With approximately 1 in 10 Canadians aged 12 and older experiencing food insecurity, planting edible trees seems like a common-sense approach to providing Canadians with nutritious food sources while increasing the tree canopy across different communities.
If you’re planning a community garden or orchard this year, or have been thinking about planting edible trees in your backyard, here are a few things to consider before choosing which edible trees to plant.
Plant For Your Hardiness Zone
To ensure the trees you decide to plant remain strong and perform well in their environment, they must be adapted to your area’s hardiness zone and the conditions of the planting site.
A hardiness zone provides insight into what can grow in certain geographic areas. It considers the climatic conditions of your region to ensure that trees and shrubs will tolerate year-round climates in your area. For example, species that grow in the warmer regions of southern Canada may not be adapted to colder northern regions.
Have a look at Canada’s interactive plant hardiness map to find out what zone you reside in.
Diversify What You Plant
Consider using a polyculture model to plant multiple species in one area. Planting a polyculture will help stop the spread of unwanted pests while creating more habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife. This model also makes it less likely for the soil to lack important nutrients since different species use different nutrients.
Our experts suggest planting in trios ‒ a large tree, a shrub, and a nitrogen-fixing tree. Nitrogen-fixing trees can take atmospheric nitrogen and add it to the soil, which will help stabilize it so you don’t have to add fertilizer. There are many benefits of the trio model, including increased yield for your edible trees!
Here are some examples of species you can plant in your garden:
- Black walnut (Juglans nigra) – Hardiness zones: 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b
The black walnut can grow on well-drained lowlands and can be mixed with other broadleaf trees. Consider planting these trees on the north edge of the garden, so they won’t shade the other trees and shrubs.
- Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana var. virginiana) – Hardiness zones: 0a, 0b, 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
The choke cherry is amazingly cold hardy! This cherry species is transcontinental, thriving in almost any conditions other than coastal British Columbia.
- Canada plum (Prunus nigra) – Hardiness zones: 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b
The Canada plum is best suited for southern parts of eastern Canada.
- Pacific crab apple (Malus fusca) – Hardiness zones: 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b
The Pacific crab apple tree can often be found on lakesides and along streambanks since it grows in moist open wetlands.
- Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) – Hardiness zones: 3
The blackcurrant is one of the very first tree species to bud out after winter. It prefers soils that are rich and moist, but well-drained, and can thrive in either full sun or partial shade.
- Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) – Hardiness zones: 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b
Highbush cranberries will grow well in almost any soil in full sun and partial shade.
- American elder (Sambucus canadensis) – Hardiness zones: 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b
The American elder is the only northern fruit that also grows well in damp soil. It can also grow in dry soil and clay soil and is resistant to atmospheric pollution.
- Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) – Hardiness zones: 2a, 2b
The beaked hazelnut is a very cold-hardy shrub and is moderately shade-tolerant. For optimal harvesting, plant the beaked hazelnut in an area where it is exposed to lots of sun.
Nitrogen Fixing Trees:
- Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata) – Hardiness zones: 2a, 2b
The silverberry tree is quite resilient to diseases, insect problems and drought. The silverberry is fast-growing and very cold-hardy and can sometimes be used as a windbreak.
- Non-edible nitrogen fixing trees (like the green alder (Alnus viridis ssp. crispa), the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) and the redbud (Cercis canadensis)) may not produce edible fruits or nuts but will help maintain a natural balance in your garden.
Ground cover plants (like rhubarb, asparagus, garlic, etc.) can also be planted in your garden to follow the polyculture model.
Before deciding what to plant in your edible garden, we encourage you to talk to a local arborist, forester, or an employee at your local garden center. In addition to conducting your own research, they are your local sources of information for choosing the right edible trees, shrubs, and plants for your region.
Since 2012, Tree Canada’s Edible Trees program has completed over 220 projects and planted over 19,000 fruit and nut trees in communities across Canada. Municipalities, schools, and community gardens can apply for edible tree grants to help plant fruit and nut trees and shrubs in their neighbourhoods.