a spreadsheet (google docs) and I have gone through this list and picked several plants that fit my needs. I make little notes of what I like about them on the spreadsheet. I have heard that your canopy should be anywhere from 10-25% nitrogen fixing.

For example:
Sea Buckthorn -43 to 103 degrees, Thorns, Healthy, Blueberry size, Fixes nitrogen, Need to plant males and females to get fruit,

I try to add the size on a lot too so I have an idea where to plant them.

Here is a couple of Japanese Pagoda trees that I have started from seed:
Mary Lou McFarland
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Here is a quandary for you... let's say I do have a black locust planted and it is getting up there in size. I've been told that the root system will be approximately the same size as the upper spread of the canopy, so let's say the locust is to a thirty foot across canopy. the roots would also be thirty foot across. Would the nitrogen fixing range also be thirty foot across? Would it be greater? Would all nitrogen fixing plants have a greater nitrogen fixing range then their own personal space? when I know that then I can start doing some real planning on what can be placed where. Then it becomes a basic math problem.
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Mary Lou,

OK, this is a big topic hard to deal with in a post on a forum.

From the studies I have seen, herbaceous plants tend to contain more nutrients per amount of biomass than canopy trees. They probably play critical roles in nutrient dynamics in most forest ecosystems. So the design of yoru ground layers is a critical piece of the puzzle. And we know so little, really, about the details. But we can make some good guesses, and from what I've seen, things seem to work pretty well if you have good groundcover polycultures.

First, roots of trees spread much further than the crown diameter, generally, and how far varies by species and soil conditions. I write about this fairly extensively in volume 1, chapter 5 of my book. That info should help you get a better grasp of what you are dealing with (though there are many variables, so who knows, really?). You'll want your n-fixers and dynamic accumulators within the root zones of your crop trees if at all possible so you don't have to cut and carry mulch so much.

Second, I have seen no solid/undisputed evidence that nitrogen fixers feed N to their neighbors during the same growing season, UNLESS you cut the canopy back and thereby cause root dieback as well--"chop and drop". Otherwise, most of the N probably goes to the n-fixing plant itself, but it does return to the soil over the winter if you let foliage fall to the ground--but of course some of it gets lost during decomposition. More nitrogen will be released in the root zone of the N-fixer when you cut it, for sure, than away from its root zone. Some N will be available from the foliage you cut over time and the amount available depends when it is cut (and the condition of the leaves/branches), where that foliage lands and how quickly it is incorporated into the soil. In a passive system, you plant the soil improving plants in the root zone of the crops and let them slowly build soil over time. It takes time! Hence, pre-planting site preparation is a critical piece that determines early establishment success.

Comfrey is great in many ways, but the species comfreys get huge and can get in the way of managing fruit trees, especially if they are semidwarf or dwarf trees. You can cut them down when you need to get into your trees, but who wants another job to do? I highly recommend dwarf comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) or Hidcote Blue comfrey (a cultivar) instead of regular species comfrey. Dwarf is a slow spreading clumper, but one of the best groundcovers for outcompeting weeds that I know. Hidcote Blue is a more open-style runner, but a good component of a groundcover polyculture along with other species.

The idea of groundcover polycultures is a key one. Generally you want to have a mix of runners, clumpers, and mat-formers in the ground plane to have the best chance of outcompeting weeds. Of course, we also want other functions performed as well: attracting beneficials for pest control (that's tough with apples and cherries--good luck!--some of the hardest crops for which to manage pests!); providing nectar for bees to help keep the pollinators around when the trees are not flowering, but designing so as not to compete with the trees for pollination services when they are flowering; providing food, medicine or other useful products; and not getting in the way of managing your trees, especially if the area is large and the laborers are few (which is what it sounds like from your description). You need to get clear, first of all, on your design goals: which of these functions or others are most important under your apples and cherries? You have to decide that. At small scale, more functions are possible. At larger scale we usually have to simplify a lot. Running a farm is a lot of work and we don't want the understory to get in our way!

Its hard to give you specific ideas without more conversation and a site visit. What pattern are you planting the trees in, or are they already planted in, for example? This will effect the pattern of patches in the understory. Where is it/will it be shady and where less shady? How will you access the area? What tools/equipment will you use to manage the forest garden or orchard? All of these have bearing on what choices of plants you will make. But get clear on these larger questions and the plant selection choices will be much easier. Don't worry about species selection until very late in the design process. It is actually one of the last things I usually do in my design work. We have to understand the goals and the site first, and then pattern the site ("design from pattern to details") and work out the functions of the patches, THEN we can select species. And of course there are exceptions to all of this! But I think you get the basic idea.

There is guidance in my books about all of this. I hate to sound like I'm proselytizing, but I wrote the books to help folks with just these kinds of questions. I hope this overview helps. Design from patterns to details--that's probably the most useful advice I can give you. Even though it sounds kinda vague, its the truest most useful thing I can say given the info I have about your situation.


Mary Lou McFarland
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On site design.... the hill where I will be starting is a long north south ridge type hill. I am still in the planning /acquisition phase. The plan is to have a backhoe come in and give me a trench running down the west side of the hill and hooking around the south end, then moving up the hill about 25-30 feet and repeating and so on. Each trench will be loaded with dead elm, straw, compost, some char, etc til I get my hugel stuff happening. The plan is something along the lines of Amazonian black earth meets hugel kultur. Terracing a safe dry place for a few bee boxes down hill. Chickens uphill. I want the majority of the plants to be marketable edibles. ( I need the income!) Ground covers can be whatever they need to be. I'm also looking at hazelnuts. Over all I think I had better cross my fingers that I win your book. I've got a feeling that I'm going to need a reference bible close by!
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