Drive around any residential neighborhood in the country and you’re bound to see the same, standard landscaping theme—a few shade or flowering trees, a green lawn and some foundation shrubs around the house. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine having a yard that looks beautiful and produces fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs for you without a lot of extra work. That’s edible landscaping.

Edible landscapes incorporate food-producing plants into a residential landscape. It’s really very simple. Instead of planting a purely ornamental tree, shrub or flower, choose plants that are beautiful and that also produce an edible crop.

Why Landscape With Edibles?

With concerns today about the quality, price and safety of our food, many homeowners are interested in growing some of their own food. Many, however, are overwhelmed by the idea of starting a large vegetable garden or planting fruits and herbs. Edible landscaping gives you the freedom to integrate as many of these edible plants into your landscape as you like. As you gain confidence in growing your own fruits and vegetables, you can increase the size and number of the plantings.

While many homeowners may think edible landscaping will take too much time, consider that a fruit tree requires only a few extra hours of maintenance a year when compared with an ornamental tree.

How to Get Started

As with most ornamental plants, edible landscape plants grow best in full sun (at least 6 hours) and on well-drained, fertile soils. There’s a wide variety of edible plants to grow in almost any setting.

While an entire yard makeover using edible plants might be your goal, it’s probably a bit too much for most homeowners to tackle all at once. The best way to get started is to substitute plants one by one.

Raspberries
Raspberries.
Photo courtesy of the
National Gardening Association.

For example, instead of planting a flowering cherry tree, plant a sweet or sour cherry tree. Instead of planting foundation shrubs such as yews and burning bushes, plant blueberries and hazelnuts. Instead of planting inedible ornamental flowers, grow edible flowers such as daylilies (edible flower buds), bee balm (make tea from leaves and flowers) and nasturtiums (edible leaves and flowers). Or, grow beautiful vegetables, such as eggplants, Swiss chard and basil. Instead of a hedge of lilacs or barberries, consider planting a hedge of blackberries or raspberries.

Container Edibles

If you’re strapped for space, try container gardening. Plant breeders have given us edible plants to fit into almost any size container. Dwarf varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, herbs and even squash can grow in containers on a deck or patio. There are diminutive fruit trees, such as the colonnade apple tree, which grows only 8 feet tall and 2 feet wide and produces a few dozen apples. You can grow dwarf tomatoes such as “Window Box Roma” or herbs such as creeping thyme and rosemary in small containers.

The options are limited only by your imagination. For more great ideas, sign up for my free Edible Landscaping e-newsletter at www.garden.org/ediblelandscaping/.

Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, book author, speaker, and radio and television personality, has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.