Acacia Saligna – one example of a good nitrogen fixer, fast growing and very drought tolerant. photo from flickr
Pioneer plants are key in establishing new gardens. They play an important role in building fertility, stabilising the soil, and providing the environmental conditions that allow a biodiverse ecosystem to develop. Pioneer species are typically fast growing, and are ideally suited to the climate and conditions of a site. Choosing the right species for where you live can speed up and aid the development of a new organic garden, or in restoration of degraded land.
Choosing Fast-Growing Native Species
The first thing to think about when choosing pioneer trees and other pioneer plants for your garden is what already grows well in your area. Native species are adapted to the climate and conditions and so can often thrive even where non-native plants cannot.
Obviously, the plants you choose in a temperate woodland environment, for example, will be very different to those you will choose in a tropical rainforest setting, or in a desert. So it is not possible to provide a list of pioneer plants for all sites. But wherever you live, looking at a list of native species and considering their properties is always a good place to start.
Choosing Nitrogen Fixing Trees and Plants
The most valuable pioneer plants for almost any setting are those that can aid in nitrogen fixation. From alders and leguminous trees and plants in temperate climes, to acacias and other species in arid zones, there are a range of pioneer trees and plants that have beneficial bacteria in root nodules that take nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil.
Choosing Deep Rooted Trees and Plants To Stabilise the Soil
Other helpful pioneer trees and pioneer plants are those that have deep roots. Deep rooted plants are beneficial because the roots help to stabilise soil, improve soil aeration and prevent soil erosion. Deeper rooted species can also be beneficial in drawing water and nutrients from deeper below the ground, and also for storing water in the landscape.
Choosing Trees and Plants to Provide Organic Matter To Create Humus/ Mulches
These pioneer trees and plants not only help to store and replenish soil nutrients on degraded land. They can also provide a steady stream of organic material that can be used as mulch to replenish nutrients and build humus around the garden as it becomes more established. Since they are fast growing, they can provide a significant quantity of organic matter that will help you to improve the soil all over the site and begin the road to a fertile and productive garden.
If we are faced with a de-vegetated or bleak site, it can be difficult to know where to start when creating a garden. Placing pioneer trees and other plants is an important first step. These will grow relatively quickly, providing shelter and support for further trees and plants that you add. These pioneer plants may later be superseded by other useful plants – but without them, you may not be able to create your garden as effectively or as quickly.