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Garden Topics: Create an Edible Landscape

It’s a common dilemma among homeowners with limited space. Do I plant a pretty garden or an edible garden? There's really no need to choose. You can have both.

The nice thing about fruiting plants is that can be quite attractive and interesting additions to the home landscape. In addition to a practical role in providing  food, they can be used as specimen plants, groundcovers, and in foundation and border plantings.

Many display vibrant fall foliage, interesting forms and texture in addition to beautiful spring blooms.

Fruit bearing plants include a variety of shapes too: weeping mulberry, spreading hazelnut, hedge like blueberries, currents and raspberries, espaliered apples & pears, and grape and kiwi vines growing on upright supports. Interspersing a variety of shapes helps ensure visual interest throughout the year, to include winter. Come fall, the real bounty arrives with everything from nuts and apples to more unique offerings such as pawpaw.

Landscape Design Principles

Fruit plants can be incorporated into the landscape by following standard design principles. Think of your landscape as a series of outdoor rooms that may include a public entry area, service or work area, and a restricted or private space. Fruit plants should be placed in the landscape to be in unity with other elements. Think of unity in terms of form, size, color, leaf, and branch texture. Plant small fruit plants such as currant, blueberries, and raspberries in beds of three, five, seven, etc. Repeat elements in the landscape and balance or equalize design elements.

Consider also, there are many larger landscape plants that have edible fruit such as Serviceberry, Cornus Dogwood, blackhaw viburnum, and Quince.

Some fruit plants can also function as specimen plants (key focal landscape points) in the landscape. Sour cherry, peaches, and certain cultivars of apple or pear are plants that have strong, firm lines and structure. With edible plants, the main goal is a diversity of food on your table and not just the look of your yard. However, adding edibles to your design provides a greater mixture of textures, forms, and colors than a typical ornamental landscape. In order to counterbalance this mix of plants, it helps to almost overemphasize the line and structure of your landscaping elements.

A design consideration with edibles is the seasonal nature of the color-flowers; fruit, and or foliage-and occasional times of reduced drama due to transplanting, harvesting, and soil cultivation. During these times, the importance of strong lines, as defined by pathways, patios, planters, hedges, evergreens, and structures, becomes evident. Long curving beds or inter-plantings of colorful flowering plants, edible or not, also help tie the design together and provide accents to intrigue your eye. Edible landscaping is more than just planting edibles. Without the backbone of an integrated design, an edible landscape can become just another scraggly vegetable patch.

Example of an Editable Fruit Garden

When we look at this backyard patio, one could assume that the plants are typical of those found in most landscapes. They may be, but they don’t have to be. The trees, hedges, vines, container plants, and groundcover could all just as easily be editable plants.  Note also how the hardscape defines, and holds the whole design together. It is obvious that this is not just another scraggly editable garden.

Foundation, Bed, and Border Planting

Currants, gooseberries, blueberries, and elderberries can be effectively used in bed and border plantings. Blackberries and raspberries are effective where traffic control is important.

Some edible plants can be used effectively in shady landscape in situations where azaleas and rhododendrons can be grown.

Being acid-loving, blueberries require an acid soil (pH 4.2 to 5.2) and should be sited in full sun for best quality. Blueberries have especially attractive foliage, bloom, fall color, and twig structure and are a good source of fruit.

In sunny locations, strawberry plants can create a nice groundcover. Berry bushes can replace ornamental shrubs, and dwarf fruit trees provide the spring color and summer shade.

Espalier Apple  or Pear Tree

Trees Espalier denotes a trellis or lattice, usually made of wood, on which trees or shrubs may be trained to grow in a flattened form against a wall, along a fence or on a trellis. The word is also applied to a tree or a shrub that has been so trained. Espalier training is particularly advantageous for use with fruit trees in places where space for trees of ordinary size and shape is not available. Espalier apple trees are usually propagated on dwarfing rootstocks.

Advantages of this method of growing fruit trees, in addition to requiring less space, are:

  • Trees begin to flower and bear fruit earlier.
  • Trees are easier to spray, prune, and harvest.
  • Fruit is generally highly colored and above average in size. Fruit tree cultivars have different ripening dates, and several may be grown in the space usually occupied by one standard tree. In addition, espalier fruit trees are unique in appearance and form and are usually very attractive.

Other Considerations

Many of the fruit bearing plants need the cross-pollination of another cultivar to ensure good fruit production. For example, if planting blueberries Blueray and Bluecrop could be two of your choices. With larger plant such as hazelnut, simply plant two or more cultivars in the same hole, and let them develop into one shrub. Most fruit bearing plants will require a full-sun location and good soil drainage for the maximum production of high-quality fruit with minimum insect and disease problems.

Edible Landscape Plant List

Apple, standard and espalier (Malus), Red Rome, Gala, Golden Delicious- Zone 3
Blackberry (Rubus) Prime Jan, Triple Crown Thornless –Zone 5
Blueberry (Vaccinium), Blueray, Bluecrop, Bluejay, Bluegold- Zone 5
Cherry, sweet (Prunus) Sweet Heart, Black Gold, White Gold- Zone 5
Cherry, sour (Prunus), Montgomery-Zone 5
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Canada Red -Zone 3
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) - Zone 5
Currant (Ribes) Hinnomaki Red -Zone 4
Elderberry (Sambucus) Zone 4
Grape (Vitis) Reliance or Concord- Zone 4
Hazelnut (Corylus americana) - Zone 4
Jerusalem artichoke (helianthus tuberosus) - Zone 5
Kiwi (kolomicta) Red Beauty- Zone 4
Nectarine (Prunus) Honey Glo miniature –Zone 5
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), -Zone 5
Peach (Prunus) Cresthaven, Reliance, Sensation Miniature - Zone 5
Pear, standard and espalier (Pyrus) Red Bartlett, Bartlett, Boss Espalier - Zone 5
Plum (Prunus), Stanley, Santa Rosa, Beach Plum - Zone 5
Quince (Chaenomeles) - Zone 3
Raspberry, red (Rubus) Heritage red, Anne gold - Zone 4
Raspberry, black (Rubus) Jewel, Bristol - Zone 4
Rhubarb (Rhuem) Canadian Red, Victoria - Zone 3
Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) - Zone 2
Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Cole, Autumn Brilliance -Zone 3
Strawberry (Fragaria) Earlyglow, Alpine - Zone 4
Viburnum, blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium) - Zone 3
Weeping mulberry (Mores alba) - Zone 4   


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Edible Landscape Edible Landscape Landscape Design Principles Edible Landscape Patio Furniture Blueberries in fall color Columnar or Pole Apple Espalier Apple Decorative Dwarf Apple Tree