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  • Anne Yasalonis

Incorporating Edible Plants into your Ornamental Landscape

Did you know that you can plant your vegetables and herbs alongside your ornamental perennials, shrubs, and trees? Most people think vegetable gardens, raised beds, and containers are the only places to grow edible plants. But vegetables and herbs can make great additions to the landscape without the expense or effort of a special place of their own. Adding edible plants to your ornamental landscape can enhance the yard in so many ways—visually with ornamental quality, fragrance from aromatic leaves and flowers, and seasonal food production.



WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW TO START?

Remember, as you select vegetables, fruits, and herbs for ornamental quality, stick to your overall design theme, follow the recommended Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles, and think about how you can eat from your landscape year-round. Many edible plants have a short growing span, so it is important to learn how to rotate edible plants for seasonality as well as design quality. Design is important in any landscape and edible plants can enhance design in many ways. Here are a few tips to getting started.


1. Select varieties that grow well in central Florida. Use the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide and other local resources to find varieties that will grow locally. Know your hardiness zone and planting dates. Edible plants can be annuals, lasting only one growing season, perennials that span multiple seasons, or even long-lived shrubs and trees.


2. Group plants by their water needs. This is important in all landscapes to ensure that plants are getting what they need to be healthy and pest-free. Plants of all types should be grouped according to their water needs, light requirements, and maintenance needs. Select edible plants that match the site conditions where they will be planted to ensure success. For example: Rosemary is an herb that thrives in dry, well-drained soils. If you have a spot in the landscape that matches those conditions, rosemary will thrive!


3. Use support structures, containers, and hardscapes to add visual appeal. Many edible plants have an informal quality and at times could look a bit unruly. Consider using structures such as arbors, pergolas, containers, and even statuary to both support and contain your edible plants. This may also be necessary if you are growing vining plants. Small groupings of containers can add visual interest and may make it easier to grow and maintain some edible plants. Great examples of how to incorporate these items into your landscape can be found at our local botanical gardens.


4. Plant trees. Trees are such an integral part of the landscape. They provide structure and shade, and if you select a fruit-bearing plant, can also provide you with food! Small trees such as a bay tree, small citrus (such as Sugar Belle), peach, or dwarf mulberry can be grown in small urban and suburban landscapes.


NEW TO GROWING EDIBLE PLANTS?

Herbs are a great place to start. They can be planted directly in the ground or in containers. The fragrance from the herbs can also be an asset to the landscape. Brushing against a mint plant while walking in the yard can add to an already pleasant experience.


Shrubs such as bananas lend a tropical look to the garden and are a way to enjoy some of the many lesser-known varieties of the fruit. With care, a generous harvest can be had!


Blueberries produce a harvest in the spring, but their foliage provides interest in the landscape year-round. The fall foliage on blueberries is orange to red and is beautiful when combined with native saw palmetto and coontie cycads.


Plant cool-season annuals such as lettuces and greens (collards, mustard, Swiss chard, kale, cabbage) for the texture and color in the landscape. They can be used to fill a garden space and can be continually harvested throughout the growing season.


If you are ready to start adding edible plants to your landscape, use the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/VH021) to determine what plants to grow now. Additionally, our monthly newsletter gives tips on what edibles to plant, general maintenance, and where to find helpful workshops in the area. Read and subscribe to our newsletter at substack.com/@yourcentralfloridayard.


For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/polk or on social media @PolkGardening. The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Give us a call or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu. Tune in to our podcast Your Central Florida Yard, to listen to tips that will help you live your best gardening life in central Florida.

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