Tree Crops for a Permaculture Paradise


This is week 19 of our yearlong #freepermaculture course

“Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.” 

--Wendell Berry

Trees are essential to a successful permaculture system.

This is one of those topics for which there are so many excellent resources already available, so check out the links and resources, and then get out there and do some planting!

Why do trees matter?

Here’s a discussion thread in our group forum with so many great answers to that question. Come and share your perspectives.

Roles of Trees in a Permaculture System

This article will give you a ton of ideas for how to integrate your trees into the whole-system.

Artwork by Tamsin Driver

Benefits of Trees in Cities

Creating a Canopy

The canopy serves as the upper and outer shell of your garden. It filters light, distributes rainfall, casts shade, and hosts a diverse ecosystem of interconnected creatures who support and interact with your gardens. If you remember the Scale of Permanence, tree crops are one of the longest lasting yet easiest to change pieces of the permaculture puzzle. But don't think of the trees as individuals. Think about how all of the trees on your site connect and create relationships, and design accordingly.


This article discusses plant guilds for the upper canopy.

Trees in a wilderness will self-regulate, over long periods of time. Within the confines of your food forest, you may need to do some pruning. Check out this wikipedia article about crown shyness.

Trees and Their Transactions

This article discusses the ways in which trees improve the overall yield of a site. 

Citrus guild image by Heather Jo Flores

Trees Make You Live Longer

This article discusses how to enjoy a long happy life (spoiler alert: put plants in the center of it.)

Figs and friends in the food forest. Image by Heather Jo Flores

Grafting for Beginners

Most fruit trees and many fruiting shrubs produce more and better fruit when grafted. Grafting is fun and easy to learn, and, once you get a little practice, you can make hundreds of trees in a single sitting. Imagine your neighborhood turning into a food forest, when you give everybody free fruit trees to plant in the yard!

How to Plant a Tree

Follow this super easy step-by-step to give your new trees their best chance to thrive.

Tree Pruning 101

Pro-tips and step by step, hands-on instructions, for beginners and experts alike. Check it out

Hands-On


  • What trees do you already have on your site? Which will you keep, and which will you replace? 
  • What fruit and nut trees do well in your climate and microclimates? Find out, and add the tree canopy layer to your design.
  • In addition to planting trees in our own gardens, we also need to be planting trees in other places. Can you get involved in a tree-planting project in your community? This is a wonderful way to meet people and spend quality time with family and friends of many species.

Relevant Links and Resources​


Midwest Permaculture offers an extraordinary collection of resources about assembling tree guilds and growing food forests. Some of these specific plants won’t grow well in hotter climes, but for the most part this is solid information, applicable to a huge variety of projects.

  • Start with this article, listing 80 plant guilds for the midwest. A bunch of these guilds will thrive in a wide variety of climates and microclimates, so check it out.
  • And this one, discussing more about plant guilds.
  • And this one, about using plant guild designs to heal the planet.

Citrus guild image by Heather Jo Flores

Two free books that you really need to read:

If you’re ready to read some book-length work about trees and how to integrate them into your homestead, here are two excellent ones to start with.

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