Effectiveness of Mixed Perennial Groundcovers in Establishing Hazelnut Hedgerow Systems in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Nutwood Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Seva Water
Nutwood Farm

Information Products


  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, various perennial ground covers


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, contour farming, cover crops, forest farming, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: hedgerows
  • Pest Management: mulches - living, mulching - vegetative, physical control
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Perennial groundcovers play a critical role in the forest ecosystem, yet are rarely employed on farms modeling ecological agricultural practices. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of different combinations of woody and herbaceous perennial groundcovers as compared to a perennial living mulch "cover crop" and non-living woodchip mulch in establishing a hazelnut (Corylus spp.) hedgerow system. The groundcovers in the study have been selected for low and spreading growth habits as well as their ability to accumulate nutrients, build soil and attract beneficial insects. By trialing different combinations of these plants in four distinct patterns or "guilds," we hope to demonstrate ways to maximize the production area of a hedgerow system while delivering the most ecological benefits in an integrated productive nut farm.

    Over the course of the three-year study we will measure groundcover growth in hedgerows and interspecific effects. Each fall, we will collect soil and hazelnut leaf tissue samples from plots for nutrient and soil health analysis. We will measure the height and girth of hazelnut leader canes and root sprouts to determine groundcover system affects on growth of hazelnuts. Finally, we will observe population trends of beneficial insects.

    Results of the study will be shared via an on-farm field day, a presentation at a NOFA-MA Winter Conference, and in a published article. The project will greatly benefit small and mid-size nut and fruit orchards across the region, and contribute to the knowledge base around adapting critical permaculture techniques for ecological restoration and climate stabilization at the farm-scale.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objective of our project is to determine if using select herbaceous and woody perennial groundcovers during the establishment of hazelnut (Corylus spp.) shrubs in hedgerow plantings will decrease weed pressure competition and increase the growth, yield, and nutrient composition of the hazelnuts as compared to a non-living mulch groundcover control. Over the course of the study we will observe the spreading rates and growth habits of different combinations or "guilds" of perennial groundcovers. We will also track growth rate of hazelnut canes as well as the soil organic matter and leaf tissue concentrations of nutrients (N, K, P, Ca, Mg, Fe, Cu, B, Mn, Z) over a three-year period. If a perennial living mulch can be established successfully, the need for annual application of other organic mulch would be nearly eliminated, greatly reducing the associated labor and costs of current hedgerow maintenance. We hypothesize that if well-selected for complimentary traits, these understory plants would function together to better accumulate and cycle nutrients, build soil organic matter, decrease insect pest pressure, increase pollinator and predatory insect populations, and ultimately increase productivity.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.