Are you missing out on free food from your yard? Even if you don’t want to start a garden, edible landscaping can fit into an existing yard and yield delicious fresh produce with minimal additional work. Find out how to get bushels of delectable fruit from your yard with low-maintenance perennial fruit!
If you’re like many of us, produce can make up a sizable part of the grocery bill, fruit especially. A few organic apples can set you back a few dollars, and they’re gone in a flash.
Nevermind splurgier items like fresh berries. A couple handfuls go for three or four bucks! Not to mention the considerable impact of shipping, refrigeration, and all that plastic packaging.
Here’s an easy way to save big (and shrink your fruitprint, as it were) on the best in-season fruit: Grow some of your own perennial fruit plants! You may not realize how easy some of these delicious treats are to grow.
And when you understand the basics of edible landscaping, you’ll find that you can fruit-bearing plants to your yard without changing the aesthetic if you don’t want to.
Why to Consider Edible Landscaping and Growing Fruit
I can hear you thinking to yourself, “But where? I don’t want to rip out a bunch of my yard!”
Here’s an important thing to know about edible landscaping with fruit plants: Many of them are beautiful and can be tucked into existing landscapes without interfering with the aesthetics of a traditional yard.
Unlike the annual vegetable patch, you don’t need to segregate your fruit plants. They can grow here and there, or sub in for traditional landscape plants.
Blueberries instead of box. Elderberries instead of spirea. Honeyberries instead of honeysuckle. Strawberries instead of ajuga. You get the idea.
Why wouldn’t you choose a plant that looks nice all season but also produces yummy perennial fruit over its banal and unproductive counterpart?
When you plant perennial food crops, the work of gardening in most cases drops considerably compared to annual veggies. No tilling, digging, or seeding required every season.
If you keep these plants watered and mulch them well, you can look forward to delicious fruit season after season with very little work from you. Perfect for the busy wanna-be gardener!
Now, you’ll want to do enough research to make sure you plant things correctly and understand their needs for light, water, and nutrients, but other than that most of these plants take very little work.
I’m a believer in “good enough” gardening — if I had more time and energy I might take greater pains to prevent pests or maximize yields in other ways, but I don’t. I don’t have time to mess with fussy fertilizers and such, and maybe you don’t either.
Yes, I could get even more food from my yard. But I’m pretty satisfied with what we get from our largely self-sufficient edible landscaping, and that’s the way it’s going to stay for the time being.
Interested in some low-work, unobtrusive ways to get more food from your yard? Check out some of the perennial plants below and enjoy some luscious homegrown fruit for years with relatively little effort on your part. See the longish list of plant options at the bottom of the post and check out some of these lesser-known gems before you finalize your planting plan.
Note that several fruits can handle partial shade. If you’re dealing with a shadier garden, check out 40+ vegetables that grow in shade.
Edible Landscaping with Perennial Fruit: Fruiting Shrubs
The shrub level of a garden is often the most overlooked and one of the easiest ways to tuck more edibles into your landscape. Blueberries are lovely ornamentals, and elderberries can make an effective hedge, which gives you illness-fighting berries for your elderberry tea and gummies! Elderberry shrubs actually produce TWO crops, first delicious elderflowers in early summer, then berries toward the end of the season. They’re fantastic plants for pollinators, really easy to grow, and unbelievably good for you.
You can take a page from the permaculture handbook, and underplant a tree with blueberries or currants. This not only conserves space, but makes watering more efficient. Here’s a quickstart guide to using permaculture principles in your garden.
If you have an out-of-the-way spot for something a little less attractive (and potentially invasive), definitely consider adding some raspberry and blackberry plants. Who doesn’t love raspberries?
–> Find out how to get them for free in my post about scoring free plants!
Edible Landscaping with Perennial Fruit: Fruiting Groundcovers
Strawberries are lovely groundcovers, and if you’re in a warmer climate than I am, you should look into groundcover raspberries. Cranberries also can be used as groundcover fruit. (Info on how to grow cranberries here.)
Herbs also make great groundcovers, but that’s a topic for a future post. Stay tuned!
Edible Landscaping with Perennial Fruit: Fruiting Accent Plants
Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb is also a wonderful perennial food plant that we treat as a spring fruit. It’s an extremely nutritious and versatile ingredient for desserts and treats, and I think makes a striking landscape plant. (Check out my post on uses for rhubarb for more on why it’s a must-have for the perennial food garden.) Here are instructions on how to grow rhubarb.
Alpine strawberries are also lovely additions to your edible landscaping, giving tiny tastes of astonishingly flavorful berries all summer long.
Edible Landscaping with Perennial Fruit: Fruit Trees
If you’re thinking of planting a tree, why not make it a fruit-bearing one? Fruit trees like plums, cherries, and apples have beautiful flowers in spring like their merely “ornamental” brethren, but then they produce astounding amounts of fruit year after year. Picking a juicy plum from your own tree at the peak of ripeness in summer — what could be better?
I’m a huge fan of a lesser-known fruit called serviceberries (or Juneberries, because they’re ready in June). They come in shrub and tree form, and both are lovely.
This native North American tree produces huge quantities of fruit somewhat similar to blueberries that our family eats fresh but some people use in jam or pie. Wildlife loves it also. More on the benefits of growing fruit trees in this post.
Edible Landscaping with Perennial Fruit: Vining Fruits
If you have a place for climbing plants, a few grapevines produce an astonishing number of grapes! We planted some by a trellis screening our porch, and the shade and privacy the vines provide are almost as valuable as the fruit! But the fruit’s great, too. Other fruiting vines to consider include passionfruit and hardy kiwi (a smaller version than you’re used to seeing in the store that has edible skin).
Edible Landscaping: Nuts
Don’t forget nut trees and shrubs! Hazelnuts are a hardy shrub plant, and as long as you’re patient, a walnut, pecan, or almond tree could be a good investment.
Choosing Plants for Your Edible Landscaping
You’ll want to talk to a local nursery for suggestions for plants suitable to your climate and growing conditions. Apples, for instance, need winters to be cold enough, while there’s no citrus that’s going to make it through a Minnesota winter. (Except indoors in pots. Done that!)
One of the things you’ll want to find out is whether you have to have more than one plant or a male and female plant to get fruit. A number of fruiting plants will require a mate of some sort, but there are also some that don’t, called self-fertile.
Some plants to consider for your edible landscaping:
**BE SURE TO CHECK HARDINESS ZONES WHEN ORDERING PLANTS ONLINE!!** If you live in zone 4, all those zone 7 plants won’t work for you. You don’t want your plants to die because they aren’t suited to your climate!
- Nanking Cherry
- Seaberry (or sea buckthorn)
- Pineapple guava
- Hardy kiwis
- Groundcover raspberry
Fruiting Accent Plants
- Alpine strawberries
Is your mouth watering yet? What fruits are you thinking of growing this season?
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Photo credits: markusspiske, skeeze, Fruchthandel_Magazin, efes