Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”
I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.
Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.
The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.
Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.
Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath(…)
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