Master Gardener: Creating an Edible Landscape | Lifestyles


Are you planning to start a vegetable garden this year or are you just looking to expand what you have?

We usually keep our vegetable gardens in raised beds or in a separate area. Fruit trees and shrubs tend to be relegated to the backyard.

If you grow strawberries, you probably have a large patch where you can keep an eye on them. You probably also have a foundation planting of beautiful ornamental shrubs, perennials and annuals.

What if we changed the way we think about our landscapes and mixed edible and ornamental plants? The incorporation of edible plants into a traditional ornamental landscape is called “edible landscaping” or “food landscaping”.

Edible landscapes become multifunctional when we combine vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, berry bushes, fruit trees and nut trees with ornamental plants. These are always meant to be visually pleasing gardens, as many edibles have ornamental qualities such as colorful fruits and foliage.

Any style of garden can become an edible garden. Gardens may have just a few edibles or many.

Adding edibles can give you a greater choice of textures, shapes, and colors than a typical ornamental landscape.

There are many reasons to include edible plants in the landscape. You can taste fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness.

You will know what pesticides were used, if any.

This is a great opportunity to grow unusual varieties that you won’t find at the local grocery store. You might even save money on your grocery bill.

Do your research before adding edibles. Choose plants suited to your area and learn how to care for them. Like ornamentals, edibles require some maintenance and grow best in certain conditions.

Identify areas that receive enough light as many fruits and vegetables need at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Most also grow best in well-drained soils.

You can reduce some maintenance work by planting “the right plant in the right place”.

All plants will need fertilizer/compost and water, as well as monitoring for pest problems. Use disease resistant plants when available.

Most fruit trees will need annual pruning. In established gardens, you can start by interspersing edible plants among existing landscape plants.

Need a new shade tree? Then consider a tree that will also bear fruit or nuts.

Plant a blueberry, blackcurrant bush, or hazelnut tree instead of a deciduous shrub. Add edible flowers such as nasturtium, daylily, borage, violet and calendula.

Be sure to positively identify the flowers and confirm that they are non-poisonous before eating them.

Some perennial herbs, such as oregano, can act as ground covers and attract pollinators to your garden. Native wild strawberries also make an excellent ground cover and provide sweet berries.

Replace bedding annuals with leafy greens like kale, lettuce or Swiss chard.

One thing to keep in mind when designing an edible landscape is the seasonal nature of many fruits and vegetables. Plus, the occasional time there will be bare patches or reduced color due to transplanting, harvesting, or cultivating the soil.

Look for vegetables that have colorful foliage throughout the season. Line a garden path with herbs and vegetables for fragrance, color and a delicious harvest all summer long.

How about an edible border of colorful lettuce? Climbing bean varieties can replace morning glories growing on a fence.

Create a border of fragrant, colorful and flavorful basils.

Fruit trees can function as beautiful, flowering shade trees, with the added bonus of fresh fruit. Pollinators also love them in bloom.

When planting fruit trees, remember that some need at least two trees of different varieties to bear fruit. If you don’t have room for two, look for self-pollinating strains.

Check to see if your neighbor has a suitable cultivar a few hundred feet away. Consider adding a native tree or shrub that will not only provide fruit and nuts, but may also help native wildlife.

American persimmon, serviceberry, beach plum, elderberry, and papaya are all productive natives.

Choose the right tree for the right location. Nut trees, such as walnuts, reach 50 feet or more at maturity, while dwarf apples can only reach 10 feet tall.

Find the size that will best suit your space. Some dwarf trees even adapt well to containers.

To extend your season, plant varieties that ripen early, mid and late in the season.

Does the tree you are considering usually drop a lot of fruit or nuts? Plant these trees away from decks, patios, walkways, and sitting areas so you don’t have dropped fruit that stains items, gets underfoot, or attracts unwanted guests.

A word of caution if you use a lawn service or landscape company. Pesticides used on lawns and ornamental plants may not be labeled for edible plants.

You also don’t want them to be mistaken for weeds and sprayed or pulled out. Reducing the use of pesticides will help preserve pollinators and other beneficial insects that are attracted to your flowers and edibles.

Edible landscaping offers an alternative to conventional ornamental landscapes. The possibilities for edible landscaping are endless.

By incorporating edible plants into your home landscape, you can develop a beautiful and productive landscape that will help feed your family with fresh food throughout the growing season.

A gardening question?

Volunteer Master Gardeners are normally in the office from 10 a.m. to noon on weekdays. You can stop by the CCE office at 420 E. Main St., Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or email [email protected]

Our next Garden Talk will take place Thursday noon on Zoom. It will be “Plants of Shakespeare” with master gardener Connie B.

Although Shakespeare was probably not a gardener, he made constant reference to plants in his plays and sonnets. This program will focus on plants found in Shakespeare’s literary works, as well as plants popular in Elizabethan gardens and folklore.

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