Tidewater Gardening - May 2013

Eating Your Landscape


K. Marc Teffeau

A landscaping trend that has caught on in the last couple of years is creating an edible landscape. Edible landscaping involves integrating and/or replacing ornamental plants with plants that produce food, and offers an alternative to conventional residential landscapes that are designed solely for ornamental purposes. The edible landscape can be just as attractive as a conventional one by combining fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and ornamental plants into aesthetically pleasing designs. You can choose to go from 0-100% edible species depending on your level of interest.
There are many reasons to incorporate edible plants into the residential landscape. Some of these reasons include enjoying the freshness and flavor of home-grown, fully ripened fruits and vegetables; increasing the security of your foods; and also to save on your grocery bills. Edible landscaping also offers the opportunity for you to control the quantity and kind of pesticides and herbicides used on the foods you eat, and to be able to grow unusual varieties not available in stores.
The completely ornamental focus of the home landscape has really only been a fairly recent phenomenon brought on by the suburbanization of our society. The edible components of residential landscapes were largely lost in this country due to the now-familiar shade trees, lawns, and foundation plantings. However, edible landscaping is as old as gardening itself.
Ancient Persian gardens combined both edible and ornamental plants. Medieval monastic gardens included fruits, vegetables, flowers, and medicinal herbs. Plans for 19th century English suburban yards, that modeled themselves after country estates, often included edible fruits and berries.
Like all plants in the landscape, edible plants grow best in certain conditions. Many, but not all, fruits and vegetables do best when they receive at least six hours of full sunlight per day. Most also like well-drained soil. The areas in your yard that meet these needs are good places to start your edible landscaping.
To perform and complete the makeover, consult the Internet for various planting suggestions. To start simply, consider a one-for-one substitution. Where you might have planted a shade tree, plant a fruit tree. Where you need a deciduous shrub, plant a currant or hazelnut.
Edible plants come in nearly all shapes and sizes, and can perform the same landscape functions as ornamental plants. For example, plant lettuce, radishes, or other short-lived greens into the flower bed. Use basil together with coleus in a planter on the patio. Grow yellow or rainbow chard in the flower bed and chives around the mailbox. If you have a fence, consider training a raspberry bush. Plant dwarf fruit trees instead of shade trees in the lawn.
Need a ground cover? Try planting chocolate mint. This mint is darker and shorter than traditional mint, but can still be invasive, so plant where you want it to spread.
Dill and asparagus can be used as backdrop plants because of their fern-like foliage. Looking to add additional fruits? Incorporate strawberry plants, red and black currants, and hardy kiwi vines into your plantings.
Most edible plants require a certain amount of attention to produce well. They may require a little extra watering, pruning, fertilizing, or pest management. It is recommended to treat edible landscaping as a hobby and not a chore.
The possibilities for edible landscaping are endless. By incorporating just one ~ or many ~ edible plants into a home landscape, you can develop a new relationship with your yard and the food you eat.
In the ornamental landscape, the rhododendrons have flowered and need a little attention. To keep the plants flowering at their best, it is important to immediately pick off the spent flowers. The old clusters should be snapped off when partly dry, but remove with care in order not to decrease or prevent bloom next year.
If you need to do any pruning on other spring flowering shrubs, now is the time to do it. Cut back the forsythia that has overgrown. Remove the spent flower clusters of the lilacs and some renewal pruning to get them back in shape.
For the spirea that has spread all over the place ~ now is the time to do some serious cutting to get it back to a manageable size. The general rule of thumb is not to take more than one-third of the plant out at any one cutting, but some of our more common spring flowering shrubs can be severely pruned if needed.
Did you plant shade trees or shrubs in April? Regularly water newly planted trees and shrubs during the first year or two after planting to help establish a good root system. They need at least one inch of water per week. It is better to water deeply once a week than to water lightly every day; the former practice encourages deep, drought-resistant roots, while the latter practice encourages surface roots that may suffer during dry spells.
Be careful with your watering in heavy clay soils. Sometimes if there is poor drainage you can kill the newly planted tree or shrub by over-watering.
It is important to mulch to conserve moisture and control weeds, but PLEASE, no “volcano” mulches where the mulch is pile up 7 or 8 inches deep against the trunk of the tree. You can still plant trees and shrubs in May, just make sure that they are attended to during the summer.
It is time to make your first sowing of green beans, cucumbers, squash, sweet corn, and a second seeding of lettuce in the vegetable garden. Transplants of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers can be placed in the garden now.
Transplants are less stressed when they are set out on a cloudy, calm day. Unfortunately, we are usually rushed and may need to transplant under less than ideal conditions. Strong sun and wind are hard on new transplants, so set out plants in the late afternoon when the wind calms down and the plants have overnight to acclimate. Provide shade and wind protection with berry baskets, small crates, or screens. I would wait until June, however, to mulch the transplants in the vegetable gardens so as to give enough time for the soil to fully warm up.
Spring insect pests active now include aphids, cabbageworms, cucumber beetles, and Colorado potato beetles. Aphids seem to appear overnight and suck the sap from the leaves of tender new growth, but they usually cause little permanent damage. There are a number of insects, notably the ladybird beetle, that help keep this pest in check.
A forceful spray from the garden hose will also keep aphids under control. For serious infestations, however, try using an insecticidal soap or a botanical insecticide. Keep an eye out for cabbageworms in the cabbage and broccoli plantings. I like to recommend the use of a biological control called B.t. or Dipel to control them.
Striped and spotted cucumber beetles are voracious feeders on many vegetables including squash, corn, cucumbers, melons and beans. They also transmit the bacterial wilt disease that causes the plants to rapidly wilt and die. These must be controlled early with floating row covers.
Protection in the early stages of growth is important, however, when the plants start to flower, especially squash and cucumbers, you will need to remove the row covers to allow bees access to pollinate the flowers.
Try using a homemade spray of horseradish roots and leaves, garlic, peppercorns, hot peppers and green onions. Blend these ingredients up in your blender and then place in a pail and add one cup of liquid detergent. Stir and let sit overnight. Use one-half cup of the solution to one quart of water and spray on the plants.
Happy gardening!

Marc Teffeau is the Director of Research and Regulatory Affairs at the American Nursery and Landscape Association in Washington, D.C. He lives in Preston with his wife, Linda.