What Timber Work Finest in a Permaculture Backyard?

Permaculture is the practice of growing useful plants in an earth-friendly and sustainable manner. Permaculture combines two words: permanent + agriculture. When looking at a landscape, the most permanent plant you typically see is trees! There are plenty of trees you should consider for a permaculture garden, and the best ones will be those that grow well where you live and that you will most appreciate. 

You’ll need to seriously consider what type of landscape you want to create and how you will want to use it. When contemplating which plants to incorporate into your permaculture garden, ask yourself which plants offer the most benefits. 

The following is a list of some of the ways plants can be beneficial in your landscape. Plants can:

  • Provide edible fruits, vegetables, roots
  • Provide shade
  • Act as a windbreak
  • Increase beauty
  • Furnish food for birds and other wildlife
  • Attract pollinators
  • Provide food for domestic animals
  • Provide wood for mulch, structures, fences, or trellises
  • Enrich the soil

When looking for the best options for your landscape, you will need to consider where you live. As with any plant, you’ll need to learn a bit about your landscape features and choose well-adapted species to grow there. 

Permaculture gardens can be a great way to maximize your enjoyment of your own yard. Keep reading to learn more about incorporating trees into your permaculture landscape.

The Short Answer

The best trees for your permaculture landscape are those that grow best in your region. After you identify those that thrive in your area, choose the ones you will enjoy the most or get the most use from. There’s no sense in growing a specific fruit variety, for instance, if you don’t like eating that type of fruit. As you look, choose varieties with edible fruits or nuts or provide a service to you or the local wildlife. Don’t just go for ornamental beauty. Look for trees that will add some real benefits to your landscape and the surrounding environment.

The Long Answer

The best trees for your permaculture landscape will be the ones you appreciate the most. However, it’s good to think outside the box when growing a permaculture garden. Perhaps all your neighbors have a spring-blooming non-native species in their yards, which provides no practical benefits. Resist the temptation to plant that same species in your yard. Instead, choose one that you can use in some way or that contributes to the natural environment

Look for trees that have edible fruits or nuts. Select species or cultivars that are well-adapted to your local ecosystem. Pay attention to which species will be easiest for you to maintain sustainably. Any tree you plant will probably be able to serve more than one function and give you the maximum benefit of its presence.

As you plan your permaculture landscape, you’ll want to incorporate a variety of different types of plants. How much space do you realistically have for a large variety? Where will you place them so that your other plants will have enough space and receive enough sunlight? Draw out a plan for how you want your garden to look.

Permaculture Basics

Permaculture gardens prioritize native, useful, and sustainable plant growth, benefiting both humans and wildlife.

It’s good to start with the basics to create a permaculture garden. Permaculture gardens will emphasize some of the following ideals:

  • Grow native species
  • Use perennial species you will benefit from year after year
  • Grow plants you can use
  • Use sustainable and organic methods whenever possible
  • Build a healthy soil system
  • Create a well-balanced community of plants

There are many benefits of permaculture gardens. You can grow an entire landscape filled with edible and useful plants. You won’t be the only one to appreciate your plants, either. They will also benefit plenty of birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife. Permaculture gardens blend in with the natural ecosystem and are sustainable for the long term rather than detrimental or harmful to the environment.  

Choosing the Best Plants

The gardener is planting a fig tree in the garden. Close-up of female hands planting a young seedling of Ficus carica plant into the soil. The seedling has a vertical green stem and green lobed leaves, deeply dissected.Choose the best plants for your permaculture landscape based on your climate, environmental conditions, and personal preferences.

Regardless of which types of plants you are selecting for your permaculture landscape, you’ll want to choose the best. What makes one plant better than another? First, find plants that grow well in your climate. Check out a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map to learn what climate zone you live in. Choose plants that are hardy in that zone. It won’t do you any good to try to grow a tree or any other plant that won’t survive in your climate.

Look at your landscape and, in particular, your specific environmental conditions. Do you have a location with full sun, partial sun, or full shade? Do you have a location with rich, moist soil or dry, gritty soil? Is the soil well-drained or soggy? Consider all these factors and select trees that are well-adapted to the specific conditions of your permaculture garden. 

Finally, if you want to grow a permaculture landscape, look for the plants that you actually want to use. I wouldn’t suggest growing a cherry tree, for example, if you dislike eating cherries. If you do like cherries, however, it’s ideal! If you love watching butterflies, grow an assortment of pollinator-friendly plants throughout your yard.

Fruit and Nut Trees

Fruit and nuts can be excellent additions to permaculture landscapes, but only if you can grow them well. Look for those that will grow in your climate and your specific landscape. Try to select types that will not require regular chemical applications. Look for native species and disease-resistant varieties that can help eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides.

The following are just a few suggestions of wonderful permaculture trees with edible fruits and nuts, along with some of their benefits.


Ripe fig fruit hanging on the branch of fig tree in the garden. Ficus carica, commonly known as the fig tree, is a deciduous tree with distinctive, lobed leaves that are deeply dissected and palmate in shape. The tree produces pear-shaped or spherical fruits known as figs. The fruit is purple.This fruit tree is great for edible landscaping in warm areas with rich soil.

Fig trees (Ficus carica) are excellent for an edible landscape. They prefer warmer climates and rich, moist soil. They are smallish, rounded trees with attractive leaves and large crops of delicious fruits that can be eaten fresh, dried, frozen, or preserved. Fig advantages:

  • Easy to grow
  • Abundant edible fruits
  • Food for wildlife
  • Relatively small


Close-up of ripe fruits on a mulberry tree in the garden. It is a deciduous tree with simple, alternate heart-shaped leaves and serrated edges. The tree produces small clusters of fruits called mulberries, which resemble elongated berries. These fruits are dark purple and pink in color.The mulberry is a fast-growing native fruit tree with sweet, edible fruits that attract both people and birds.

Mulberry (Morus rubra) is a quick-growing native fruit tree that produces abundant fruits that both people and birds can eat. Many people don’t like growing mulberries because their fruits are messy, so don’t grow them next to your house or where they will drop fruits on your car or back deck.

Mulberry fruits are sweet and delicious, and they make good shade trees, two beneficial qualities for your permaculture garden! Mulberry advantages:

  • Edible fruits
  • Attracts birds
  • Shade tree
  • Easy to grow
  • Native species

Wild Plum

Close-up of a Wild Plum tree with ripe fruits, in a garden. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree producing simple, alternate, oval-shaped leaves and finely serrated margins. The tree produces small, round edible fruits known as American plums. These fruits are round in shape, with a shiny red skin.Wild plum thrives in average, well-drained soil, offering tasty edible fruits.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) is a medium-sized tree native to eastern and central North America. It is easy to grow in average-quality, well-drained soil. It produces delicious edible fruits, and its flowers attract birds and pollinators. Wild plum advantages:

  • Edible fruits
  • Attracts birds
  • Attracts pollinators
  • Easy to grow
  • Native species


Close-up of Pecan tree branches in the garden. The Pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a large deciduous tree native to central North America. Its compound leaves consist of multiple lance-shaped leaflets. The tree produces edible nuts known as pecans, enclosed in hard shells.The pecan is a native North American shade tree with edible nuts.

The hardy pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a large variety native to central North America. This is an ideal shade tree that also produces an edible nut crop. You will need to have two different pecan trees close to each other to maximize nut production, so it would be best suited for larger properties. Pecan advantages:

  • Edible nuts
  • Attracts wildlife
  • Shade tree
  • Native species


Close-up of Hazelnut tree branches in the garden. The American Hazelnut tree (Corylus americana) is a small deciduous tree. The leaves are dark green, oval, serrated along the edges. The tree produces edible nuts called hazelnuts or filberts, enclosed in a husk that splits open when mature. The nuts are round and have a hard shell.The American hazelnut has attractive foliage, displays beautiful autumn colors, and bears edible nuts.

The American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a small tree native to eastern North America. It is easy to grow and makes an attractive addition to the landscape. The leaves display beautiful autumn colors. In late summer and into fall, people and wildlife can eat the nuts. Hazelnut advantages:

  • Edible nuts
  • Attracts birds
  • Good windbreak or hedge
  • Showy
  • Native species

Trees for Birds and Pollinators

In addition to those listed above, there are trees that people don’t eat, but birds and pollinators love. They can be extremely valuable in your landscape. They not only help the local wildlife, but they can also provide shade, privacy, or seasonal beauty. 

American Holly

Close-up of American Holly (Ilex opaca) tree branches in a sunny garden. It is a medium-sized, broad-leaved, evergreen tree with glossy, spiny, dark green leaves. The tree produces round, bright red berries that are an important food source for birds during the colder months.This native medium-sized evergreen has dense foliage and is ideal for privacy hedges.

The American holly (Ilex opaca) is a medium-sized broadleaf evergreen that is native to the eastern and central United States. You can enjoy the dense foliage of this plant all year, and it makes a great privacy hedge. Birds love to eat the berries that ripen in the fall and are long-lasting into the winter months. American holly advantages:

  • Attracts birds
  • Good windbreak or hedge
  • Easy to grow
  • Native species

Red Buckeye

Close-up of the branches of a Red Buckeye tree in the garden. It is a small tree with lush foliage. The leaves are composed of many elongated oval leaflets arranged in a palmate fashion, giving them a characteristic fan-shaped appearance. The tree produces showy clusters of vibrant red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and pollinators.The red buckeye is a native species featuring spring blooms of red tubular flowers.

If you have a moist, shaded area needing an attractive small tree, the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a great choice. It’s native to moist forests of eastern North America. It blooms in the spring with showy clusters of red, tubular flowers that hummingbirds love. Red buckeye advantages:

  • Shade-tolerant
  • Attracts birds
  • Native species
  • Good hedge
  • Small

White Oak

Close-up of a White Oak branch. The White Oak (Quercus alba) is a majestic tree native throughout North America. Its leaves are lobed with rounded edges and a distinct shape, dark green. The tree produces acorns.This robust type is easy to grow, providing beauty and shelter, while its acorns attract wildlife and can be used for cooking.

White oak (Quercus alba) is a beautiful tree native throughout North America. They grow large, tall, and strong.

Not only are they easy to grow, but they are also very attractive in the landscape and provide value to wildlife. Birds and wildlife forage on the acorns, and even people can use the acorns for cooking with a bit of time and effort. White oak advantages:

  • Wildlife forage on acorns
  • Food and shelter for birds
  • Great shade
  • Keystone native species


Close-up of ripe berries on Serviceberry branches. The Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is a small to medium-sized tree native to eastern North America. Its leaves have a simple oval shape and a bright green color. The fruits of the tree are small, purple-red.The serviceberry has spring blossoms for pollinators and berries for birds and humans.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is a small to medium-sized tree native to eastern North America. It produces an abundance of showy white blossoms in the springtime that pollinators love. Birds eat the fruits, and if the birds don’t get them all, you can use these little round, red berries in jams and pies. Serviceberry advantages:

  • Edible fruits
  • Attracts birds
  • Attracts pollinators
  • Native species
  • Showy spring flowers


Close-up of Sourwood branches against the blue sky. The Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a medium to large tree native to central and eastern North America. It features masses of bell-like white flowers that are attractive to honeybees. The leaves of Sourwood are elongated, alternate, bright red-orange.This variety produces bell-like white flowers in spring and vibrant fall foliage in various colors.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a medium to large tree native to central and eastern North America. It has attractive masses of bell-like white flowers in the spring that honeybees love. Sourwood has spectacular fall foliage in shades of yellow, orange, and bright red. Sourwood advantages:

  • Attracts honeybees
  • Native species
  • Shade tree
  • Fall foliage

Frequently Asked Questions

Every garden design will be unique and different. If your goal is to grow an entire landscape in a sustainable way, there’s a good chance you will want some trees. If you are managing a small yard or a few raised beds using permaculture principles, you will probably be looking for smaller plants that fit better in your space. Include trees if it makes sense in your space, but if not, you certainly don’t need trees to enjoy a permaculture garden.

Permaculture gardens are good for the earth, good for animals, and benefit people. Avoid trees that are known to be invasive species or those that will require regular chemical applications to grow well. If the tree species has no benefits for you and doesn’t have a useful place in the natural ecosystem, grow something else instead. A few invasive tree species you should definitely avoid include Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana), Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), and Russian Olive (Eleagnus angustifolia).

If you have low, dense, or shrubby trees, you probably won’t be growing much under them. If you have some taller shade trees, you can actually use the space under and around your trees to grow other permaculture-friendly plants. Look for shade-tolerant native perennials and shrubs to fill in the shaded areas around your trees. You won’t find too many shade-loving fruits and vegetables, but there are plenty of ferns and wildflowers, as well as flowering and fruiting shrubs that would work well in a shaded location.

Final Thoughts

For some people, even considering creating a permaculture landscape is a bit intimidating. But don’t let this idea scare you. Permaculture gardens can be large or small. You can include both edible plants and ornamental plants as long as they help contribute to a healthy mini-ecosystem in your yard. Grow plants that you can use and that attract birds and pollinators while still being appealing to look at. Be sure to focus only on species that grow well in your yard with your local environmental conditions. Finally, have patience with your permaculture; it won’t happen overnight, but over time, you will create a beautiful natural landscape that you can enjoy for many years.

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