This Glossary is a new feature — Stay tuned for more terms!

Firewise: This term refers to plants that are low in volatile oils and retain large amounts of water in their leaves and stems. Plants with these attributes are not only less susceptible to wildfire, but also drought-tolerant. The Firewise project and the Texas Forest Service have set forth guidelines for firewise landscaping. These guidelines include maintaining a plant-free buffer zone next to the house, planting trees a certain minimum distance apart, and avoiding the use of certain types of plants.


Forest Garden in the fall of 2012

Forest Garden in the fall of 2012

Forest Garden:  A diverse and resilient woodland that mimics a natural forest, but is composed primarily of plants that produce an edible or otherwise useful crop for humans. An ideal edible forest garden has seven layers:

  1. Canopy layer
  2. Understory
  3. Shrub layer
  4. Herbaceous layer
  5. Ground-cover layer
  6. Root Layer 
  7. Vines.

The plants form a network of mutually beneficial relationships that is greater than the sum of its parts. Here’s what that might look like in central Texas:

LayerExamples of species
Tough native trees as a canopyLive Oak, Cedar Elm, Tx Ash, Bigtooth Maple, Escarpment Cherry, Mesquite, Acacias
fruit trees, both native and “improved” fruit treesnative (TX Persimmon, Blanco Crabapple, Elderberry, etc.) “improved” (Plums, Pomegranate, Apple, etc.)
berry and nut-producing shrubsAronia, Hazlenut, Pineapple Guava, Goji
perennialsgreens of all types, Alliums, Daylillies
ground coversHorseherb, strawberries, etc.
Root Layer Alliums, Sweet Potatoes, Sunchokes
Vinesclimbing the trees or sprawling along the ground

Around the (especially eastern), edges you can plant sun-lovers, such as corn, peppers, and tomatoes. The Forest Garden creates such a diverse ecology that you can grow just about anything.

A video about a forest garden workshop we gave, during which we established a new food forest using plants from Hill Country Natives. Click here to watch.


Fungus: At Hill Country Natives, we emphasize the use of mycorrhizal fungi. These beneficial organisms go into the potting soil every time we add a new plant to inventory or move it to a larger pot. Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with a plant via the root system. The fungi receive nutrients from the root system and soil while extracting, converting, and delivering nutrients directly back to the root system. It’s a harmonious relationship where all life forms involved benefit and nutrient uptake efficiency is increased more than 100%, according to some small-scale studies. Other studies have shown that plants grown with mycorrhizal relationships are healthier and more productive than plants given large amounts of non-organic fertilizer. It was most evident in the root systems which were thriving with an incredible number of small feeder roots. Usually healthy roots will help make soil healthier and vice-versa. In line with this philosophy, we feed the soil and microorganism communities therein which in turn feed the roots, which give back to the soil. Through this process, we establish a self-perpetuating system of mutual benefit in which mycorrhizal fungi play a critical role. In the past 15 years or so, researchers have begun to pay more and more attention to mycorrhizal fungi. One of the discoveries is a substance called Glomalin, which you can read about here.


Blackberries growing on a trellis, creating a visual barrier and producing delicious, organic food with minimal maintenance.  Malabar spinach, pole beans, or other climbing plants can be inter-planted with the blackberries, and squash or bush beans can be tucked around the base, providing not only a greater variety of food options, but adding nitrogen and serving as a living mulch to help retain moisture and keep soil temperatures down during the heat of summer. Now that’s efficient!

Green Living Screen: a hedge or trellis typically used for privacy. Other uses include aesthetic camouflage, shade, noise mitigation, passive heating/cooling, food, habitat, etc. The conventional single-species hedge, besides being dull in appearance, invites pests and plant disease: If one plant is diseased or pest-ridden, the problem may travel all the way down the hedge line. In building your hedge, therefore, we suggest you either: 1) choose multiple varieties of one species; or 2) choose multiple species. Read our tips for creating your own Green Living Screen.

Perennial Summer Greens:

Although this veggie hales from Sweden it can ride out the heat of a Texas summer with the best of them.

When planted in the fall to give its root system time to get established, Swiss Chard can ride out the heat of a Texas summer with the best of them, providing leafy greens for several years to come.greens they can grow through our relentlessly hot dry summers. Some of the best performers in this realm are chard, collard greens, lambs quarters, and malabar spinach. To boost your chances of having lush greens to enjoy all through the summer, you should strive to create a rich ecology in your garden. A good way to do this is to create a multi-story Forest Garden.


Fruit Tree Pruning for Backyard Orchard Cultivation


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