By Charlie Nardozzi
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.
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.
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.
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.
Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books
, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.
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