Monday, May 9, 2011

Plants: Nitrogen Fixers for Temperate Climate Permaculture Forest Gardens

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants and plant growth.  Nitrogen fixing plants are also a vital component of rebuilding soil fertility with permaculture.  These plants comprise a large part of the forest garden.

As a nitrogen fixing plant grows, it creates a symbiotic relationship with bacteria.  It is an involved process, but the bottom line is that excess nitrogen is built up in the plants tissues.  When leaves fall, roots die, or gardeners prune back leaves (and drop them on the ground to decompose) the excess nitrogen is released back into the soil.  This excess nitrogen is picked up by the other plants in the area and utilized for their own growth.

When forest gardening and rebuilding soil fertility, we can surround our one producer plant (a fruit or nut tree, bush, or vine) with many nitrogen fixing plants.  As our producer grows, we can chop leaves from the nitrogen fixing plants and mulch our producer.  This feeds our producer from the top.  Also, as we cut leaves, some of the nitrogen fixing plant's roots die back as well.  This fertilizes from underground.  And all that extra organic matter continues to build the water retaining capabilities of the soil, provides food for worms, and hiding places for beneficial insects, etc.  There are just so many benefits from this.

Here is a more in-depth discussion from Wikipedia about the process:
"Nitrogen fixation is the natural process, either biological or abiotic, by which nitrogen (N2) in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia (NH3). This process is essential for life because fixed nitrogen is required to biosynthesize the basic building blocks of life, e.g., nucleotides for DNA and RNA and amino acids for proteins. Nitrogen fixation also refers to other biological conversions of nitrogen, such as its conversion to nitrogen dioxide."  (click here for the full aricle if you are really interested)

Following is a list of plants that I assembled and will continue to work on as I obtain more information.  All are nitrogen fixers that are compatible with temperate climate permaculture.  Plants are listed alphabetically by scientific name.  There are a few plants with the same common name.  Sometimes I came across multiple listings for Zones for an specific plant.  I tried to list the most common and/or reliable zone information.  Also, if only one zone is listed, then the plants are hardy to that USDA Zone.

Nitrogen Fixing Plants for Temperate Climate Permaculture

TALL TREES for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(50 feet or taller)
  1. Gray Alder, Alnus incana, Zone 2-6
  2. Black Locust,  Robnia pseudoacacia, Zone 3b
  3. Japanese Pagoda Tree, Sophora japonica, Zone 4-8

SMALL TREES AND MEDIUM-LARGE SHRUBS for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(3-50 feet tall)
  1. Prarie Acacia, Acacia angustissima, Zone 7-10
  2. Silk Tree or Mimosa, Albizzia julibrisin, Zone 6
  3. Alder,Italian, Alnus cordata, Zone 6
  4. Alder, Speckled, Alnus rugosa, Zone 2-6
  5. Alder, Smooth, Alnus serrulata, Zone 5-8
  6. False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, Zone 3
  7. Siberian Pea Shrub, Caragana arborescens, Zone 2-7
  8. Russian Pea Shrub, Caragana frutex, Zone 2-7
  9. Pygmy Pea Shrub, Caragana pygmaea, Zone 3-7
  10. Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus, Zone 6
  11. Bladder Senna, Colutea arborescens, Zone 5-7
  12. Russian Olive, Elaeagnus angustifolia, Zone 2
  13. Silverberry, Elaeagnus commutata, Zone 2-6
  14. Goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora, Zone 5-8
  15. Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, Zone 3
  16. Elaeagnus, Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Zone 6
  17. Kentucky Coffee Tree, Gymnocladus dioica, Zone 4
  18. Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, Zone 3-7
  19. Golden-chain Tree, Laburnum anagyroides, Zone 5
  20. Bush Clover, Lespedeza bicolor, Zone 4-7
  21. Bush Clover, Lespedza thunbergii, Zone 5
  22. Amur Maackia, Maackia amurensis, Zone 3-7
  23. Southern Bayberry, Myrica cerifera, Zone 6b-9
  24. Northern Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica, Zone 2-7
  25. Honeypod Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, Zone 7
  26. Bristly Locust, Robina hispida, Zone 4-8
  27. Clammy Locust, Robina viscosa, Zone 5-8
  28. Buffaloberry, Shepherdia argentea, Zone 2
  29. Canadian Buffaloberry, Shepherdia canadensis, Zone 2
  30. Spanish Broom, Spartium junceum, Zone 8

HERBACEOUS PLANTS AND SMALL SHRUBS for Temperate Climate Permaculture
(Typically under 3 feet)
  1. Dwarf Prarie Acacia, Acacia angustissima hirta, Zone 7-10
  2. Leadplant, Amorpha canescens, Zone 3
  3. Fragrant False Indigo, Amorpha nana, Zone 3-6
  4. Canadian Milkvetch, Astragalus canadensis, Zone 3-8
  5. Groundplum Milkvetch, Astragalus crassicarpus, Zone 3-8
  6. Milkvetch, Astragalus glycyphyllos, Zone 4-8
  7. Huang-Qi, Astragalus membranaceous, Zone 5
  8. Painted milkvetch, Astragalus pictus-filifolius, Zone 5
  9. Wild Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis, Zone 4-8
  10. Wild Yellow Indigo, Baptisia tinctoria, Zone 4-9
  11. New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, Zone 3b
  12. Mahala Mat, Ceanothus prostatus, Zone 7-10
  13. Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, Zone 2-6
  14. Prostate Broom, Cytisus decumbens, Zone 6-8
  15. Showy Tick Trefoil, Desmodium canadense, Zone 3-6
  16. Pointed-Leaved Tick Trefoil, Desmodium glutinosum, Zone 3-9
  17. Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala, Zone 2-4
  18. Silky-Leaf Woodowaxen, Genista pilosa, Zone 6-8
  19. Trailing Silky-Leaf Woodwaxen, Genista pilosa procumbens, Zone 6-8
  20. Arrow Broom, Genista sagittalis, Zone 3-8
  21. Dryer's Greenwood, Genista tinctoria, Zone 4-7
  22. American Licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, Zone 3-8
  23. European Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Zone 6/7
  24. Chinese Licorice, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Zone 5-9
  25. Sweet Vetch, Hedysarum boreale, Zone 3
  26. Sea Buckthorn "Dorana Dwarf", Hippophae rhamnoides cv., Zone 3-7
  27. Chinese Indigo, Indigofera decora, Zone 5
  28. Round-Headed Bush Clover, Lespedeza capitata, Zone 4-8
  29. Prostate Bird's-Foot Trefoil 'Plena', Lotus corniculatus cv., Zone 5
  30. Lupine, Lupinus species., Zone 3-9
  31. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, Zone 3
  32. Sweet Gale, Myrica gale, Zone 1-6
  33. Breadroot (Prarie Turnip), Psoralea esculenta, Zone 3-7
  34. Two-Flowered Pencil Flower, Stylosanthes biflora, Zone 5
  35. Carolina Bush Pea, Thermopsis villosa, Zone 5-8
  36. Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, Zone 3
  37. White Clover, Trifolium repens, Zone 4

VINES AND CLIMBERS for Temperate Climate Permaculture
  1. Hog Peanut, Amphicarpeaea bracteata, Zone 3-9
  2. Groundnut, Apios americana, Zone 3
  3. Fortune's Groundnut, Apios fortunei, Zone ?
  4. Price's Groundnut, Apios priceana, Zone 6
  5. Butterfly Pea, Clitoria mariana, Zone 6-9
  6. Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus maritima, Zone 3b-7
  7. Perenial (Everlasting) Pea, Lathyrus latifolius, Zone 4-9
  8. Bitter Vetch, Lathyrus linifolius var. montanus, Zone 6b
  9. Earth-Nut Pea, Lathyrus tuberosus, Zone 6b
  10. Scarlet Runner Bean, Phaseolus coccineus, Zone 9 or Annual plant
  11. Wild Bean, Phaseolus polystachios, Zone 6-10
  12. Pea, Pisum sativum, Annual plant
  13. Wild Bean, Stophostyles umbellata, Zone 6-9
  14. American Vetch, Vicia americana, Zone 3-7
  15. Wood Vetch, Vicia caroliniana, Zone 3-9
  16. Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, Zone 6
  17. Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, Zone 4-9
  18. American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens, Zone 5
  19. Kentucky Wisteria, Wisteria macrostachya, Zone 5-9

Most information for this page from Gaia's Garden and Edible Forest Gardens.


  1. You have a very interesting blog John. I wish you luck with it. I've been growing Apios, Amphicarpaea and Lathyrus tuberosus in a maritime temperate climate for a number of years. They're tasty, attractive and nitrogen fixing.
    Unless I'm mistaken, that's Stonehenge isn't it?

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  2. Thanks Rhizowen! I would love your thoughts about growing these plants.

    ...and yeah, that is Stonehenge! I had to go to England for some training and had some time to do a little site seeing. Very amazing!

  3. John, thanks so much for posting this information. I could find plenty of info on nitrogen fixing trees for the tropics but I was having a hard time finding anything on N-fixing trees for cooler climates.

    Thank you, thank you

  4. Great List! Only wish I had photos to better know these plants! Thank you-

  5. Thank you very much! I might have one to´s called miracle is a little bit more tropical, but i understood it can survive a little frost. It´s called "moringa oleifeira".
    Yes ofcourse seeing pictures would be great...but you can find everything easily on (plants for a future) or

    Good luck! thank you once more.

  6. Japanese, American, and Kentucky wisteria are listed, but not Chinese. Is that because it's invasive? I have about three acres thar have been taken over by it. I had planned to let goats take the little stuff down but have since read that it's poisonous. Does anyone have info on this? The area is beautiful in the spring and kids love swinging on the vines, but I don't want to lose any more land to it.

  7. That was an oversight on my part. But yes, Wisteria, and any fast growing nitrogen-fixing plant can be invasive... but in general, Wisteria can be more invasive than others. I do have a full article on Wisteria here:


  8. Could you please do the same listing for the Mediterranean climate?

  9. It is my understanding that the Japanese Pagoda Tree, Sophora japonica has been moved to the genus Styphnolobium because it was found that it does not fix nitrogen.

  10. Hi John, I've linked your list of nitrogen producing plants to
    This site has huge traffic and you might like to join and create mutually beneficial traffic.
    Thank you: Dale Hodgins

  11. Wow I had no idea Wisteria was a nitrogen fixer. i don't see Mesquite on your list and it is also a nitrogen fixer and very prevalent in the American south west the closer you get to Mexico.

    1. He doesn't have Mesquite because this list is for cold climates and Mesquite grows in the heat!

  12. AWESOME information source. Thank you!

  13. Hello and thank younfor this usefull info.
    What does zone reffers to? Ex.: Wisteria macrostachya, Zone 5-9


  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing this. I'm curious: is comfrey (particularly Russian comfrey, as it doesn't spread as easily) excluded on the grounds that it 'invades', or for any other particular reason?

    1. Comfrey is not a nitrogen fixer

  16. Thank you for this awesome list. I was having trouble finding much variety for zone 5. You even have species on that list that are bug rather than wind pollinated, which is important for those of us with asthmatic family members.

  17. Thank you for making this list and sharing it. I have been looking for something like this for a few days. Is there any info that you know of on how to design and plant things together that I could look up. I really want to start doing permaculture soon and I need to make a plan but I to get some education first.

  18. Thank you for your work and this valuable resource. I expect this to be an important resource for me while I am working on my first permaculture design.

    There is another characteristic that would be very useful to me- the effective range of nitrogen enhancement for various leguminous species. I have read that if grain is planted adjacent to a legume (presumably alfalfa or vetch) that the grain within 1.5-2 meters will benefit. So extrapolating from this, grain planted in 3-4 meter swaths
    will benefit from adjacent swaths of legumes.

    I would like to have similar data for various trees such as honey locust to assist me in spacing various other trees and plants in a fruit tree guild. Can you direct me to some references, or would you consider including this information of this kind in your next revision?

    1. Might wanna view some of the videos of Stefan Sobkowiak's Miracle Farms Orchard in Quebec. I just got his "Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic" which is very useful.
      I like Sea Buckthorn, as it grows to about 3' or so, and yields a remarkable berry!

    2. To Mike M Seaberry actually grows up to 12 ft high and 6-10 ft wide. It needs plenty of water for establishment and to make juicy berries but will grow in most any soil type. Its thorns are about 3 inches long so wear gloves when you harvest the berries. Some people cut off the branch for easier harvest of the berries, like chop & drop which will cause some shedding of the roots which will fix more nitrogen into the soil. Also don't forget you need separate male and female trees for pollenizing.

  19. great plan i accept your plan. It is really super

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. Honey locust is another tree. Also I believe eastern redbud and yellowwood both fix nitrogen, although not your typical legumes.

  23. Thank you for spreading awareness and I'm glad you're aware how vital nitrogen really is! I've been spreading awareness with nitrogen slogans. I;ll share some here, just let me know what you think: Nitrogen Slogans

  24. John, thought you might like to know that Oregon State University links to this article during their online Permaculture Design Course. You've become quite the resource!

  25. All the contents you mentioned in post is too good and can be very useful. I will keep it in mind, thanks for sharing the information keep updating, looking forward for more posts.Thanks Land Management

  26. Thanks for relevant and interesting info.

  27. Thank you for this! This has been super helpful for an ecology project in college.

  28. The article is good. It talks about Plants: Nitrogen Fixers for Temperate Climate Permaculture Forest Gardens. The article mentions that ‘Nitrogen is a very important nutrient for plants and plant growth. Nitrogen fixing plants are also an essential part of rebuilding soil fertility with permaculture. These plants consist of a large part of the forest garden.

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