August 16, 2022

Creating Tiny Forests Using the Miyawaki Method

Written by Jem Ashton
Canopy of the urban forest at the mouth of Emigration Canyon Canopy of the urban forest at the mouth of Emigration Canyon Jem Ashton

The World Needs Forests

Forests are important. They are home to 80% of the globe’s wildlife population, they reduce soil erosion, lessen the impact of floods, and they remove incredible amounts of carbon-dioxide from our atmosphere, ensuring we have breathable air. The tropical forests alone store around 250 billion tons of carbon. Without forests cleaning our air, life on Earth couldn’t continue – at least not for us – but we continue to lose our forests at a concerning rate. Between 1990 and 2015, we lost 129 million hectares of forest (nearly 500,000 square miles). While deforestation has slowed, we are far from reaching a balanced, sustainable relationship with our forests. Our forests – and us in turn – will only survive if we deploy all available means to reduce deforestation and support new growth.

Afforestation – planting forests upon land previously unforested – can be a massive undertaking, but it’s one of the few things communities can do to soften the blow of global deforestation. Thanks to the late Akira Miyawaki, Japanese botanist and specialist in natural vegetation restoration, a method for afforestation has been developed that allows for small-scale, rapid forestation. This method is now commonly known as the Miyawaki Method.

The Miyawaki Method

The Miyawaki Method was developed to support the rapid growth of diverse native plant species in relatively small spaces with minimal maintenance. The method only requires a minimum space of 1000 square feet, grows ten times faster than naturally-growing forests, and the planted forest can survive nearly maintenance-free after only three years of growth. The rapid growth of Miyawaki forests is attributed to the densely-packed planting and the use of native plant species. Native species are, of course, going to be the best candidates to thrive in the selected planting location, because they’ve evolved over the course of centuries to do just that. A biodiverse selection of plants also lends itself to the long-term stability of the forest – diversity creates a layered canopy and ecological resilience. Then, being packed closely together, they’re forced into a highly competitive race to soak up the sunlight, resulting in rapid growth. After 20-30 years, the surviving plants and trees will reach heights that would have taken 150-200 years to reach in a natural process.

The resulting tiny forest is also densely-packed with benefits. In addition to supporting local biodiversity and the benefits that always come with new trees, Miyawaki forests are also 30 times better at dust and noise reduction and absorb up to 30 times more carbon-dioxide than monoculture planting projects.

Because the Miyawaki method can be applied in areas with limited land and resources while still resulting in a flourishing forest, it’s perfect for urban settings. A small parcel of land, whether it’s an empty lot or a small portion of a public park, can easily be turned into an urban forest. Urban forests are essential in mitigating the effects of climate change – both locally and globally. Our efforts on the local-scale to rehabilitate and create new forests is an important contribution to the global concerted effort to ensure a livable planet for future generations. With critical deadlines for meaningful climate action approaching quickly, we need to act quickly. Thanks to Akira Miyawaki, we have one more tool at our disposal to make swift, meaningful change.