Planting an urban landscape you can eat

Question: My neighbor said she wants to plant edible landscaping this year to spruce up her front yard, but I’ve never heard of doing that. Is it true you can eat your landscape bushes?

Answer: Yes, but it depends on what bushes you are talking about!

It seems that your neighbor is embracing a growing trend in gardening that allows people to both beautify their homes and grow delicious, healthy foods. Edible landscaping involves growing food-producing plants in residential landscapes. Designs can include berry bushes, fruit and nut trees, edible flowers, fruiting vines, vegetables, and herbs.

“People have a renewed interest in growing plants that not only look nice but also can be used for food,” said Paul Snyder, program coordinator with Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, in Wooster. OARDC is the research arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Some of the benefits of edible landscapes include being able to choose the kind of pesticides and herbicides that you use on your foods, if you use them at all; eating fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables; and savings at the grocery store, advocates say.

Another advantage of edible landscaping is that it can make your home look beautiful, and you can grow plant varieties that are hard to find or may be too expensive to purchase on a regular basis at the grocery store.

With edible landscaping, you don’t need a large space to grow your own food.

In fact, a small area about 25 feet by 25 feet can be planted almost entirely with edibles that have ornamental value, according to an Ohio State University Extension Factsheet. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES. And for those in apartments, condominiums or other homes without yards, you can plant vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in container or window boxes.

Most fruits and vegetables thrive in well-drained soil and require at least six hours of sunlight to produce, according to OSU Extension. Trellises, fences and arbors can be used to provide vertical space on which to grow edible trees, shrubs and vines.

Planting suggestions

Some plants that you can incorporate into your edible landscape include:

Edible shrubs and hedges such as blueberry, gooseberry, currant and black raspberry

Small fruiting trees such as paw paw, apple, pear, plum, fig, dwarf cherry, weeping mulberry and elderberry

Edible flowers such as nasturtium, viola, borage, daylily and calendula

So how can you get started?

You could consider using the substitution method in your existing landscape, OSU Extension advises. For example, you can replace a shade tree with a fruit tree, replace an existing shrub with a currant or hazelnut plant, or where you’ve always had chrysanthemums, plant edible bachelor’s buttons instead.

You can also plant cherry tomatoes in a window box or hanging basket; grow chives around your mailbox; plant lettuce, radishes or other short-lived greens in a flower bed; or train raspberries up your fence.

There are some considerations to remember, however.

Most edible plants require a certain amount of attention to produce well, including a little extra watering, pruning, fertilizing or pest management. The time required doesn’t need to be extensive, however.

Edible flowers such as nasturtium are a good option for an edible landscape. flowers such as nasturtium are a good option for an edible landscape.

By Tracy Turner

OSU Extension

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or [email protected].

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