It not only creates shade, but can also purify water, provide a safe haven for insects and wildlife, and possibly counteract a small amount of carbon emissions, a key factor in global warming.

trees in an urban landscape

(photo created by onlyyouqj - www.freepik.com)

Growing popularity

In 2015, the original tiny forest was planted in the Netherlands. Since then, the concept has gained popularity with city governments and private landowners.

Some communities are creating similar small native forests as a local response to a serious environmental challenge. These forests attract biodiversity, including insects and new plant species. Even though proponents acknowledge that this alone won’t solve climate change, research has proven these small natural areas can contribute to carbon sequestration and help cool cities where they are grown.

forested area among agriculture

Miyawaki method

Tiny forests are based on the 1970's work of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who pioneered a method of planting young indigenous tree species close together in order to quickly regenerate a small forest on poor soil.

Many of us realize how essential trees are to our health and that of the planet. However, millions of acres of forests are being cleared every year for farming, ranching, logging, and construction. This makes deforestation one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that 20% of the Amazon rainforest and its surrounding ecosystems have already been lost, threatening a vital carbon sink. Yet, some countries continue to open previously protected rainforest to commercial development.

hands hugging a tree with a heart

How to grow a forest quickly

The two necessary requirements for a tiny forest are dense planting and the use of native species to fill the area with trees and shrubs of differing heights. When layers are created and the entire vertical space is filled with greenery, the result is approximately 30 times more green surface area compared to a lawn or garden of the same size. Tiny forests are a budget-friendly alternative to a traditional lawn. Not only are the trees attractive, they "inhale" carbon dioxide and buffer noise.

Planting local native tree species has particular advantages. The trees have already adapted to the climate, requiring significantly less maintenance than many non-native species. Native trees also create an optimal environment in which indigenous wildlife can thrive. These tiny forests may actually be able to restore biodiversity to levels even greater than their relative size.

Know your native species

There are numerous resources available to help you identify species native to your location. Click here to learn more.

small group of wintertime trees

Nurture the soil

Don't stress if you see a few mushrooms growing in your forest and don't remove them. Beneficial fungi are nature's communication network and are necessary for healthy soil.

taking care of trees makes more oxygen

Plant your seedlings and mulch

hand holding a tree seedling

The key to creating a dense forest is the arrangement of plants to achieve a beneficial ratio of layers. Some gardeners plant a shrub layer, a sub-tree layer, a tree layer, and a canopy layer. The exact ratio will depend on your location. A very wet environment will need a denser canopy layer, while a region with an arid climate should contain more shrubs. The most successful tiny forests reflect the composition of the natural environment nearby.

hand holding mulch

pine straw mulch

(pine needles make good mulch, allowing water to percolate through)

Most important

The main requirement to ensure rapid growth is the density of the layers. As trees grow, they communicate through fungal networks that protect against disease and provide nutrients to each other. Mulch plays a vital role in protecting the ecosystem below the soil from harsh environmental conditions. Some prefer to use straw, but the right mulch can be anything that doesn’t allow water to evaporate while still allowing it to seep down and reach the soil. Not only does mulch protect the soil microbiome, but it also traps moisture in hot weather while protecting against frost and ice when temperatures turn cold.

Get a box of natural pine straw mulch that will cover about 300 square feet

Cultivate your tiny forest

owl in a tree

Once your seedlings are planted, water and weed for the first few years. Don't prune or trim the trees. Since the ultimate goal is to create a lush forest, pruning is a no-no.

After a certain amount of growth, you’ll be able to stop weeding. Eventually, the forest becomes so dense that sunlight doesn't reach the ground. Weeds won't thrive without sun.

Now ignore it

The final step is just letting your tiny forest grow and enjoying the results. Good things really can come in small packages.

view of a forest
(photo created by lifeforstock - www.freepik)

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