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planning understory plants

Posted by Zea Sonnabend 
planning understory plants
March 13, 2014 09:49PM
I have been looking through my seed collection and wondering if I should start some perennials from seed to have enough plants to plant as understory plants in our young orchard next year. Michael only talks about comfrey and a few others in his book and I am curious if anyone has had experience with others. Here are the ones I'm considering and I'd like to hear from people about pros and cons. I need plants that can get by with only weekly irrigation or less and that aren't overly attractive to gophers.
Clary Sage

Fruitilicious Farm
Zone 9b in California
Re: planning understory plants
March 14, 2014 08:48AM
Although in a different climate, Stefan Sobkowiak of Miracle Farms in Quebec has done a lot of this kind of thing. Might there be something to learn from what he has done?

Clair Kauffman
Zone 6b, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Re: planning understory plants
August 17, 2016 01:18PM
Hi Zea,
My newer orchard is on a roughly 2 acres piece of land behind the house. I am lucky (I think) because I am surrounded by trees, shrubs and wetlands. I am trying to let nature takes its own course, so I try to manage the land and grass cutting to allow wild flowers to grow. So after the dandelions, I get daisies, then black eye Susan's, then asters, then clover, then golden rod, milkweed etc... There are always flowers from spring to fall. On top of that, I leave patches here and there for wild raspberries and blackberries to grow. I also have flowering bushes around the orchard.
What I started doing this year is to use empty spaces in the orchard (tree that died or broke, etc..) and seed that with flower. I like sunflowers, rudbeckia, and others, but I must say my favorite is monarda. I have a 2x2ft square planted with monarda (the pink, not the red) and it is amazing to see how many bumble bees and other types of bees/wasps are in that small space at the same time.
Needless to say that I do not have to worry about bringing in honey bees... I try to experiment and changes the flowers every year, but I always have more of the three mentioned above.

Black Creek Cider
Hinchinbrooke, Qc Zone 5b
Re: planning understory plants
August 19, 2016 07:11AM
One thing Stefan Sobkowiak is doing that others should follow is experimentation with the orchard adjuncts. This means lining out tests and rouging out those that don't make the cut, for whatever reason. One of my pet peeves is the religious selection of species out of the last permaculture book. While paying close attention to the zone, a good orchardist will select a wide variety in very small numbers and see how they perform. Especially important with the edible understory additions is whether or not they taste good, are productive, and make practical sense (ie are they a hassle to harvest). My experience with regard to increasing diversity and aiding beneficial species like native bees is that most plants (aka weeds) that are part of the local flora system will do just as nicely as any purchased. In fact too many people have never seen what those so called weeds look like in all their glory when allowed to grow to their full height and flower. I will add a plug for the daylily. This is an edible perennial, and too underutilized. Hardy and indestructible, just about every part can be eaten, particularly the unopened flower pods when stir fried with sesame seed, salt and butter.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
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