Prepping Positively

The Understory, Shrub Layer, and Herb Layer of the Food Forest

August 15, 2022 Ann Marie Season 1 Episode 13
Prepping Positively
The Understory, Shrub Layer, and Herb Layer of the Food Forest
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we will discuss the next three layers in our Food forest. We will discuss the right plants and why and where they should be placed.

Episode 13 PP

The Understory, the Shrubs Layer, And the Herbs Layer of the Food Forest

If you’re like many other people who are creating a food forest on their properties and you have been following along our series, you’re going to want to listen today as we talk about even more layers of the food forest.

Here we go…

Hi and welcome back to the Prepping Positively Podcast. I’m Annie and today we are going to talk about a few more layers of the Food Forest.

Now in case you are tuning in for the first time, you may want to go back to Episode 11 where we started talking about the Food Forest. Then come on back here.

OK, so last week we talked about the soil and trees you could use in the Canopy layer of your food forest. Today, we are going to start on the next layer which is the understory. 

Now let me mention here, if you are creating a smaller-scaled food forest, and cannot plant very tall trees, you may already have considered some of the trees I am going to talk about today.  That’s okay.

So the understory is actually the layer that normally would be made up of the smaller fruit and nut trees. These are usually considered dwarf or semi-dwarf trees.

Think of these trees as the fruit and nut trees that you can pretty easily harvest without ever needed super tall ladders and many people to help harvest.

Examples may include peach, apricot, or mulberry trees. These trees produce food and do not grow as tall or as bulky as the canopy layer. Another great example for this layer if you live in the south would be dwarf lemon trees.

In my food forest, I have said we use the tall Oaks as our canopy layer. We are fortunate enough to get acorns from them to make acorn flour. However, we do not climb those trees to get the acorns. We let them fall then pick through them to get the best ones. 

If we simply used shade trees as the canopy layer, then the understory is where we would get our first layer of food. If you, as I said earlier use these “understory trees” as your first layer, or the canopy layer, then these will be your first and tallest source of food.

The requirements for these trees are similar to the canopy layer. Make sure they get enough sun, have enough room to spread out, and have good soil under their roots.

And just as with the canopy layer, follow the nursery tag directions to plant these.  As far as where to place them, the tags should tell you that as well. In my food forest, My fruit and nut trees are spread throughout in areas that receive the right amount of sun. Some trees are stand alone in a sunny spot, and some, because of our high heat, are planted in the dappled sun from my canopy layer.

Now once you have chosen your understory trees, it is time to move to the shrubs layer. This layer is so much fun because there are so many options for you here. 

The shrubs layer is filled with fruiting bushes such as currents and berries. We have Beautyberry bushes that grow natively here and they are in abundance. So we had a bonus there. We have added blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and Goji Berries also.

Any bushes that your nursery offers for your climate and zone that produce food will work in this area. 

Now, let me give you a word of caution here. Blackberries and Raspberries, for example, will spread and could take over in the right conditions. Make sure you read the tags when planting. Don’t just think about the day you are planting them. Think into the future. 

Allow the room for them. There is nothing worse than trying to harvest a fruit tree and fighting through thorny branches from your blackberry bush. Leave these guys room or stay up on trimming them.

Now once you choose your shrubs you can move on to the herbs layer. 

This is the layer where you will probably spend the most time at. This layer includes non-woody vegetation.

This layer is where you will find the vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, cover crops, mulch producers, and other soil building plants.

Asparagus, calendula and dill are all examples in this layer. This is also the layer that I am most creative.

I randomly plant herbs and flowers in many spots to either fill up an area I think looks bare, or that I think may need some color. 

This layer in the natural food forest is filled with perennials. However, in mine and in your food forest, you can most definitely plant annuals as well, as long as you know that means upkeep and more work.

This layer is also the main layer if you are creating a much smaller scaled food forest such as on a deck or patio. You can plant these plants in pots and change them  as the growing season changes. 

A common flower in my food forest that you see a lot of is Marigolds. First because they are my favorite garden flower, and second because they are a great pest deterrent. Also, I can’t lie, I love the smell when there are a lot growing together.

Have fun with this layer. Experiment and try new areas. I have learned that seed packets, for example, will say full sun, however, here in our high heat, partial shade actually produces better at times. 

So experiment placement and light levels and see how your plants do. 

Ok so we have covered a few more layers this week. Next week we will cover the last 3 layers.

If you are worried about the amount of information I have given and feel confused and or overwhelmed, don’t worry. I have a great post on the website all about creating a food forest. I also have a post on choosing plants for the food forest.

If you go to the website at you can read all about it. You can also just search the term “food forest”.

But stick around, because once we cover the last 3 layers, that’s when all the fun starts.

So that’s it for this week. Make sure you hit the “follow” button so you don’t miss a new episode!

Now get out there and get some plants in your food forest.