Integrating edible plants into your home landscape is one of those practices that make sense on many levels. You are already maintaining a lawn and flower beds, adding fertilizer, removing weeds, watering, and expending your energy doing so. When you mix edible plants such as vegetables, herbs, greens, and fruit into your yard, you get nutrition in return for all of that hard work.
You don’t need an elaborate farming operation to grow a worthwhile amount of food in your landscape. In fact, many edible plants can be quite ornamental, and blend smoothly into a residential yard. Just follow a few simple suggestions, get started, and harvest the fruits of your labor in no time.
Edible Landscaping Benefits
Plants and seeds produce many vegetables at a fraction of grocery store costs. For example, six to eight tomatoes at the grocers will cost you about $3. That same $3 could buy one small tomato plant already growing in a 4-inch pot. That single plant can produce dozens of tomatoes in a season. For what you would pay for six tomatoes, you can grow sixty. If you grow tomatoes from seeds, the cost is even less. The same holds true for other vegetables and herbs. The more you grow, the more you save.
As Fresh as it Gets
Grocery produce has been grown miles away, and in some cases in other countries. These fruits and veggies must then be handled, packaged, shipped, stored, and displayed before you buy them. Most grocery produce is weeks old at best. Edible plants growing in your landscape allow you to go from garden to plate in minutes. Food this fresh tastes far better, lasts much longer in your kitchen, and has the maximum amount of vitamins and nutritional value. To put it simply, garden fresh is better.
A Conection With Nature
When you grow your own edible plants, you develop a close appreciation for the way nature provides. It can shift your perspective from instant gratification, to making use of what’s available now. This type of living in the moment can be relaxing and help you live in tune with the seasons. It is great for children and adults alike to see how taking care of edible plants lets the edible plants take care of you. Plus, the process of spending more time outside is always a good thing.
Control What Goes Into Your Food
When you grow edible lanscape plants, you are in control. Commercial foods are often treated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. But when you are the grower, you know exactly what has been done to your fruits, vegetables, herbs, and greens. If you choose to treat a tomato plant for a certain pest, you can pick all of your tomatoes before doing so. You can use organic fertilizer, or pull weeds by hand. You can collect rain water and mulch with leaves that would have otherwise been thrown away. In short, you are in control of your own slice of the environment, and what goes into your food is up to you.
Good Plants for an Edible Landscape
When you are ready to incorporate edible plants into your landscape, the easiest way is to work with the yard you already have. There is no need to reengineer large areas to accommodate edible plants. In fact, mixing edible plants with ornamental shrubs, flowers, and trees creates a diverse environment that is beneficial to all of the species in your garden.
For instance, if you were to grow an entire lawn of tomatoes, you would be creating a monoculture that is like a buffet for any bug that happens to love tomatoes. Large groupings of a single plant type make it easy for pests to jump from one plant to another, eating as they go. Having a mixture of flowers, vegetables, and other plants prevents many pest problems. The following is a list of some types of edible plants that can easily blend into your existing landscape.
Cabbage, Chard, Lettuce, and Radishes are great to mix into a bed of flowers or bedding plants like impatiens, marigolds, and coleus. The edible greens are not only green and some plants, like Rainbow Chard and Red Cabbage, add color and beauty all their own.
Herbs are so perfectly suited to growing in the landscape that some of them are even used as ornamental plants in their own right. Rosemary, Basil, and Lemon Grass are great for planting at the corners of a path entrance, beside a walkway, or under a tree that gives light shade at midday. Herbs are great edible plants because there is no waiting for a fruit to ripen, so you can use them right away.
Pansies, Nasturtiums, Calendula, and even some Orchids have flowers that you can eat. Imagine thrilling your guests with edible blooms to brighten up their plate. Daylily plant buds, flowers, and roots can be cooked and added to dishes, and they dress up any flower bed with their showy blooms. Mixing edible flowers in with your ferns and grasses is a fun way to grow food in your yard.
Strawberries can be grown along the edges of ornamental beds and their white flowers and red berries make a striking border. You can also grow Strawberries in a hanging basket, and pick a few juicy treats for smoothies, snacks, and salads. Strawberries require little maintenance, and fit right in with landscaped yards of any style.
Fruit trees like Navels, Grapefruit, Mandarins, Lemons, Olives, Figs, Apples, and Pears are a must-have for anyone who wants to harvest fresh food from their home landscape. Fruit trees provide shade, make habitat for birds, drop leaves for mulch, and give you fresh fruit that is both tasty and good for you. Make a citrus or other fruit tree the centerpiece to your edible landscape.
Blueberries, Currants, Bush Cherries, Pomegranates, and Gooseberries can all be grown as hedges or ornamental shrubs in your landscape. Choose a plant that grows in your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, and you can grow delicious berries in the same spot that you would otherwise have a hedge that is strictly for looks. Fruit-bearing shrubs are an excellent way to grow edible plants in the garden.
Know Your Location
Knowing what kinds of plants do well in your area gives you a head start on growing success. Here are a few things to consider before you buy your first edible plants, and begin to transform your ornamental beds into food producing terrain.
The US Department of Agriculture has divided the United States into twenty-six distinct Plant Hardiness Zones. These Zones, when paired with information provided by nurseries, plant hardiness data, or local knowledge provide a valuable framework to help gardeners select and grow plants that will thrive in their location. This may all sound complex, but the good news is you only need to know what USDA Zone your home falls within, then you can choose plants that are rated to grow in your area. Consult the USDA Zone map, make a note of what Zone your property falls into, then be sure to buy plants that can grow in the ground in that area.
One of the most important factors for successfully growing edible plants in your landscape is the amount of sunlight that the planting area gets. Different plants have different lighting requirements. Most Citrus trees do best with 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day, while some herbs prefer shade at the hottest times of the year. Know your plant’s light requirements, and scout your yard for the best planting areas.
As a general rule, most edible plants need organic material present in well-drained but not dry soil. A happy medium is a good start. In other words, avoid areas that are either bone-dry or continually soggy. Many plants have soil pH recommendations and acidity testing kits are available online or at home supply stores. It is very likely that you will never have to measure, adjust, or even worry about your soil’s pH levels. However, if your plants seem to struggle and you have done everything as far as location, light, water, and fertilizer, the underlying problem could be the soil pH. Check it and adjust if needed.
Mixing edible plants into your home landscape can be a fun and rewarding project. Doing so comes with many benefits such as controlling what goes into your food, freshness, and food quality among them. Choose edible plants that can blend into your landscape, know your area’s climate, your yard’s soil, and the spots on your property that get various levels of sunlight per day. Create a diverse environment that mixes ornamental plants with edible fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and turn your landscape into a beautiful source of food for yourself, your family, and your friends.