Look around any yard in the United States and you're bound to see a limited
palette of ornamental shrubs used as foundation plantings, hedges, and specimen
plantings. Although beautiful, I can't help but think they're missing out on
a great opportunity to grow similarly attractive shrubs that are edible instead.
Designing with Edible Shrubs
The first order of business is to decide which shrubs to grow. Much of your
decision will be determined by usage and site exposure. Do you need shrubs as
foundation plantings around the house, a screen to block a utility box, or a
barrier to the neighbor's yard? Does the site get full sun, is it exposed to cold
winter winds, or does it have poor soil? Selecting the right shrub for the usage is key.
Some shrubs make great foundation plantings, while others will sprawl and spread
and are better as informal hedges. A common sight is an
overgrown yew or juniper almost blocking a window because it was the wrong shrub
for that location. Look at the shrub's ultimate height, width, hardiness zone
and sun requirements before deciding to plant. As with any ornamental planting,
determine if flowering and foliage color and texture will work in that location.
Rose hips are produced in abundance on rosa rugosa plants. This shrub
makes a great barrier plant and can tolerate growing near salt water.
Once you decide the function of the shrub and the likely location to plant
it, then the fun begins. Selecting edible shrubs to plant instead of the usual
ornamental shrubs gives you the opportunity to produce some tasty food for your
family, as well as have an attractive yard.
While it's great to plant all edibles in your yard, there's no problem with
mixing in a blueberry here or a currant there with other ornamental plantings.
As long as the growing requirements are met, feel free to experiment. Some gardeners
like to mix in evergreens, such as arborvitae, with deciduous fruit
plantings to add greenery for winter.
Here are some edible shrubs to grow based on their function in the landscape.
Edible Shrubs as Foundation Plantings
Foundation plantings are those shrubs planted immediately around your home.
The most important aspect to these shrubs is selecting ones that grow in the
space allotted without requiring drastic pruning. Also, areas next to the home,
especially those with a southern exposure, can be excessively hot. Select plants that
can take these conditions.
Some good foundation plantings to try include blueberry, currant, gooseberry,
natal plum, rosemary, and bush plums.
Brambles, such as these raspberries, can be grown in tight places
such as along a fence or next to a house.
Edible Shrubs as Hedges
Hedges are great for defining gardens and creating "rooms". Taller hedges
can create the sense of privacy, while low growing hedges help border a garden
space. Hedges can be trimmed into a formal shape, like a boxwood hedge, or left
to grow to their natural size, like a lilac hedge. Hedge plants can be grown
individually to block unsightly objects in the yard, such as utility boxes.
Some good shrubs to grow as hedges include blueberry, bush plum, currant,
gooseberry, hazelbert, natal plum, American cranberry bush, and pineapple guava.
In warm climates, rosemary can grow wild and make an excellent informal hedge.
Edible Shrubs as Barriers
Sometimes you need your hedges to be formidable enough to keep wildlife and humans out. There are some edible shrubs that can be grown as barriers to create a natural fence. These have thorns to thwart even the most determined trespasser. Some good edible shrubs to grow as a barrier include brambles, gooseberry, natal plum, and Rugosa rose.
Edible Shrub Descriptions
All shrubs below are deciduous and grow best in full sun and on well-drained soil unless otherwise stated.
- American Cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) - This 6- to 10-foot-
tall shrub is hardy in zones 3 to 8. It produces white flowers in spring and
bright red fruits in late summer. The fruits are good in jams and they are an excellent
wildlife food. This sprawling shrub is best used as an informal hedge.
- Blueberry (Vaccinium) - Select varieties that
are highbush (5 to 6 feet tall) or half-high (1 to 4 feet tall) depending
on your location. Southern and rabbiteye blueberries are highbush types adapted
to the South. Blueberries need a well-drained, acidic soil with the pH below
5. Add sulfur to lower the pH. They can be planted near other acid-loving
shrubs, such as holly. They are hardy in zones 3 to 9.
- Brambles (Rubus) - Hardy in zones 3 to 9, blackberries and raspberries
make excellent barrier shrubs. They can also be trained to grow along a fence
in a narrow bed since their growth habit is so vertical. Select spreading
brambles, such as red raspberries and blackberries, as an informal barrier hedge.
Their suckers will quickly fill in the blank areas. For a more contained barrier
hedge, plant black raspberries that send up suckers from only around the crown
of the plant and are less invasive. For fruit production in summer and fall,
grow everbearing red raspberries such as 'Heritage'.
- Bush Plums (Prunus) - Sometimes called cherry-plums, Nanking cherries,
or sand cherries, these small-fruited shrubs grow about 6 to 10 feet tall,
have showy white flowers and 1/2-inch-diameter tart fruits and are hardy in zones
3 to 9 depending on the species. The fruits are best used in jams and jellies.
Sand cherries make good coastal plants because of their adaptation to salt
spray and sandy soil.
- Currants and Gooseberries (Ribes) - White, red, and black currants
make excellent foundation plants, and can be grouped to block an unsightly object,
or grown into informal hedges. Hardy in zones 3 to 8, most grow to 5 feet
tall and have attractive and delicious fruits. Red and white currants are best
used as juices and for fresh eating, while black currants are best used in jams
and preserves. Black currants are the alternate host to a deadly disease of
white pines (blister rust). So if you have white pines growing near your property,
grow disease-resistant black currant varieties such as 'Consort'. Gooseberries
grow to 3 to 4 feet tall and have thorny branches. They produce tasty 1-inch-long fruits for fresh eating, pies and jams.
- Hazelbert (Corylus) - A cross between a filbert and a hazelnut, this
8- to 12-foot-tall shrub is hardy, has beautiful fall foliage, and produces
edible nuts. It makes an excellent edible hedge.
- Natal Plum (Carissa grandiflora) - This tropical evergreen shrub is
only hardy in zones 9 to 11. It grows to 6 to 10 feet tall with fragrant,
white flowers and edible red fruits. The plum-shaped fruits taste like cranberries
and can be used to make jam. This is another good seaside plant. It makes
an excellent foundation plant or hedge.
- Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) - This large, evergreen, tropical, shrub grows to 15 feet tall and wide in zones 8 to 10. It produces edible,
pear-shaped fruits with a pineapple- and strawberry-like flavor. These are
best used as informal hedges.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - This evergreen shrub is hardy
in zones 9 to 11 and makes an excellent low hedge or border plant. The fragrant
leaves are essential in many culinary dishes.
- Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa) - This species rose is hardy in zones 3
to 9, and can grow to 8 feet tall. It produces edible, fragrant, white, pink, or
red flowers in spring and red or orange rose hips in late summer. The hips
are high in vitamin C and best eaten raw, in teas or in jams. The thorny branches
make it an excellent barrier plant, especially since new shoots arise from
root suckers. This is another good seaside plant.
See also Growing