January 18, 2023

Understory - noun

Definition: The layer of plants beneath the canopy and above the forest or Forest Garden floor. 

The understory in the Forest Garden:

The understory includes short trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines, and ground cover beneath the canopy. By integrating understory plants into their Forest Garden, the farmer can take advantage of more space, filling typically unused vertical space with productive and useful plants that provide more diversity and greater harvests. Understory plants should be matched with the conditions created by the canopy, paying particular attention to the amount of shade it creates. 

Benefits of the understory include: 

  • Protecting from temperature extremes and fluctuations 
  • Shielding crops from winds 
  • Suppressing invasive weeds, which tend to prefer open conditions and full sun 
  • Supporting a range of beneficial soil microbes that do not thrive in the open 
  • Producing additional food and forest products to eat and sell 

Check out Chapter 15 of the Technical Manual on Optimizing the Understory to learn how you can design a healthy understory for your Forest Garden. 

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