Home How to Build a Timber Forest Area

How to Build a Timber Forest Area

user profile picture Phil Williams Apr 27, 2015
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I have installed two areas that I would consider my timber forest area and my zone 4. I originally planned for three areas, but I decided against making a timber area in front of the pond as I already have a swale here with fruit trees that I did not want to shade too bad. Also, I have existing forest that is moving in, so I will simply let it go for the area that I want to cover without shading the sun for my fruit trees.

Another benefit to having two larger areas instead of three smaller areas is that there is less edge to worry about, which means less maintenance which is important in a zone 4 area that will not receive much attention.

One of these timber areas is at the very top of my property bordering my zone 5 wild area. This area is an area I don’t venture to already, so it is good for zone 4. Also, it will make a nice wind break on the north side of my property. Furthermore, it will disguise my deer fence, adding to the beauty of the property. There is an existing swale on the downslope edge that this timber area will benefit from.

Upper Timber Area

The other timber area is in the lower corner of the property along the road. This is also relatively far away from the house, so it is a great candidate for a zone 4 area. Also, it will provide a nice windbreak, and it will help shield me from the road. I had the police on my back because someone driving by decided to call the police because they felt my pasture was too long, so anything to stop people from looking at what I’m doing is positive.

How to Build a Timber Forest Area

1. Once you have decided on the area you want to install your forest, then decide on your tree specimens. I decided to mimic the natural forests of Central Pennsylvania which consist mainly of Oak, Hickory, & Chestnut, before the blight. I did add a few other natives as well as a ton of support species to jump start the system. I even added a couple of food producing species that grow in these systems naturally.

Pioneer Species

  • Choke Cherry
  • Thornless Honey Locust

Nitrogen Fixing Species

  • Black Locust
  • Kentucky Coffee
  • Smooth Alder
  • Redbud

Timber Species

  • Red Maple
  • Red Oak
  • White Oak
  • Shagbark Hickory
  • Tulip Poplar

Food Producing Species

  • Highbush Blueberry
  • Huckleberry

2. You have to get rid of the grass. There are many options to do this. Sheet mulching, rototilling, plowing, sod cutting and removal, and using animals to do the clearing. I took my tractor and skimmed the grass off with my bucket. I did this in strips about 5 feet apart. Some of the grass will come back, but I planted a lot of fast growing trees, and a clover ground cover.

3. Install any earthworks you may need. I already had a swale up top, but the lower timber area does not have a swale. The area here is relatively level.

4. Plant your trees. I planted the trees 6 feet apart and the shrubs 3 feet apart. We used an auger to speed the process up. I made sure to have at least one support species next to every food producer. I ended up with 65% support and 35% timber & food producers. I am well aware that this is too close for mature trees, but the nitrogen fixers and pioneers will be short lived, and not all the trees will live. When a nitrogen fixer grows over 6 feet tall, once a year I will coppice them down to 6 feet tall. This will release nitrogen into the soil for the productive species. Eventually after many cuttings the nitrogen fixers will die, having served their purpose.


Upper Timber Area

5. Seed in a good groundcover. I used a nitrogen fixing groundcover of clover and alfalfa. Add straw as a covering to the seed.

6. Mulch all the trees. I used straw to mulch.

Lower Timber Area

7. Do your rain dance, because it will be crucial initially that your trees get water to become rooted. Make sure your trees get watered initially, and to make sure they get at least 1 inch of watering or rainfall per week.

Farm Forestry (10 months later)

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.