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There are many ways of studying permaculture, and one of it is through its layers. According to permaculture principles, forest gardening can be divided into seven essential layers.
The canopy is basically the layer that consists of the largest living things in a forest, which are mostly fruit and nut trees as well as non-bearing trees that tower over every other plant and living creature in the forest. This layer is hard to integrate when you only have a small amount of space to work with. You can, of course, still try to have a large tree growing in your small garden but you are unlikely to have more than one of it.
Those in the canopy layer can provide homes for smaller creatures like birds and squirrels. They can also help improve the level of nitrogen in the atmosphere as well as increase amount of organic matter in the environment. Organic matter can help improve soil quality, which could then make your plants and flowers grow more abundantly and beautifully.
Low Tree Layer
This layer is composed of dwarf-sized nut and fruit trees. Trees in this layer can be more easily integrated in small gardens - even those that are just directly behind your house. They cannot be planted behind or in the shade of trees in the canopy layer. That would prevent them from receiving sufficient amount of sunlight and water even.
If you need a low tree layer to add to your garden, then make sure that you plant them
in front the larger trees or you can plant them a short distance away so that they can maximum exposure to sunlight. Like those in the canopy layer, they can also improve nitrogen levels and the presence of organic matter but not in the same rate obviously. Low tree layers can also increase the overall yield or production rate that you can get from fruit or nut-bearing trees in the first layer.
The third layer is called the shrub layer, and it is composed of a comprehensive range of plants and flowers. They can bear anything from fruits to nuts to berries. This is considered one of the most productive layers because they do not require long years to grow and produce crops or fruits. They are also a hardy lot, able to grow in most areas in the world and without requiring huge amounts of care from human owners.
Consider this as something similar to the shrub layer but only this time, herbaceous plants (e.g. annuals, leafy vegetables, and comfrey) includes a number of species that “die” during the months of winter. Many types of perennial plants are also a part of this layer. If you have a hard time deciding whether a plant belongs to the third or fifth layers of permaculture, then it probably belongs here.
This is the root zone layer, which obviously encompasses all root plants. Plants that produce edible tubers (either for man or animals) like Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes all belong to this category. These may require greater care to grow compared to those in the shrub layer but caring for them will definitely pay off once they start producing fruits.
Plants in this layer are also known as ground-hugging or ground-cover plants. Contrary to popular opinion, not all ground cover plants or those growing at the top layer of the soil are only good for producing organic matter. They can also produce edible fruits, with strawberries as one excellent example.
Last but not the least, you have vines of ivy, orchids, and climbing roses, which make up the vertical layer of permaculture. They can be annuals or perennials. What really distinguishes them from the rest of the plants is their ability to grow in vertical fashion. One popular misassumption about vertical layer plants is that they are all flowering species. Runner beans, however, is enough to prove that vegetables can also be a part of this layer.
In most cases, permaculturists only consider the seven layers above. There are, however, those who insist that an eighth layer should be considered. This is the mycosphere and includes all fungal plants.