This time of year, extension educators and master gardener volunteers are busy hosting, teaching and attending programs, trying to share and learn as much as possible before the growing season.

I had the opportunity to give several presentations on edible landscaping in the past couple of weeks. Edible landscaping is using food plants for both ornamental purposes as well as food crops. It has been growing in popularity as communities become more interested in growing their own food and realize how attractive food plants can be.

There are several reasons to plant edibles in the landscape. In many cases, edibles are just as attractive as many ornamentals, if not more. More people want to enjoy homegrown, fresh produce and some are interested in having control over how their produce is handled. Maintaining edible landscapes also provides the opportunity to regularly get outdoors and enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

What types of plants do best in the landscape? Many types of fruits and vegetables are suitable, but most need six to eight hours of full sun per day and well-draining soil with a pH of 6.2-6.8. Some often-used vegetables are leafy greens such as kale, lettuces and Swiss chard due to the diversity of color and texture different varieties provide.

Peppers, tomatoes and eggplant also add color and height. Edible flowers such as nasturtium and herbs can be used as ground cover. Beware that some herbs, such as mints, can become invasive.

If selecting fruit trees, consider what the final height of the tree will be. Most fruit trees are grafted, meaning the top of the tree and the root system are actually from two different plants. The rootstock (bottom of the tree) determines the ultimate size. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees will not get very big.

Some types of fruit such as apples are self-incompatible, meaning the pollen from a flower cannot successfully pollinate others on the same tree. This means that two different varieties of trees are needed for successful fruit formation. While some types of fruit, such as blueberries, can self-pollinate, cross-pollination with another variety will result in larger and more fruit. Always check the tag or plant description carefully so you know what you are getting.

When selecting plants, consider the characteristics and needs of the particular plant as well as the site. For example, many people want to grow blueberries as a landscape plant. However, blueberries grow best when the soil pH is 4.5-5.5, which is not the natural soil pH level of most lawns. For successful blueberry production, if the soil pH is high, it should be adjusted with amendments, or else a different type of plant should be selected.

All types of landscaping have advantages and disadvantages. In order for many vegetable crops to continue to produce over the season, they will have to be regularly maintained; harvested, bad leaves removed, etc.

Vegetables and fruit in the landscape can also fall prey to the same pests and diseases as they do in the garden or orchard. Brambles, grapes and strawberries can be affected by spotted wing drosophila (SWD). This fruit fly has been positively identified in many Ohio counties and has wreaked havoc some years for growers and backyard gardeners. If these crops are planted, there is the chance that this pest will be a problem. Choose plants that are known to be resistant to diseases.

Many types of vegetables are harvested before the end of the growing season, so bare areas might need to be addressed by planting another plant in the bare spot.

Converting a lawn to edible landscape area takes a little time but can easily be done with some elbow grease. A soil test should always be done to determine pH and phosphorous and potassium levels. If there is concern that lead contamination could be an issue, a soil lead test should be done.

The existing turf needs to be either removed or killed by applying a nonselective herbicide or by solarizing the area. Solarizing is using a solid plastic sheet to cover an area and leaving it on for an extended period of time. The heat buildup under the material eventually will kill the grass (but not all perennial weeds). The length of time needed to solarize an area is dependent on the weather.

Once the grass is gone, organic matter should be added and the pH adjusted if the soil test recommends it.

If you would like to see the process of converting a lawn to an edible landscape, Let’s Grow Akron has just started the process in the area in front of its office. Follow the progress at facebook.com/LetsGrowAkron/ or Instagram @Letsgrowakron_.

Don’t have a lawn? Container gardening has also become very popular and is a great option for those who are unable to engage in edible landscaping on a large scale.

It is important to check into the laws and rules of your individual homeowners’ associations and town before converting a lawn to edible landscaping. Some have laws prohibiting the practice.

For more information at about edible landscaping see https://tinyurl.com/y5jdlk8r, https://tinyurl.com/y5u6wdqy and https://tinyurl.com/y4uybrnh.

 

Jacqueline Kowalski is the Summit County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator for Ohio State University. For questions on local foods, food production or other garden-related questions, contact her at kowalski.124@osu.edu or 330-928-4769 ext. 2456. Call the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Hotline for answers to your gardening questions at 330-928-4769, option 3 or ext. 2481 or 2482, 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays.