Are you one of those people that always says you’ll get around to growing a garden, but then you find that there’s always something keeping you from it?
Maybe you just feel like you don’t have enough space. Or maybe you are exhausted after maintaining the requisite landscaping to keep up with the Joneses. Or maybe your HOA says they don’t allow a garden.
Well, there’s good news if you just think outside the box. You don’t have to leave the edible plants in your vegetable garden. You can successfully produce good food in small spaces in your landscaping without sacrificing beauty and aesthetics.
Edible Landscaping is a Viable Alternative to the Usual
While there are many creative ways to incorporate edible plantings in your landscaping, we offer you these interesting and attractive alternatives to the standard. Now your landscaping will do double duty and your friends will be impressed.
Ground covers and low plants
It may surprise you to consider strawberries in your landscape beds, but strawberry plants have a lovely dark green foliage that will cover your mulch and compliment your other plantings. Delicate white flowers appear in spring and luscious, red fruits in summer.
If allowed to send out their runners, strawberries will spread under your taller plants and reinvigorate themselves, or you can control them easily by snipping off the obvious runners. Greenery will die back in winter while you cover with mulch and then in spring will reappear fresh and green again.
A particularly hardy variety for landscaping is the Alpine strawberry, with a sharp and intense berry flavor.
While not perennial, sweet potatoes are a super addition to your edible landscaping project. With so many varieties, the leaves come in many different colors and shapes to add zing and variety to your color palette. These will also create a thick and vibrant ground cover under your low plants.
In the loose, well-drained soil of your landscaping beds, you’ll be able to harvest the tubers at the end of the season and cover again with mulch for the winter. As a bonus, the leaves of the sweet potato plant are also edible.
Herbs: Thyme, Marjoram and Oregano
These aromatic plants can also make a pleasant and fragrant ground cover or low planting in Zones 4 through 10. They will reach an average height of 12 to 15 inches and produce small, delicate blooms in summer.
Varying in color from light green to variegated dark green, the tiny to medium-sized leaves will spread interestingly under larger plantings or throughout a rock garden.
They can operate as edging for your walkways, or can be grown in containers or hanging pots on your patio, deck or porch. A few cuttings of these will make nice additions to your culinary repertoire.
Many herbs can be successful in your landscaping beds, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
This is a low-growing, evergreen shrub that produces small white blooms and bright red fruits. It reaches only 4 to 6 inches in height so is excellent as a low planting. The leaves retain color throughout the year, showing shiny green in the growing season turning red to bronze in winter.
Leaves and stems can be made into a fragrant tea, while berries can be eaten for a distinct wintergreen flavor. Leaves can be fermented and wintergreen extracted in oil.
Wintergreen can thrive in Zones 3 through 8. It enjoys light to full shade and produces best in areas of cooler summers.
Growing to a height of only four to eight feet, these robust bushes can hold their own as a feature of your front landscaping beds, especially near the house. With moderately dense foliage of a rich dark green color, they flower with small sweet-smelling white or pink blossoms in spring.
In mid-summer, they produce small sweet cherries, often as early as the first year of planting. These hardy bushes are not always self-fertile, so a pair of them would be ideal to assure fruits will appear.
A particularly good variety of bush cherries is Nanking, producing early and heavily. They can even be grown in large pots on your deck or patio.
Blueberries are a very attractive ornamental bush, with dwarf varieties at two to four feet and standards gaining heights of six to ten feet, with shiny bay-like leaves and flowers much like lilies of the valley.
They are agreeable plants and will grow easily without spraying. They do like an acid soil. They can produce blueberries anywhere from May to November depending on variety.
Excellent either for in the landscaping beds or for a wall planting or hedgerow, their leaves turn a vivid red in the Fall and they generally hold their leaves into December.
A popular variety for its ornamental qualities is the Premier. Excellent fruit flavors can be found in the Bluecrop and Jersey varieties. Check for the appropriate variety for your growing zone before choosing.
If you have a deck or pergola, grape vines can be the most beautiful addition to these structures and to your kitchen as well. Grape vines provide lovely foliage as well as the woodsy look of the vines and curly tendrils.
They can be trained to grow up your
deck posts and over your pergola and the grapes can hang down among
Grapes take a little effort to get started, but once begun, they only need a bit of pruning to keep them neat and tidy and producing.
Grape hardiness varies from region to region and different varieties will work better for different locations, so be sure to consider before choosing your grape plants. You might want to check with a local vineyard for good advice on what works well for the home grower in your area.
Winter Hardy Kiwi
Another option for a vining plant for your structure would be the Winter Hardy Kiwi. Unlike the more familiar tropical fuzzy kiwi, the Winter Hardy Kiwi has a smooth green skin that is edible. Many people prefer the flavor of this kiwi after having tasted it.
The Winter Hardy Kiwi has a vining habit with heart-shaped green or variegated green/white and pink leaves. It can reach a height of twenty feet.
This kiwi blooms in April and fruits ripen from late summer through late Fall depending on variety and location. Once established, plants can produce very vigorously. The Hardy Kiwi requires a male and a female to fruit, but one male can pollinate up to 5 female plants.
This especially lovely climbing plant weighs very little and can easily be trellised. Vibrant, dense light green foliage is joined by spectacular white and purple blooms that boast a unique and ornate centerpiece.
The fruits consist of small green globes and may be firm, juicy and edible or pithy and inedible depending on variety, so be sure to consider your variety before purchase.
In any case, the young leaves can be used to make tea. The leaves of passiflora incarnata make a flavorful tea that is useful for calming anxiety and alleviating insomnia among other health benefits.
While you might not consider fruit or nut trees for your landscaping, there are really many possibilities here. Since there are quite a few specific trees that would fit this category, we will rather discuss the general ideas involved in adding small fruit trees to your landscaping.
Dwarf or Pruned Fruit Trees
There are quite a number of fruit trees that can be purchased in dwarf varieties that only reach four to six feet tall. Apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines and more. These can be easily ordered online or your local nursery may even carry these seasonally.
Alternatively, you can heavily prune a young standard fruit tree to retain a smaller stature. This must be begun when the tree is young so that not too much is pruned at once.
Another way to have fruit trees in your landscaping is to use a pruning technique called espalier. With this method, you can plant your tree very close to the foundation of your house or next to a wall. Then, as the tree grows, you attach it to the wall and prune it flat or two-dimensionally against the structure.
In this way, you have a productive tree that requires very little room. Often, the tree will be more productive than its cousin out in the open because it will benefit from the windbreak and extra warmth from the house or wall.
Another way to get the most out of your landscape space and maximize variety is to plant a small fruit tree that has multiple varieties of fruit grafted on the same rootstock. On a hardy rootstock, you can be eating peaches, plums and nectarines from the same tree.
One distinct advantage to multi-grafted trees is that you get the benefit of cross pollination of your fruits without having multiple trees.
If you don’t know how to graft yourself, you can often purchase these types of trees from reputable online nurseries.
Yaupon Holly and Weeping Yaupon Holly are an excellent choice for you if you live in Zone 7 or higher. These evergreens maintain a small and interesting growing habit that will suit your aesthetics in your landscaping beds and keep some color year round.
The female Yaupon Holly produces beautiful red berries that are completely edible and make a refreshing drink. If you have a caffeine habit, they will satisfy as they contain more caffeine by weight than coffee beans or green tea. Related to yerba mate, Yaupon Holly is also high in antioxidants.
Bonus: For the yard
The Dwarf Mulberry can be a strong addition to your edible landscaping repertoire. More like a large bush, the dwarf mulberry can grow more than 10 feet tall but can be pruned to maintain a smaller growing habit. It can also be grown in a container and kept under 6 feet tall.
The verdant, light green leaves are quite dense. The fruit is dark and heavy and can be prepared in much the same way as a blackberry. The mulberry fruit is said to have many health benefits including immunity support.
You will want to locate your mulberry away from walkways and patios so that any dropped fruit does not stain surfaces.
Peppermint, Spearmint, Lemon Balm, Bee Balm to name a few. All these are very fragrant, decorative choices for unused corners of your yard.
Not only do these plants make yummy garnishes, cocktails and teas, they are also visually lovely, with vibrant greens and beautiful flowers. And, as a bonus, they will attract honeybees, so necessary to the pollination of all your food and flowering plants.
And you need not be afraid to plant these in your yard. While they are not best for the loose, rich soil of your landscaping beds, they are not the monster invasives that you might think.
They spread much the same as grass, just under the soil surface. Thus you can put them around the perimeter of your yard and either use landscape edging, submerged a few inches or you can just mow down the edges. We have great success just trimming around them with a string trimmer and they never take over the yard.
Just the tip of the iceberg
As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities to make your landscaping do double-duty. Many plants can beautiful your surroundings while producing food for you and your family. We’ve only really touched lightly on the possibilities and perhaps we’ll cover more possibilities in the future.
In the meantime, just get creative and think a little differently than you have before. Many edible plants have beautiful leaves and flowers. There’s a whole world of edible landscaping out there waiting for you to discover!
Share your ideas!
If you have incorporated food-bearing plants in your landscaping or as decorative alternatives to traditional plantings, let us know in the comments.
Or if you have any questions or thoughts for future articles, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a message below.
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