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What are your favorite nitrogen fixing shrubs?

 
Posts: 23
Location: Northern pennsylvania, zone 5b
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I am designing my forest garden and I have the goal that it should thrive with minimal maintenance.  For me, this includes the system being able to endure several years of no pruning.  My zone is 5b and I'm deciding what nitrogen-fixing shrubs I want to use to add fertility.  Once my fruit trees are established, I would like to not worry about the the N-fixing shrubs overtaking or out-competing my fruit trees.  They will be associated with apples, persimmons, paw paws, cherries, pears, and several others.  It is also very important that the Nitrogen-fixing shrubs do not show up in my neighbor's fields.  That's why I have ruled out Russian/autumn olive.


Shrubs I'm considering:  

Blue False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)
Sea Berry (Hippophae rhamnoides)
Buffalo Berry (Sheperdia canadensis/Sheperdia argenta)
Siberian Pea Shrub.  (Caragana arborescens)

I already have a few sea berries that just produced fruit this year, and they were great!  Other than that, I do no have any experience with the other shrubs, and I would love to hear other peoples' experiences with them.  


What are your favorite nitrogen fixing shrubs?  Any more you think I should add to the list?

 
pollinator
Posts: 637
Location: Montana
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Buffalo Berry and Seaberry are on the short list of things that do really well on my more difficult price of land where I garden. Both produce fruit.

Caragana is a old school shelter belt plant here in Montana. My grandparents had it.
 
pollinator
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Look up Bullock Brothers, they plant two trees in a hole, one is a nurse plant. Eventually it gets smothered or they schwack it. Don't get too attached to each plant, they are tools, not pets. We've all been there. I plant what grows (which here is often autumn olive or mimosa) and kill it if it starts getting greedy. I've even used wisteria for that function. It's just really hard to kill.
 
pollinator
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I grow autumn Olive,  sea berry,  and siberian pea shrub.  On my land,  sea berry spreads like wild fire and it's thorns are "impressive". If you want to harvest any of your trees,  my recommendation would be to use sea berry as part of a living fence or as a clump in a chicken area that you don't venture into. I really like the berries and the chickens love them but if you use them in guilds around your fruit trees and don't manage them heavily,  in a couple years you won't be able to harvest your fruit without a suit of armor.  If you grow them as a hedge,  you can keep them from spreading by mowing or a barrier and harvest berries from the edges.
 
William Schlegel
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Hmm, I was just planting some shrubs two to a hole with each hole getting either a seaberry or a buffalo berry and something else like an apple seedling.

I have one giant male (I checked a couple years ago) seaberry that is starting to creep into one corner of the fenced garden.

Originally my mom planted a row of ten seaberries and only the male survived. Replanted two new females in 2016 or 2017. Took the berries off the new females that I started the new seedlings from that I was planting the other day.

No sea berry berries this year though. The giant male sustained a lot of rodent damage last winter. Unless it's a giant female...  The rodent damage led to some vigorous regeneration thus the garden invasion.

Grew the new buffalo berries from berries from bushes we planted years ago.
 
master steward
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A relatively unheard of N fixer that I planted this spring and am liking so far is northern bayberry.  It's a shrub that has waxy berries.  The height is pretty variable according to the nursery at 3-8'.  One really nice feature is that it's semi-evergreen.  It's a deciduous shrub with larger leaves (kind of like an oak) and they turn burgundy in the fall and hang on until spring when the new growth appears.  I'm using it as part of a screen from the road so that I have some privacy in the spring.  The berries are good for the birds and you can make candles from them.  One other name for it is "candleberry".  
 
Tj Jefferson
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Mike Jay wrote:A relatively unheard of N fixer that I planted this spring and am liking so far is northern bayberry.  It's a shrub that has waxy berries.  The height is pretty variable according to the nursery at 3-8'.  One really nice feature is that it's semi-evergreen.  It's a deciduous shrub with larger leaves (kind of like an oak) and they turn burgundy in the fall and hang on until spring when the new growth appears.  I'm using it as part of a screen from the road so that I have some privacy in the spring.  The berries are good for the birds and you can make candles from them.  One other name for it is "candleberry".  



Mike, thats a really good option. They also may have some rodent prevention capability due to the pungency. I am transplanting those, ironically I haven't found any on the property and they are often found in disturbed areas around here. I'm disturbing it more, so to me that sounds like a nice thing to have around. I'm using bicolor lespedeza as well, because I get them dirt cheap from the state forestry department. But it's not native (nor is caragana or autumn olive or goumi for that matter), and the bayberry is winter forage for bug eating birds. Great input.

 
pollinator
Posts: 3113
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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These are my favorite Nitrogen fixers



Here is a list of Frankia based Nitrogen Fixers
(200 species in 8 different families)

Alder Family (Frankia Cluster 1)
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Betulaceae.htm

Casuarina Family
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Casuarinaceae.htm

Coriaria Family
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Coriariaceae.htm

Datisca Family
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Datiscaceae.htm

Elaeagnus Family (Frankia Cluster 3)
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Elaeagnaceae.htm

Bayberry/Myrica Family
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Myricaceae.htm

Ceanothu/Rhamnaceae Family (Frankia Cluster 3)
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Rhamnaceae.htm

Rose Family (Frankia Cluster 2)
http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/benson/Frankia/Rosaceae.htm
 
pollinator
Posts: 539
Location: BC Interior, Zone 6-7
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Ceanothus.  There are lots of different ones.  I have C velutinus which smells amazing and makes decent tea.  The pocket gopher hordes seem to leave them alone, too.
 
Ryan ElSmith
Posts: 23
Location: Northern pennsylvania, zone 5b
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Trace Oswald if you use them in guilds around your fruit trees and don't manage them heavily,  in a couple years you won't be able to harvest your fruit without a suit of armor.  [/quote wrote:

Do they spread by suckering?  Our two year old Sea Buckthorns are nicely formed with 1 main leader.  How do they respond to a major pruning?  Do the send up suckers all around them?

 
Ryan ElSmith
Posts: 23
Location: Northern pennsylvania, zone 5b
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Trace Oswald wrote:I grow autumn Olive,  sea berry,  and siberian pea shrub.  On my land,  sea berry spreads like wild fire and it's thorns are "impressive". If you want to harvest any of your trees,  my recommendation would be to use sea berry as part of a living fence or as a clump in a chicken area that you don't venture into. I really like the berries and the chickens love them but if you use them in guilds around your fruit trees and don't manage them heavily,  in a couple years you won't be able to harvest your fruit without a suit of armor.  If you grow them as a hedge,  you can keep them from spreading by mowing or a barrier and harvest berries from the edges.



So is this not the case with autumn olive and siberian pea shrub?  I Want a shrub that, if it gets to be 8 feet tall one year, I can knock it back by hacking it to the ground without worrying about it coming back with vengance 10 fold the next year.  
 
Ryan ElSmith
Posts: 23
Location: Northern pennsylvania, zone 5b
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Tj Jefferson wrote:...they plant two trees in a hole, one is a nurse plant.



Do you know what they use as a nurse plant?
 
Trace Oswald
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Hi Ryan.  Yes,  my sea berry bushes spread by suckering.  Autumn Olive and siberian pea shrub only spread by seed as far as i can tell.  My pea shrubs are 4 years old and haven't produced seed yet. I still have the ones I planted with no volunteers around them.  My autumn Olive have been producing berries for years and I have only found one new one on my property that I didn't plant. I propagate them by cuttings.   I'm sure that one volunteer is from a seed a bird ate and deposited there for me.  It's a hundred yards or so from its nearest neighbor.  
 
S Bengi
pollinator
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My male seaberry root suckers popped up at distances 5x the height of plant. And I don't even think I pruned the plant. At 1st I thought they were seedlings, until I tried to transplant one and saw that the 'cluster of seedlings' were all attached and as I followed it root growing at the woodchip-soil interface I found even more. And the other end of the root terminated at the male seaberry plant. And that left me a bit sad.
 
Posts: 614
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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S Bengi wrote:My male seaberry root suckers popped up at distances 5x the height of plant. And I don't even think I pruned the plant. At 1st I thought they were seedlings, until I tried to transplant one and saw that the 'cluster of seedlings' were all attached and as I followed it root growing at the woodchip-soil interface I found even more. And the other end of the root terminated at the male seaberry plant. And that left me a bit sad.

my male seaberry got split by the snow last winter so i cut it. sent up probably 20 new shoots in a 5ft. circle from the stump. i mowed all but the strongest 1 and that one is already 2ft tall. if you like autumn olive minus the invasiveness , goumi is a good option. much easier to control and flavor is similar. I've been growing comfrey around the base of my goumi and they both are growing well together. like A.O , goumi are easy to grow from cuttings.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Do you know what they use as a nurse plant?



Lot of good stuff on here. If you haven't got Gaia's Garden its in there. If you haven't got it, most of the same info is on here. Follow recommended links, they will take you down the wormhole.
 
Posts: 51
Location: rural West Virginia
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I'm in zone 65, WV. I read that seaberries can be invasive, and I have terrible trouble with multiflora rose and autumn/Russian olive so I don't want to introduce a new problem. But every source I consulted said goumis would not be invasive--despite the fact that they are eleagnus, autumn olive relatives (and by the way those may spread only by fruit but they also will come back from the roots unless you dig up every bit of root. Even multifloras will usually die if you dig up the crown). So I now have two, the usual improved pair, Red Gem and Sweet Scarlet. They grew to be about seven feet tall and began producing in two years--I harvested 12# of fruit a week or so ago without getting quite all of it. They do have thorns but they are large and few, easy to avoid. The berries are like the autumn/Russian ones, only much larger. Goumis come from east Asia. They have a soft pit, for which reason I have found only one thing to do with them--simmer and strain out the juice and make a syrup. I give some of the juice to my sister as it is reputed to be a cancer fighting agent. These plants have been perfectly happy in the middle of my orchard for four years now with virtually no care. I did prune them this February to reduce their density.
 
Posts: 19
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Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) can grow a bit more than 10 feet high, so I don't know whether it would still be considered a shrub.

If I had enough space in my garden, this would be the one to plant. According to PFAF https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Cercis+siliquastrum it is a nitrogen fixer, has edible blossoms and seed pods and useful hardwood. And with its abundant dark pink blossoms, or the clusters of reddish brown pods, it's absolutely beautiful!

Here on Crete (hardly any rain from June to September) it often grows in full sun by the roadside, but according to PFAF it's also fine with partial shade.
 
steve bossie
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planted several siberian pea shrubs as a supplement for my chickens. the seeds are very high in protein. I've read the russians got their chickens thru the winter in ww2 feeding these seeds exclusively. they are very fast growers and very drought tolerant. have mine growing in gravel.
 
pollinator
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I like seaberries quite a lot. The fruit tastes great and when they’re shaded they die. Once the productive tree you want starts to shade them seaberries lose vigor quite quickly. The leaves make a nice tea as well. I haven’t seen mine spread yet like others are saying. I also haven’t pruned them yet. That might be what triggers them to start. Most of them are growing pretty slowly except for one which is starting to rocket up. I’ll start harvesting leaves from that one this year.
 
gardener
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I really like goumi berries since they provide an edible harvest in addition to being a nitrogen fixer.

I also like California lilacs since they're an evergreen and get covered in blue flowers that pollinators just love.
 
pollinator
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I have a lot of wild autum olive that I may try to propagate further by seed, and the Black Locust and Bicolor Lespedeza from the Virginia State Forestry came up pretty well.  Will be ordering more Lespedeza in the spring, as that's done quite well in poor clay/acid dirt with very little topsoil on top of some eroded hills.  Also looked into Mark Shepard's Siberian Pea Shrub sales, but am not sure how that will do in our warmer climate.
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