News Treehugger Voices Planting a Garden for Future Generations True sustainability is planting crops whose yields you may not live to see. By Elizabeth Waddington Elizabeth Waddington Facebook LinkedIn Writer, Permaculture Designer, Sustainability Consultant University of St Andrews (MA) Elizabeth has worked since 2010 as a freelance writer and consultant covering gardening, permaculture, and sustainable living. She has also written a number of books and e-books on gardens and gardening. Learn about our editorial process Updated December 27, 2021 02:06PM EST Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process baza178 / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Gardeners who are truly far-sighted can achieve far more than those who focus almost exclusively on the here and now. Planting a garden for future generations means that we can ensure true sustainability. As well as just focusing on the needs and desires of the present, we see to it that our gardens will provide for the needs and desires of future generations. Perennial Planting New gardeners in particular will focus on creating annual fruit and vegetable gardens. Growing annual crops can meet the needs of you and your family in the short-term. This can be, of course, a very valuable thing to do. It is a great idea, however, to think beyond annual crops and consider trees, shrubs, and other perennial plants which will provide yields not just for a single season, but over a number of years to come. You may well plant many different fruiting trees and shrubs which can deliver yields within a few years. Some will start to fruit more quickly than others. Choosing bare root trees and shrubs can be a good strategy to create a garden that will stand the test of time—though, of course, yields will start off relatively small before growing each year. And some trees may take far longer to provide their primary yields. Looking to the Longer Term Some gardeners may be impatient to obtain yields. They may focus on perennials which deliver yields within a few years, rather than thinking longer term. But when aiming for true sustainability, it is important not to rule out planting those trees and other plants which will take far longer to provide their yields. Thinking longer term is more common in forestry, where a stand of trees can be planted with a view to felling or coppicing on a longer-term cycle. But looking ahead in a garden is less of a standard practice. Few choose to plant trees from which only their children or grandchildren will be able to see the yields. But it is a mistake to overlook the potential of planting a garden for future generations. By planning and planting appropriately today, we can ensure that we build vibrant ecosystems which sequester carbon, protect and build the soil, manage water wisely, and provide food, shelter, and other resources for people in the years to come. We must think not just of our own needs and the needs of our families, but also the needs of those not yet born. We may not even live to see the yields of certain trees, but we should consider planting them all the same. Creating Yields for Today as Well as for the Future One important thing to remember is that planning for long-term future yields does not mean forgoing a yield in the present. While planting for future generations is a selfless and kind thing to do, we do not need to sacrifice too much in order to do so. We can achieve that by thinking holistically and creating ecosystems that are stable and biodiverse, that readily adapt and change over time. Trees that take longer to produce and to mature can be grown between quicker-cropping species. Slow-growing trees can be incorporated into agroforestry and forest garden schemes. Understory, tiered planting can take advantage of space that will later be shaded out, and it can evolve over time as the canopy closes in and the ecosystem matures. In many gardens, vegetables and other edible crops can also be grown between tree rows, or hedgerows, which provide shelter or shade. Depending on the location and the crops that are grown, fruit or nut trees can provide a range of benefits—often long before they themselves begin to produce a yield. Care must be taken to ensure beneficial symbiosis between the different elements in a garden system, so that the trees and other longer term planting benefits the whole, rather than detracting from shorter term yields. But a well-designed system can deliver today and tomorrow and over many, many years to come.