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Incorporating a mature sugar maple into my food forest?

 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
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I was hoping my wise permie friends could help me out. I'm wanting to utilize the space next to my garden which I've previously left untouched due to the mature sugar maple that shades the area. I would love to use that area as a food forest- but wondering how much overlap can there be with the maple's dense canopy? I have a couple plum trees that I need to get in the ground- do I need to plant them outside of the approx. 40 foot canopy or can I plant within that canopy? I also have several different berry bushes that could go in and others such as elderberry, mulberry, etc. Should I choose a different location? Or can this work with the maple as my primary overstory? Thanks so much for any advice/direction!

(photo: the large tree in this photo is the one I'm working with.)

 
Shawn Harper
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Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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Mulberry can do fine in shade. and most plants do fine the sunny side of a tree. You could also use the shady side to grow greens in the summer heat.
 
Marco Banks
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Blueberries and other berry bushes may do alright in partial shade, but I wouldn't want them tucked too far under the canopy. I'd keep your plum trees outside the drip line of the tree, or you'll be frustrated that they never really give you the production that you desire. If you do tuck them in close, can you plant them on the south or southwest side of the tree? From the picture, it's difficult to see the orientation of your garden. If the understory trees are planted on the south side of the sugar maple, they'll get a lot more of that early spring sun before the earth rotates and the sun passes directly overhead through the heart of the summer. Since plums usually mature early (mine are ripe in June and July), that might be a way to maximize that seasonal window.

If you plant on the west side, they'll get that afternoon, late afternoon heat from the sun.

Planting them under the big maple on the north side would be the worst of all possible worlds. I wouldn't want a late ripening tree (late July, August or September) be anywhere where it will not get full sun in those months.

You can always train vining veggies and fruits to reach in the direction of the tree, so that you can utilize that space. Watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, gourds . . . they want sun, but you can push their vines that direction. Grab the vine, drag it that direction, step back, and yell loudly, "Stay!".

I don't know sugar maple trees -- are they deep rooted or shallow? How far does the root system extend past the drip line? That might be a variable to think about. If it sucks the ground dry for 20 feet in any direction, it'll stunt anything you try to grow, and the more water you put down, the more that big tree will say, "Thank you" and send more roots to suck it up.

One positive is that a tree that old should have a well established fungal network throughout the root system. Your plums, or any other tree, will benefit from that established fungal network.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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That's actually a fairly young sugar maple, by the look of it. It will get significantly larger in future decades, but sugar maples don't tend to have low spreading branches. It will maintain a general egg shape in isolation. The ground level will continue to have mostly full sun except at the north side. If you have good moisture levels in your soil through the summer, you may be able to grow shallow rooted crops there, maybe with the addition of mulch or compost.

I don't see sugar maple roots at the surface like I do white pines, and haven't heard of them being aggressive to neighboring plants. Grasses, brush and mayapples grow right up to the base of the one by my driveway.
 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
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Glenn Herbert wrote:That's actually a fairly young sugar maple, by the look of it. It will get significantly larger in future decades, but sugar maples don't tend to have low spreading branches. It will maintain a general egg shape in isolation. The ground level will continue to have mostly full sun except at the north side. If you have good moisture levels in your soil through the summer, you may be able to grow shallow rooted crops there, maybe with the addition of mulch or compost.

I don't see sugar maple roots at the surface like I do white pines, and haven't heard of them being aggressive to neighboring plants. Grasses, brush and mayapples grow right up to the base of the one by my driveway.


Thank-you so much! It's about 22" in diameter, so I know it has quite a bit more to grow, and I definitely want to plan for that. My garden (situated about 25 feet from the tree) runs north to south and I don't plan to plant anything to the (north) of the tree- but the west and south I will be utilizing. We're in NE Minnesota, so we definitely have good moisture. And brush is a never-ending battle here. Prior to putting the garden in, this maple was suffocated by brush, balsam, and birch- most of which have now been cleared out. Lots of other moose maple nearby as well. Wanting to keep the maples and incorporate various berries, shrubs, rhubarb, asparagus, dwarf fruit trees, perennial flowers, and annuals while everything is in the immature stage.
 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
food preservation forest garden hugelkultur
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Marco Banks wrote:Blueberries and other berry bushes may do alright in partial shade, but I wouldn't want them tucked too far under the canopy. I'd keep your plum trees outside the drip line of the tree, or you'll be frustrated that they never really give you the production that you desire. If you do tuck them in close, can you plant them on the south or southwest side of the tree? From the picture, it's difficult to see the orientation of your garden. If the understory trees are planted on the south side of the sugar maple, they'll get a lot more of that early spring sun before the earth rotates and the sun passes directly overhead through the heart of the summer. Since plums usually mature early (mine are ripe in June and July), that might be a way to maximize that seasonal window.

If you plant on the west side, they'll get that afternoon, late afternoon heat from the sun.

Planting them under the big maple on the north side would be the worst of all possible worlds. I wouldn't want a late ripening tree (late July, August or September) be anywhere where it will not get full sun in those months.

You can always train vining veggies and fruits to reach in the direction of the tree, so that you can utilize that space. Watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, gourds . . . they want sun, but you can push their vines that direction. Grab the vine, drag it that direction, step back, and yell loudly, "Stay!".

I don't know sugar maple trees -- are they deep rooted or shallow? How far does the root system extend past the drip line? That might be a variable to think about. If it sucks the ground dry for 20 feet in any direction, it'll stunt anything you try to grow, and the more water you put down, the more that big tree will say, "Thank you" and send more roots to suck it up.

One positive is that a tree that old should have a well established fungal network throughout the root system. Your plums, or any other tree, will benefit from that established fungal network.


Your insight is so appreciated. And I feel better about wanting to use this area- I had no intention of using the north side of the tree (my garden consisting of several hugel beds all run north to south) and using only the south and west side. I'd already decided on a southwest portion to plant one of the plums. And I was wanting to put my sweet meat squash in there just for fun. I will try to tell them to stay where I please

Water is definitely a non-issue here. We typically have more water than we need. I usually only water my hugels 2-3 times per summer. The apple trees I planted three years ago have never been watered by anything other than nature I guess that makes up for the fact that we have winter 9 months out of the year
 
Glenn Herbert
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22" diameter is bigger than I thought, and means that the bottom of the canopy branching is even higher than the typical 8-12', so sunlight should not be an issue. Competition while it was small would be an explanation for the height of the bole.
 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
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Glenn Herbert wrote:22" diameter is bigger than I thought, and means that the bottom of the canopy branching is even higher than the typical 8-12', so sunlight should not be an issue. Competition while it was small would be an explanation for the height of the bole.


That makes perfect sense. The first year we were here I didn't even notice it until fall- when I saw its bright orange crown above the crowding.
 
Monica Eger
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Location: Switzerland, zone 6b
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Erin, if you want your squash to grow in a certain direction, it might be helpful to know that they will usually grow in the opposite direction of the first real leaf. So, if you want them to grow north, place them in the ground so that the first leaf points south.
 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
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Monica Eger wrote:Erin, if you want your squash to grow in a certain direction, it might be helpful to know that they will usually grow in the opposite direction of the first two real leaves. So, if you want them to grow north, place them in the ground so that the first two leaves point south.


I did not know that, Monica. Thank-you so much for that advice!
 
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