10 Ideas for Growing an Edible Landscape
Incorporate tasty fruits, herbs and vegetables into edible home landscaping.
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To make the best use of a small yard or simply get more bang for your buck, consider edible landscaping. It’s a way to beautify areas around your home with groundcover, shrubs and trees while also growing fruits and vegetables for delicious harvests.
Any number of perennial herbs can be used in the front of gardens, or along paths and foundations. They release heady fragrances when you brush past them and add flavor to your salads and marinades. Tiny-leafed thyme, lemon thyme, mint and oregano spread nicely and grow six to 12 inches high. Choose variegated leaves for more visual contrast or mix in annuals such as purple basil. Perennial chives shoot up lavender or white spheres of tiny blossoms.
Try alpine, traditional early-summer or ever-bearing strawberry plants such as quinault (best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9) or Ozark beauty (Zones 4 through 8). They provide a pretty groundcover or edging with leaves that blush red in autumn.
For vegetables that add vibrant color and lush texture to your landscape (and salads!), look for purple and white kale (also called ornamental cabbage) that can be planted early in the spring or in the fall to replace annuals as cooler weather arrives. Other good candidates include red-leaf lettuce and the rainbow of colors with “bright lights” Swiss chard.
Ideal as a hedge or ornamental shrub, highbush blueberries can grow four to 10 feet throughout the country. Look for cultivars designated for the South if you’re in a mild-winter climate. Highbush blueberries can be bordered by lowbush blueberry shrubs (usually six inches to a foot tall) for more berries and an extended harvest. Blueberries do need slightly acidic soil to ensure a prolific harvest.
Translucent red currants look like jewels when the sun shines through the dense clusters of these shrubs that grow from three to six feet and can grow in even the northern tier of states. They may be too tart for many people to eat fresh, but they transform into beautiful jellies, syrups and wine and will also draw wildlife. Currant shrubs can also bear milder champagne- or pink-colored berries or richly flavored black currants.
Nanking bush cherries explode into a showy display of spring flowers and glossy tart cherries by summer. They’re smaller than sweet cherries, but still tasty and hardy to Zone 3. If you have room for a cherry tree, Montmorency tart cherries (Zones 4 through 7) offer more blooms and more fruit for pies, jams and desserts.
These fruits (also known has serviceberry or Saskatoon) resemble blueberries and similarly delicious in pies, cobblers and jams. Best of all, they are super hardy trees, growing well in Zone 8 all the way to Zone 2 (north of the U.S. border). Bonus: The leaves provide good fall color.
For something more unusual, try the pawpaw. It sports eight-inch to foot-long glossy leaves and mango-like tropical-tasting fruit that’s native but often overlooked. The soft fruit needs to be tree-ripened and doesn’t store well. Slice the fruit and scoop around the seeds for fresh eating. Make a sorbet or add it to yogurt, puddings and smoothies during harvest season from late summer to early autumn. The tree can grow in milder climates (Zones 5A to 8) and reach up to 25 feet tall.
Seek unique varieties you typically won’t find in supermarkets, such as petite Seckel (also known as sugar pears, Zones 5 to 8) and Comice, an ornamental pear tree originally from France (Zones 4 to 9). With pears and apples, look for dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees to save space and to make harvest time easier. Some varieties of pear do best when there are two or three trees for better pollination.
Because there are more than 2,000 apple varieties to choose from in the United States alone, check with local orchards to help decide on the best varieties for your area. If you like tart or sweet, choose snappy eating apples like Honeycrisp (Zones 3 to 6). For cider and baking, consider varieties such as heirloom Gravensteins (Zones 2 to 9) or Macintosh.