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BUL 921

Designing an Edible Landscape in Idaho

Ariel Agenbroad, Stephen L. Love, Tony McCammon, Isabelle Taylor

Edible landscapes

Introduction

For too long, fruits and vegetables have been hidden away in the backyard, while manicured lawns and carefully trimmed roses are chosen for curb appeal. But times have changed, and edible plants are often being incorporated as a feature of landscape design. One in three households now grows fruits and vegetables at home, for reasons that include food safety concerns, economy, environmental sustainability, healthy eating, or a simple desire to get back to life’s basics.

Gardeners are turning to “edible landscaping” to grow more of their own food, especially in cities or towns where space is at a premium. In an edible landscape, trees, shrubs, flowers, and vines work double duty, create an attractive, unique yard bursting with functional, food-producing plants.

Edible landscaping is practical and possible in all of Idaho’s growing regions, if careful thought is given to plant choices, design, and timing. For some gardeners (or in some neighborhoods), maintaining traditional landscape aesthetics may be equal to or more important than producing an abundant supply of food. In these cases, edible plants must be highly attractive and remain that way throughout the growing season. Luckily, many common edible plants offer surprising beauty, form, or fragrance to the landscape. Consider blushing pink cherry blossoms, ruffled lettuces in shades of green and bronze, blue-green rosettes of young cabbages, rainbow hues of Swiss chard, distinguished stalks of corn, scented pathways of lemon thyme, spiky, bold artichokes, or an array of edible flowers. Even those roses, it turns out, can be edible!

A successful edible landscape results from good planning, thoughtful design, and regular maintenance. Edible yards can be eye-catching while expanding the capacity for home food production. However, when poorly planned, such landscapes may create extra work and require more inputs of time and attention than a conventional landscape. This publication will provide ideas and suggestions for creating a beautiful, yet productive, edible landscape.


Good Planning

Creating an attractive landscape requires the application of careful design principles, whether starting from scratch or converting an existing landscape. Begin planning by listing all the landscape functions to be incorporated. Include space not only for food production but also for play areas, pet zones, entertaining, great views, utility, or public access, if appropriate.

Keep in mind that city planning and zoning ordinances, homeowners’ association rules, or other local codes may influence what may or may be allowed on a property. In some areas, there will be requirements to maintain a grass lawn, even in parking strips. So, before beginning a major redesign or replacement of turf, be sure to check with the appropriate local authorities.

Another goal of the planning process is to reduce the workload associated with the seasonal planting, harvesting, maintaining, and replanting of an edible landscape. Here are some considerations unique to this type of gardening.

  • Start small. In the initial design, plant less than 50% of the landscape into edible plants. The best trade-off for time management is to trade lawn (also high maintenance) for edibles. Tree and shrub beds are already low maintenance. A good initial goal is to assign 600 total square feet of the landscape to food production for a family of four. Increase the food production areas as needed and as time permits. When trees and shrubs need to be replaced in the landscape, consider fruit- or nut-producing choices that are suitable for the climate and available space.
  • Plant vegetables and herbs close to the kitchen. Convenience is important in an edible landscape. The further a person has to walk to get salad greens and tomatoes for a sandwich, or tend to the plants, the easier it becomes to neglect the garden.
  • Select some plants that require less maintenance. Edibles such as strawberries, peaches, and apples typically require a rigorous maintenance schedule of pruning, weeding, thinning, pest management, and harvesting. Whereas, Nanking cherry, mulberry, elderberry, and currants are edible plants that require little effort.
  • Place plants with similar growing requirements and maintenance needs together. For example, most fruit and nut trees have similar maintenance requirements that include scheduled pruning, irrigation, fertilization, and pest management. Keeping these plants together will consolidate the workload and minimize the need to move equipment or tools between sites. Within fruit tree crops, it is also best to place pome fruits (e.g., apple, pear, quince, and crabapple) together and in a separate grouping from stone fruits (e.g., peach, cherry, apricot, plum, and almond).

Thoughtful Design

This publication is not written to be a comprehensive guide to landscaping. While developing a design, it may be necessary to use additional resources or even the services of a professional to guide in the creation of a functional and attractive landscape. However, in considering the overall design, the following elements are appropriate to both traditional and edible landscapes:

  • focal points to stop the eye, such as accent plants, garden art, or structures that encourage pause and reflection;
  • scale and balance to harmonize landscape elements with the home and neighborhood;
  • repetition of plants, hardscapes, or other landscape elements to create unity;
  • variety to create interest;
  • color and texture to complement and accentuate;
  • line to draw the eye to the most attractive and interesting landscape elements (Figure 1); and
  • composition to mesh landscape elements such as free space, garden rooms, water features, paths, and containers.
Brick wall adds scale
Figure 1. A brick wall adds scale and line to an edible landscape. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.

In employing landscape design elements, clean and simple designs are probably the most dramatic and breathtaking. Simplicity is often difficult to achieve in an edible landscape, as the potential palette is nearly unlimited! Apply key principles, such as use minimal plant variety and thoughtfully apply color and texture.


Regular Maintenance

Managing an edible landscape is closer to caring for a vegetable garden than it is to maintaining an ornamental landscape. The process is made complex by the inclusion of many types of woody, perennial, and annual plants. Additionally, there are limitations not usually considered in a typical landscape. For instance, use of weed-barrier fabrics and non-organic mulches is impractical where perennial and annual edibles are to be produced since annual plants will be replaced frequently and perennials will benefit from regular applications of compost. Soils within much of the landscape must be kept loose, aerated, moist, and moderately nutrient-rich. Finally, pesticide use should be kept to a minimum, meaning pest control may involve more hand labor. Detailed maintenance instructions for all aspects of an edible landscape are beyond the scope of this publication. However, a few general principles should be considered:

  • Carefully till or prepare the soil each spring in bed areas receiving annual plants.
  • Regularly add organic matter to all areas of the landscape.
  • Place annual beds in locations where tilling or cultivation will not damage the roots of perennial and woody landscape elements.
  • Select adapted, appropriate varieties of all food crops to enhance prospects for success and meet personal production goals.
  • Apply fertilizers (choose from organic or conventional products) at moderate rates that will satisfy the needs of most plants in the landscape.
  • Irrigate infrequently, but deeply, to meet the requirements of both deep and shallow-rooted crops. In most Idaho soils, water every 4–5 days with sufficient water to wet the soil to a depth of 18 inches. Be prepared to add extra water to high-use crops.
  • Use composts and organic mulches to conserve water and provide partial weed control.
  • Control weeds by hand and with mechanical tools, rather than with herbicides.
  • Apply insect and disease prevention and control as required by individual crop species and according to product label directions for use.
  • Harvest individual crops in a timely manner to maximize produce quality.
  • Be prepared to replant or keep harvested areas weeded and under a cover of mulch.

Choosing the Right Plants

The bulk of this publication provides information and ideas about the plants that may be used in an edible landscape. This information can be used in conjunction with a landscape plan and with application of design elements to create a functional and beautiful edible landscape. To aid in making appropriate plant choices, plant information is given in the form of “replacement tables.” These tables allow the homeowner to create a design based on often-recommended ornamental plants and then find a lesser-known but suitable edible substitute.


Plants for Idaho Edible Landscapes

Small and Large Fruit and Nut Trees

Trees are the prominent features in a landscape and provide many of the features we seek in any yard, such as shade, spring flowers, fall color, and edible fruit. On large properties, fruit and nut trees can be planted in their own small orchard site. In a small yard, it becomes necessary to carefully choose trees that will serve multiple purposes. See Tables 1 and 2 for choosing trees with edible fruit or nuts.

Table 1. Selecting multipurpose fruiting medium-sized to large trees.
If the landscape plan calls for a medium-sized or large tree:
Replace nonedible (common/scientific name): With edible (common/scientific name):
Ash (Fraxinus spp.)
Honeylocust (Gledistia spp.)
Black locust (Robinia spp.)
English walnut (Juglans regia)
Zone 5. Carpathian types are hardier.
Oak (Quercus spp.)
Poplar (Populus spp.)
European beech (Fagus spp.)
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Note: contains allelopathic compounds
Zone 4. Good for difficult sites.
Maple (Acer spp.)
London planetree (Platanus spp.)
Catalpa (Catalpa spp.)
Mulberry (Morus spp.)
Zone 4. Pick cultivars bred for fruit production.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Zelkova (Zelkova spp.)
Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
Butternut (Juglans cinerea)
Zone 3. Hardiest of the walnuts.
Linden (Tilia spp.)
Common hackberry (Cektis spp.)
Horsechestnut (Aeculus spp.)
Chestnut (Castanea hybrids)
Zone 4. Hybrids are resistant to chestnut blight.
Weeping or globe willow (Salix spp.)
Birch (Betula spp.)
Magnolia (Magnolia spp.)
Sweet cherry (Prunus avium)
Zone 6. Choose self-fertile cultivars.
Note: The replacement tables provide ideas for edible plant substitutions but are not all-inclusive. Make additional replacement decisions by researching to find edible options that have similar adaptation, mature size, and overall form as the recommended ornamental tree.
Table 2. Selecting multipurpose fruiting small trees.
If the landscape plan calls for a small tree:
Replace nonedible (common/scientific name): With edible (common/scientific name):
European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
Flowering plum (Prunus spp.)
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
English walnut (Juglans regia)
Zone 5. Carpathian types are hardier.
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Russian olive (Eleagnus spp.)
American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Zone 5. Choose self-fertile cultivars.
Flowering cherry (Prunus spp. & hybrids)
Redbuds (Cercis spp.)
Tart cherry (Prunus cerasus)
Zone 4. All cultivars are self-fertile.
Gallery flowering pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Hornbeam (Carpinus spp.)
Fruiting pear (Pyrus communis)
Zone 4. Both European and Asian types are suitable.
Flowering crabapple (Malus spp.)
Dogwood (Cornus spp.)
Parrotia (Parrotia spp.)
Apple or Large Fruited Crabapple (Malus spp.)
Zone 4. Choose cultivars with an appropriate fruit maturation date for your climate.
Golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
Amur Maackia (Maackia spp.)
Plum (Prunus spp.)
Zone 4. American, European or Japanese cultivars adapted and available.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
Redbud (Cercis spp.)
Peach or nectarine (Prunus persica)
Zones 5–6. Not adapted to the coldest Idaho locales.
Flowering plum (Prunus spp.)
Dogwood (Cornus spp.)
Almond (Prunus persica)
Zones 6+. Adapted to only the warmest Idaho climates.

In any region of Idaho, it is possible to grow trees that will produce desirable fruit while simultaneously contributing to the aesthetics of the landscape. However, choice of crops in the colder areas of eastern, central, and northern Idaho is greatly limited by plant hardiness. Apples, pears, apricots, and a few nut crops like walnut will produce consistently. Although black walnut contains a chemical in its roots—called juglone—which inhibits growth of other plant species, other walnut species do not contain high amounts of juglone and can be grown near other plants without negative effects. Many more fruit and nut tree selections, such as peach trees (Figure 2), are possibilities in the warmer south-central and southwestern regions of the state.

Peach tree
Figure 2. With their smaller size, attractive blooms, and eye-catching fruit, peach trees are an effective edible landscape choice in parts of Idaho with milder winters. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.

Dwarf cultivar options are available for most fruit crops. Dwarf trees produce less fruit than a standard variety, but are generally much easier to manage and can be especially ideal for small yards. They also make production of other sun-loving garden crops easier by reducing the shade footprint.

Tree training or pruning can also help with size management. Espalier is a technique of minimizing the ultimate size of a tree shaping the tree to grow along the plane of a wall or fence. Alternatively, several dwarf trees can be planted close together to form a hedge along a property line or in a narrow space.

Pruning practices may need to be altered for fruit trees that are serving multiple functions in the landscape. Trees pruned to maximize fruit size and yield tend to look less appealing as specimen or shade trees. However, some fruit trees that are only lightly pruned will produce small, poor-quality fruit. The best strategy, especially for fruit trees that also serve as shade trees, is to train the tree with a full, rounded crown, but to annually thin the smaller fruiting branches and prune back aggressive, fast-growing limbs. Some fruit-bearing trees—such as serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.; Figure 3)—rarely require annual pruning unless wood is dead, damaged, or diseased.

Serviceberries
Figure 3. Serviceberries are hardy, low-maintenance trees that provide food for both human and animal residents. Photo by Stephen Love.

In the coldest regions of the state, it is important to select the hardiest crops and the earliest maturing cultivars for edible landscaping. For example, peaches and nectarines that yield early in the season can reliably produce fruit in areas where other varieties fail. Cultivars of some fruit crops need a pollinator variety to successfully set fruit. In situations of limited space this is an important consideration, especially if there is room for only one tree. Sweet cherries, butternuts, chestnuts, persimmons, hickories, and black walnuts require the presence of a nearby second cultivar to produce fruit. Apples require a second cultivar, but many can be pollinated by a crabapple blooming at the same time. Self-fruitful crops that do not need a second cultivar include apricots, tart cherries, and peaches. Pears, pawpaws, and Persian walnuts are partially self-fruitful, meaning they will produce adequately alone, but will be more productive if a second cultivar is present. Plums vary by cultivar.

Despite the work involved and knowledge required, including fruit and nut trees in an edible landscape can be rewarding.

Fruit-Producing Shrubs and Vines

Many of the most-preferred fruits grow on attractive shrubs and vines. This makes them ideal for inclusion in an edible landscape. Most of the fruit-producing shrubs are deciduous and can be interspersed with evergreen shrubs and trees. See Table 3 to choose shrubs and vines for an edible landscape.

Table 3. Selecting multipurpose edible shrubs or vines.
If the landscape plan calls for a shrub or vine:
Replace nonedible (common/scientific name): With edible (common/scientific name): Edible Portion
Shrubs
Boxwood (Buxus spp.)
Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Blueberry/Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)
Zones 4+ depending on species. Adapted only to locales with strongly acidic soils.
Fruit
Hybrid tea rose (Rosa spp.)
Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)
Snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Hip Roses (Rosa spp.)
Zones 4+. Species with single, semidouble, or otherwise open bloom form are more likely to produce edible rose hips.
Petals, hips
Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
Blue mist spiraea (Caryopteris spp.)
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Zone 4 or 5. Not all cultivars adapted to southern Idaho soils or climates.
Fruit
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Red-stem dogwood (Cornus spp.)
Blackberry (Rubus hybrids)
Zone 5. Not hardy in coldest Idaho climates.
Fruit
Burning bush (Euonymous alatus)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Currant (Ribes spp.)
Zone 3, 4, or 5. Widely adapted. Some cultivars produce colorful fall leaves.
Fruit
Red-stem dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Peashrub (Caragana spp.)
Blue or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Zone 4. Choose cultivars bred for fruit.
Fruit
Hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus)
Snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)
Zone 3. Many cultivars available with a range of landscape characteristics.
Fruit
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Sumac (Rhus spp.)
Lilac (Syringa spp.) Flowers
Weigela (Weigela spp.)
Holly (Ilex spp.)
Flowering Quince (Cydonia spp.) Fruit
Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica)
Creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens)
Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea)
Zone 2. Adapted to very difficult conditions.
Fruit
Forsythia (Forsythia spp.)
Red-stem dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Zone 3. Saskatoon cultivars have the best fruit.
Fruit
Snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Mockorange (Philadelphus spp.)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Zone 3. Widely adapted, somewhat weedy.
Fruit
Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)
Goji Berries or Wolf-berry (Lycium chinense)
Zone 5. Plants can be grown as annuals in colder climates.
Fruit
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
Burning bush (Euonymous alatus)
Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)
Zone 3. Adapted to very harsh conditions.
Fruit
Ninebark (Physocarpus spp.)
Peashrub (Caragana spp.)
Scarlet Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora)
Zone 4. Adapted to a wide range of conditions.
Fruit
Yew (Taxus spp.) Oregon grape-holly (Mahonia angustifolium)
Zone 5 without snow. Prefers acidic soil but will grow in most Idaho soils.
Fruit
Blue arctic willow (Salix purpurea)
Blue mist spiraea (Caryopteris spp.)
Mockorange (Philadelphus spp.)
Bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.)
Zones 3–6. Choose cultivars adapted to local conditions and that have been selected for edible shoots.
Sprouts
Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)
Snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Hazelnut (Corylus spp.)
Zones 3–5. Arbor Day hybrids are hardy to Zone 3.
Nut
Vines
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) Grape (Vitis spp.)
Zone 5 or 6. Best in warmest Idaho areas.
Fruit
Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)
Chocolate vine (Akebia spp.)
Kiwi (Actinidia arguta or kolomikta)
Zone 3, 4, or 5. Best in warmest Idaho areas.
Fruit
Trumpetvine (Campsis radicans)
Clematis (Clematis spp.)
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Zones 3–11.
Dried female flowers

Edible shrubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be used for hedges, screens, windbreaks, foundation plantings, or as accent plants. Some make worthy specimen plants. Edible vines can be used to create dividers or to cover fences or arbors. In many cases, a single berry shrub may not produce adequate fruit to meet household needs. It is a good strategy to design repetitive elements using edible shrubs.

Fruiting shrubs are easy to grow and relatively carefree. Most species are in full production by their third year of growth. Shrubs tend to accept a wide range of soil pH, moisture, and fertility conditions. They do require some pruning to maximize fruit production and maintain a neat appearance. The main pruning objective should be to remove old, non-productive wood and to keep the plants vigorous. To balance production with aesthetic value, it is rarely necessary to do more than provide routine care.

Some fruiting shrubs require specific growing conditions or cultivar selection. Blueberries and the related huckleberries require acid soil (pH less than 5) to grow and remain healthy. This means they are typically grown in containers except in parts of northern Idaho where soils conditions are suitable. Avoid rabbiteye and southern highbush blueberries, which are not hardy in Idaho. Raspberries will grow throughout Idaho. Both summer- and fall-bearing raspberry cultivars produce well. It is important to choose hardy cultivars that are adapted to alkaline soils (southern Idaho). Blackberries are adapted to the warmest climates of Idaho. Erect type cultivars are hardier than trailing type cultivars. Hardy roses produce edible flowers (Figure 4), while some also develop vitamin-packed rose hips.

Edible petals and rose hips
Figure 4. Edible petals and rose hips bring the iconic rosebush to an edible landscape. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.

Fruiting vines include winter-tender crops. Grapes are consistently productive only in the warmest climates of Idaho. There are a few varieties on the market that claim hardiness into Zone 4. Only the hardy species of kiwi, Actinidia arguta and Actinidia kolomikta, will grow consistently in Idaho, and then only in the warmer regions of the state. Production of kiwi requires both male and female plants to provide pollination and fruit set.

Perennial Herbs, Vegetables, and Flowers

Valued for their ability to live and produce year after year, herbaceous perennial plants bring rich texture, form, and flowers to the edible landscape. Perennial plants are generally easy to grow and establish quickly. Many can be started from seed, cuttings, or divisions. Hardy perennial vegetables include asparagus, rhubarb, and horseradish; these can be grown nearly everywhere. Many edible culinary and medicinal herbs are also cold hardy and well adapted to the more arid regions of the state. Several popular perennial flowering plants are edible as well. See Table 4 to find perennial plants with edible stems, roots, leaves, flowers, or fruit.

Table 4. Selecting multipurpose edible perennial crops.
If the landscape plan calls for a perennial plant that
Has this characteric: Replace with these edibles (common/scientific name): Edible Portion
Architectural plant
Hosta, Heuchera, Bergenia
Artichoke (tender perennial) (Cynara scolymus)
Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
Flower buds
Leaf stalks
Petiole
Blooms in spring
Phlox, Vinca, Pasque flower
Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
Chive (Alium schoenoprasum)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Fruit
Flowers, leaves
Leaves, flowers, roots
Blooms in summer
Astilbe, Jupiters beard, Coreopsis, Digitalis, Lilium, Veronica
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
Leaves, flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Flower petals
Blooms in fall
Aster, Chrysanthemum, Sedum
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosum)
Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’)
Tubers
Leaves, flowers, seeds
Tall growth habit
Hollyhock, Delphinium, Digitalis, Grasses
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosum)
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
French tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus)
Roots
Tubers
Leaves
Leaves
Strap, grass-leaved, or ferny foliage
Blue fescue, Iris, Liriope, Ribbon grass, Liatris, Lilium, Astilbe, Armeria, Kniphofia
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Chive (Alium schoenoprasum)
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Lemongrass (tender perennial) (Cymbopogon)
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
Leaf buds
Flowers, leaves
Flower petals
Leaves, flowers, seeds
Leaves
Flower petals
Mounding growth habit
Hosta, Phlox, Iberis, Geranium, Euphorbia
Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis)
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Parsley (biennial) (Petroselinum crispum)
Leaves
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves
Low growing/groundcover habit
Vinca, Sedum, Cerastium, Aubrieta, Ajuga
Chamomile, German (Matricaria chamomilla)
Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelum nobile)
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Sweet woodruff (Galium oforatum)
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Flowers
Flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers (use sparingly)
Fruit
Leaves, flowers
Gray foliage
Lambs Ear (Stachys), Artemesia, Blue fescue, Eryngium
Artichoke (tender perennial) (Cynara scolymus)
Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis)
Flower buds
Leaf stalks
Flowers
Leaves, flowers
Purple foliage
Ajuga, Heuchera, Penstemon, Euphorbia
Culinary sage, Tricolor sage (Salvia spp.)
Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’)
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers, seeds
Gold foliage
Heuchera, Bleeding heart
Golden oregano (Origanum) Leaves, flowers
Variegated foliage
Hosta, Euphorbia, Brunnera
Pineapple mint (Mentha)
Golden sage (Salvia spp.)
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Red or pink blooms
Heuchera, Sedum, Phlox, Hibiscus, Achillea
Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)
Thyme (Thymus ssp.)
Flowers
Flower petals
Fruit
Leaves, flowers
Orange or yellow blooms
Coreopsis, Asclepias, Helenium, Rudbeckia
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
Chamomile, German (Matricaria chamomilla)
Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelum nobile)
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosum)
Leaves, flowers
Flower petals
Flowers
Flowers
Tubers
White blooms
Iris, Peony, Dianthus, Arenaria
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
Leaves, flowers (use sparingly)
Leaves, flowers
Flower petals
Blue or purple blooms
Ajuga, Vinca, Veronica, Sedum, Aster, Hellebores
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Chive (Alium schoenoprasum)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Sage (Salvia spp.)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Violet (Viola odorata)
Leaves, flower petals
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers
Flowers
Blooms in shade
Hosta, Bleeding heart, Bergenia, Hellebores
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Violet (Viola odorata)
Fruits
Leaves, flowers (use sparingly)
Flowers

Perennials may be classified by their preference for sun or shade. Most have a limited bloom time, so in addition to flower color, consider their overall form and growth habit, texture, and leaf color when incorporating them into the landscape design. Group drought-tolerant plants with other drought-tolerant plants, and group plants that require more frequent irrigation. Planting a single variety in groups of 3, 5, or 7 individual plants and repeating the sequence throughout the landscape can produce very attractive, balanced visual effects. Repeated placement of favorite perennial plants may also be used to connect or unify different landscape elements. Choose a variety of perennial plants that will bloom in every season so that both people and beneficial pollinators can enjoy the flowers all season long.

When planting perennial vegetables, like asparagus or horseradish, provide them with a designated permanent area so that these crops can be easily found and harvested without disturbing plants around them. Horseradish, in particular, can be very invasive, so gardeners with small spaces may choose to plant this species in large containers or barrels. Most herbs are adaptable to being grown in containers, provided adequate irrigation is available.

Perennial plants may take up to three years to achieve their full size, so give them room to grow and use mulch to reduce weed pressure until they have filled in. Many perennials benefit from being cut back in fall or early spring, and lightly sheared or deadheaded following bloom or harvesting. Perennial herbs may be harvested at any time, though best culinary quality will result if harvested prior to bloom.

Consider planting anise hyssop, artichoke (often treated as an annual), asparagus, cardoon, catnip, chamomile, chive (Figure 5), culinary sage, daylily, Egyptian walking onions, horehound, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, mints, oregano, rhubarb, savory, sorrel, strawberry, tarragon, and several of the different types of thymes.

Allium plants
Figure 5. Plants in the Allium or onion family, like chives, often have a striking vertical shape and showy spring flowers. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.

Annual Herbs, Vegetables, and Flowers

Annuals are the “accessory plants” in a landscape. When designing and planting an edible landscape, consider annual herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for color, texture, and taste. Annual plants grow quickly, often bloom for the entire summer, and are easily swapped out from year to year. Most are frost tender, lasting only as long as temperatures remain above freezing. However, some, like calendula or borage, reliably reseed themselves to the point they may become a nuisance. A few cold hardy annual vegetables, like leafy greens, cole crops (Figure 6), peas, and root crops can tolerate some frost and could be planted early alongside spring-flowering bulbs to cover the bulb foliage when it starts to brown. Several annual vining vegetable crops, such as cucumber, peas, runner bean, or gourds will quickly cover arbors and trellises and have attractive flowers as well that may be attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Table 5 helps with the selection of annual plants with edible stems, roots, leaves, flowers, or fruit.

Cole crops
Figure 6. Cole crops, such as kale, provide long-lasting interest in the edible landscape. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.
Table 5. Selecting multipurpose edible annual crops.
If the landscape plan calls for a annual plant that
Has this characteric: Replace with these edibles (common/scientific name): Edible Portion
Upright or erect growth habit
Canna Lily, Dahlia, Cosmos, Dianthus, Zinnia, Phlox, Cleome, Salvia, Lantana, Purple fountain grass, Celosia, Marigolds
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)
Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Corn (Zea mays)
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
Fava bean (Vicia faba)
Garlic (Allium spp.)
Kale (Brassica oleracea)
Leek (Allium porrum)
Millet (Panicum miliaceum)
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Onions (Allium spp.)
Amaranth
Crown
Leaves, buds
Leaves, seed
Ears
Fruit
Beans
Bulb, leaves
Leaves
Leaves, bulb
Seed
Pod
Leaves, bulb
Seeds
Mounding growth habit
Alyssum, Bacopa, Verbena, Pansy, Petunia, Marigolds, Snapdragon
Basil (Ocinum spp.)
Cabbage (Brassica olereaceae)
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)
Lettuces (Lactuca sativa)
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, crown
Crown
Leaves
Spreading growth habit
Vervain, Portulaca, Impatiens, Pansies, Coleus, Licorice plant, Wave petunia
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Orach (Atriplex hortensis)
Mache (Corn Salad) (Valerianella locusta)
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Squash (Cucurbit spp.)
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, flowers, seed
Leaves
Leaves
Leaves
Fruit
Cascading growth habit
Lobelia, Licorice Plant, Vinca
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Flowers
Fruit
Vining growth habit
Thunbergia alata, Morning glory, Mandevilla, Lantana
Cucumber (Cucumis spp.)
Gourd (Cucurbita pepo)
Malabar spinach (Basella alba)
Melon (Cucumis spp.)
Peas (Pisum sativum)
Runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Tomato (indeterminate) (Solanum lycopersicum)
Fruit
Some fruits (young)
Leaves
Fruit
Pods, seed
Pods, seed
Tubers
Fruit
Red or pink blooms
Dianthus, Salvia, Lantana, Petunia, Zinnia, Vervain, Gomphrena
Begonia, tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)
Red okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
Scented geranium (Pelargonum spp.)
Flower petals
Flowers
Pods
Flowers, pod, seed
Leaves, flowers
Orange blooms
Marigolds, Cosmos, Celosia, Zinnia
Begonia, tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)
Signet marigold (Tagetes signata)
Poppy
Flower petals
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Seeds
Yellow blooms
Marigolds, Zinnia, Lantana, Dahlia
Begonia, tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Cucumber (Cucumis spp.)
Melon (Cucumis spp.)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)
Signet marigold (Tagetes signata)
Squash (Cucurbita spp.)
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Flower petals
Flowers
Fruit
Fruit
Flowers
Flowers
Fruit
Fruit
White blooms
Bacopa, Impatiens, Datura, Swan river daisy, Alyssum, Zinnia, Phlox
Arugula (Brassica oleraceae)
Carrot (Daucus carota)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Gourd (Cucurbita pepo)
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Onions (Allium spp.)
Scented geranium (Pelargonum spp.)
Leaves
Root
Leaves
Leaves
Fruit (some, young)
Pods
Leaves, bulb
Leaves, flowers
Blue or purple blooms
Morning glory, Lobelia, Salvia, Cineraria, Vervain, Grape hyacinth, Petunia, Heliotrope
Beans and peas
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
Mustards (Brassica oleraceae)
Poppy, bread seed (Papaver somniferum)
Pods, seed
Flowers
Fruit
Leaves
Seed
Colorful foliage
Coleus, Caladium, Hypoestes, Alternanthera, Begonia
Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
Basil (Ocimum spp.)
Beets (Beta vulgaris)
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
Cabbages (Brassica oleraceae)
Kale (Brassica oleraceae)
Leek (Allium porrum)
Lettuces (Lactuca sativa)
Millet (Panicum miliaceum)
Nasturtium (variegated) (Tropaeolum spp.)
Orach (Atriplex hortensis)
Perilla (Shiso) (Perilla frutescens)
Purple leaved chile pepper (Capsicum spp.)
Radicchio (Cichorium intybus)
Scented geranium (Pelargonum spp.)
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
Leaves, seed
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, root
Fruit
Leaves, crown
Leaves
Leaves, bulb
Leaves
Seed
Flowers
Leaves
Leaves
Fruit
Leaves
Leaves, flowers
Leaves, stalks
Fragrance
Heliotrope, Alyssum, Nicotiana
Pansy, Johnny jump ups (Viola spp.)
Scented geranium (Pelargonum spp.)
Flowers
Leaves, flowers
Blooms in shade
Fuchsia, Lobelia, Impatiens, Browallia
Begonia, tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Pansy, Johnny jump ups, (Viola spp.)
Flower petals
Flowers
Flowers

Because annual edible plants consist primarily of succulent vegetables, they often have high requirements for nutrients and water. Amend soils prior to planting with compost, composted manures, or a slow-release fertilizer. Mulches will reduce water loss and help with weed management. Many annual herbs and flowers are successful in containers and hanging baskets if they are watered regularly, even daily, in hot weather. Dwarf vegetable cultivars, or those developed with patio or small space gardening in mind, can also thrive in the confines of a pot, barrel, basket, or other imaginative container with drainage holes. Some vegetable gardeners in very cold climates grow their tender annuals in pots nestled in a wagon so that they can be pulled to warm safekeeping when the weather is unfavorable.

With some exceptions, annuals should be planted after all danger of frost has passed. In the case of leafy or heading vegetables, like spinach or cabbage, prepare to replace plants that are harvested with new sowings. Permitting some crops, like broccoli, bok choy, or radish to bolt and produce flowers and seed can add a new dimension to the edible landscape and are often attractive to species of predatory beneficial insects. Provide appropriate support for vining crops.

Try the many colors and flavors of sweet basil, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cilantro, cucumber, dill, eggplant, fennel, garlic, gourds, greens, ground cherry, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, okra, onion, parsley, peas, peppers, runner beans, sweet potato, Swiss chard, tomatillo, and tomatoes.

Only eat nonsprayed flowers that have been correctly identified and begin consumption with a small taste, in case you have an unknown allergy. Some edible flowers to try include anise hyssop, African marigold (Figure 7), borage, calendula, chive, daylily, dianthus or pinks, English daisy, hollyhock, lavender, lilac, nasturtium, pansy or Johnny jump up, rose (petals and hips), scarlet runner bean, scented geranium (leaves and flowers), and tuberous begonia.

Annual flowers
Figure 7. Many annual flowers, such as the red, orange, and yellow African marigolds pictured above, are both edible and a source of good late-season color. Photo by Ariel Agenbroad.

Although there are many flowers that can be consumed, use caution. Many others contain alkaloids, tannins, or other chemicals that can be harmful or even poisonous to humans.


Further Reading

Creasy, Rosalind. Edible Landscaping. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2010.

Easton, Valerie. A Pattern Garden. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2007.

Hemenway, Toby. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Hartford, VT: Chelsea Green, 2009.

Kourik, Robert. Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally. Hartford, VT: Chelsea Green, 2005.


About the Authors

Ariel Agenbroad—Area Extension Educator, Community Food Systems and Small Farms, University of Idaho Extension

Stephen L. Love—Urban Horticulture Specialist, University of Idaho Aberdeen Research and Extension Center

Tony McCammon—(former) Area Extension Educator, Consumer and Commercial Horticulture, University of Idaho Extension

Isabelle Taylor—Advanced Master Gardener Volunteer, Master Composter, Ada and Canyon Counties


Cautionary statements—DO NOT EAT unidentified flowers as they may be poisonous. Do not purchase flowers to eat from a florist unless specified for food consumption. Do not harvest flowers that could have been exposed to animal waste, pesticides, or other contaminants. Always prepare flowers carefully before serving; wash well, making sure to remove any hidden insects; shake, and leave to dry on paper towel. In most cases, only petals should be used. Some flowers may contribute to allergic reactions in some people.

Asthmatics or others who suffer allergic reactions to compositetype flowers (e.g., calendula, chicory, chrysanthemum, daisy, English daisy, and marigold) should be on alert for possible allergic reactions.

Use flowers sparingly in recipes, particularly if not accustomed to eating them. If prone to allergies, introduce flowers in small amounts in order to judge their effect. Some have a much more pronounced flavor than others, so it will be necessary to use them accordingly.


Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Barbara Petty, Director of University of Idaho Extension, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844. The University of Idaho has a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, age, disability or status as a Vietnam-era veteran.

University of Idaho Extension

 

Physical Address:
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Mailing Address:
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Phone: 208-885-7982

Fax: 208-885-9046

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Location

Barbara Petty

Email: extdir@uidaho.edu