(Pawpaw fruit on tree)
Most native trees are very hardy, do not need much pruning or maintenance, self-sow (send up suckers or shoots), are self pollinating (unless otherwise listed), and offer either food, medicine, or material use-- often all three-- as well as provide habitat and food for pollinators and wildlife.
Most trees will do well if they have mostly full sun, receive water during droughts, and observed for any problems over the seasons. There are varying growing considerations for each tree, and while a tree will grow great (protected by a tree cage) in the middle of an open lawn, we recommend considering “guilds” or food forests. This is planting trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables, and fruits in a way that helps each species grow, takes into consideration the height, spread, and harvest of each plant, and builds up the soil instead of depleting it. Think of it like every plant has a job, helps another plant, and provides food or medicine. Read an example of this by exploring yarrow, an herb with many uses in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and the soil.
Perennial natives and exotics can play multiple roles -- food, nutritious soil builders, living mulch that holds moisture. Interplanting saves space, builds soil, and makes more food.
In a guild, as trees grow and mature, gardeners can consider understory plantings of shrubs, herbs, and flowers that act as a living mulch by retaining moisture, often project from pests, encourage pollination, and eliminate useless lawns/grass. All of the trees listed will grow well together, but spacing and design is important for adequate growing conditions (plant tallest growing trees where they won’t block sun of shorter growing trees and plants). There are millions of resources to learn about this, but a lot can be done with observation, knowing the plants characteristics, a little common sense, and practice.
Finally, these are teeny, tiny baby trees. They’ll mostly just need kept from trampling or pests eating them the first year or two. They’ll mostly grow several feet per year. Some can be trained/pruned to distinct shapes, even living fences! Others are tall growing trees we associate with forests and should be used on northern and eastern edges. The trees will take years before we see harvests. Growing conditions (soil, light, air, moisture) all affect output. Consider the trees as part of a long term investment in food security, recapturing lost knowledge of subsistence living practices within medicinal, food, and other practical uses, and developing an understanding of symbiotic relationships in growing food, especially in urban centers, food deserts, and for sustainable living.
How to Plant the Trees
Trees should be planted right into the soil immediately. You’ll need to dig a large hole, keeping the soil next to it. Puncture the side walls of the hole with a pitchfork or spade. Spread tree roots out, like opening your hand and setting it on the soil. The last two steps encourages roots them to grow out and down (instead of staying balled under/round tree base). Add a few handfuls of compost and soil amendments, then backfill with original soil -- otherwise the trees roots may stay bound to the “nicer” soil and this makes a weaker tree (more susceptible to storm damage). It is wise to mulch the tree with wood chips (which anyone can request for free from your city and/or Ameren / power companies). However, leave a foot or so of space around the trees to discourage voles and rot.
Water during dry spells heavy, and infrequently (an amount equal to a 5 gallon bucket once per week should be sufficient during months with no rain). Trees prefer deep, thorough watering that is infrequent opposed to light, frequent watering, and they should not typically require water during seasons with typical precipitation.
Protect trees with some sort of tree cage. We’ll be provided modified 2L pop bottles
which can later be removed and replaced if needed. Other DIY cages can
be made with 1” wire fencing, or plastic fencing, stapled to a 1x1, wrapped around the tree base. The purpose of the cage is to protect the tree from small rodents that find the babies delicious, rogue weed eaters/lawn mowers, and later from deer.
Midwest Permaculture Plants https://midwestpermaculture.com/80-favorite-plants-permaculture-guilds-midwest/
Plant Guild Examples https://midwestpermaculture.com/2013/04/plant-guilds/
Sheet Mulching for transforming lawn to garden https://www.ecolandscaping.org/03/mulching/sheet-mulching/