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Updated : 21/9/2014

Mini Forest

Types of miniature forests

1 Plant a miniature forest for people - one through which you can walk from your front door to your garden gate, or in a quiet corner where you can relax. 

2 Plant a miniature forest for birds. In this case you don't need to have paths or walkways in-between. You would plant this kind of informal forest in your backyard, rather than your front garden, and you'll need an area of about four to five square meters for it. Choose trees that bear berries or fruit and plant indigenous grass types under the trees to lure the seedeaters. Place a birdbath in the forest and one or two woodpecker nests against the trees as soon as the trunks are thick enough. 

3 Plant a forest as a focal point. You may need as little as only five to seven trees grouped together for this purpose. Small trees look beautiful if you plant one species closely together. There is no space for a pathway between the trees-in a focal forest. Small forests like these are popular in modern city gardens. Just remember one design rule - plant an uneven number of trees in a group. 

4 Plant a forest in narrow alleys. Use a strip between your house and the boundary wall. Use trees with small crowns such as the leopard (Caesalpinia ferrea) or poplar (Populus simonii 'Fastigiata') trees. 

One of the most popular trees to plant in your garden for a miniature forest, is the silver birch (Betula pendula). 

Tips for miniature forests 

Buy your trees as large as you can afford, or else you'll have to wait many years before you can enjoy your forest. Try not to buy trees smaller than the 40-liter size. This can cost you between R 150 and R600 per tree. The 20-liter size trees are also quite large already, but then you have to choose the tallest trees with the thickest trunks. 

Plant the trees in a group, about one to two meters apart, depending on the space available. The trees should not be spaced too far apart. Don't be scared to plant trees with rather large crowns close to each other as well, since the crowns will grow into each other and then form one large crown. 

Use two handfuls of bone meal and super-phosphate each when preparing planting holes. Add half a bag of compost per tree to give your tree a decent running start.

Prune the bottom branches away so you can walk through the mini forest and also be able to see the trunks. Most trees and large shrubs will grow branches as low as the ground if you don't give a hand with their shaping. There are quite a number of trees that will actually be medium-sized shrubs if you don't prune away the side branches or extra trunks. If you would like to retain the side branches of perhaps the silver birch or the flowering prune, you have to plant the trees two meters apart. You will obviously need a larger area for your forest as well.

Pathways in mini forests

A meandering path through a miniature forest immediately draws the eye in deeper into the trees. A pathway can wind all the way through a group of trees or it can lead to a tranquil sitting area inside the mini forest. Pathways between trees can be made of stepping stones, gravel, small pebbles, tree bark, peanut or Macadamia shells. Dig the path about 5cm deeper than the bed and make it as even as possible. Cover the soil with weed matting if you are concerned that weeds may appear in future. Now you can scatter the material (gravel, pebbles or whatever you are using) on top and rake it even. The path does not have to be wide - about 80cm, it can be snugly bordered by tree trunks.

If there is a bench in your forest, it's a good idea to scatter the same material as in the pathway under the bench as well. Depending if you have the space, you can make a circle for your bench in the centre of the forest. If the forest is in a corner of the garden up against the boundary walls, you can place the bench against a wall at the back of the forest. Pay attention to the space around the trunks of the trees. If you planted the forest in your lawn you have to take care not to damage the trunk with a weedeater. The tree uses a thin layer just below the bark to draw up water from the soil, so it can easily die if you keep on damaging the bark in the same spot around its trunk.

1 Altogether ten pom pom trees (Dais cotinifo/ia) were planted in our forest. The pom pom is an indigenous tree with large oval-shaped leaves and pink flower balls. In full bloom the tree looks like a giant stick of candyfloss.

2 A row of hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) was planted on the edge of the forest. This will form a beautiful plant screen as the shrubs become fuller and older.

3 The indigenous Freylinia tropica is an upright-growing, slender shrub that bears mauve flowers almost all year round. It does well in a forest that also contains plant beds.

4 Ornamental grasses look attractive in a forest with beds. This indigenous grass, Anthericum saundersiae, with its white flowers lures birds and is happy in full sun or shade. Our forest also contains other Carex grass types, such as Carex hachijoensis 'Evergold', Carex 'Brown', Carex morrowii 'Variegata', Carex 'Bronco' and Carex 'Green'.

5 Slender shrubs with long stems look good in a forest, therefore we planted the fernleaved lavenders (Lavandu/a Pterostoechas).

6 This indigenous grass-like bulbous plant with blue flowers, Babiana disticha, was planted along with the other grass types. It is related to the baboon flower and the wine cup and all originate from the Cape.

7 The nasturtiums (Tropaeo/um majus) were in the bed beforehand. They sow themselves all over the show and as are eager creepers, they cover all the open spots. The crane's bill, Geranium sanguineum, is another plant that sows itself everywhere and fills the beds.

8 To enhance the feeling of a forest even more, the wild strawberry or Alpine strawberry, Fragaria vesca, was planted all along the border of the beds. This strawberry is extremely fragrant and tasty and it bears fruit all year round.


Indigenous Trees

 Exotic Trees

  1. Silver birch
    (Betula pendula) 
  2. Bauhinia blakeana 
  3. Flowering plum
    (Prunus cerasifera)
  4.  Australian jamboree
    (Syzygium paniculatum) 
  5. Flowering apple
    (Malus x scheideckert) 
  6. Golden melaleuca
    (Melaleuca bracteata 'Johannesburg Gold') 
  1. Olive tree
    (Olea europaea) 
  2. Liquid amber
    (Liquidambar styraciffua) 
  3. Chinese maple
    (Acer buergerianum) 
  4. Flowering cherry
    (Prunus x blireana) 
  5. Flowering peach
    (Prunus persica) 
  6. Japanese flowering apple
    (Malus floribunda)
  1. Henkel's yellowwood
    (Podocarpus henkelil)
  2. Leopard tree
    (Caesalpinia ferrea)
  3. Sneezewood
    (Ptaeroxylon obliquum)
  4. Wild pear
    (Oombeya rolundifolia)
  5. Willow Bosvaderlandswilg
    (Combletum kraussit)



More indigenous trees for your forest

More exotic trees for your forest

  •  Forest elder (Nuxia floribunda)
  • Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) 
  • Tree wistaria (Bolusanthus speciosus)
  • Coastal wild sage (Brachylaena discolor)
  • False olive tree (Buddleja saligna)
  • Turkey berry (Canthium inerme) 
  • Cabbage tree (Cussonia spicata) 
  • Pom pom tree (Dais cotinifolia)
  • Cape ash (Ekebergia capensis) 
  • Lavender tree (Heteropyxis natalensis) 
  • Wild syringa (Kirkia wiimsih)
  • Round-leaved teak (Pterocarpus rotundifolius)
  • South African beech (Rapanea melanophloeos)
  • Cape willow (Salix mucronata)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) 
  • Pink siris (Albizia julibrissin) 
  • Weeping bottlebrush tree (Callistemon viminalis'McCaskill') 


  • Indian laburnum (Cassia fistula) 
  • Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis) 
  • Poplar (Populus simonii 'Fastigiata')


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