Edible landscaping plants can be just as attractive as ornamental landscaping plants. You might even have some edible plants in your backyard already. The real challenge is finding fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers that can survive outside of a fenced-in vegetable garden fortress. Critters, including rabbits and deer, are often the biggest threat to edible plants. But there are some you can plant that don't tend to have major critter problems, and they will add visual appeal to your landscape.
Here are eight groups of edible landscaping plants to add to your garden.
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Artichokes and cardoons are decorative plants that would be worth growing in the landscape, even if you couldn't eat them. They grow to around 3 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide with silver-green leaves and their notorious edible flower buds.
Most animals won't want to munch on the prickly leaves. And as long as the flowers are a few feet off the ground, nothing should touch them.
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The leaves of bean plants are more attractive to animals than the bean pods are. To get around this, you can grow pole varieties in flower borders and encircle the bottoms of the plants with chicken wire. The other plants growing around the beans should help to cover the wire.
Also, trellising pole beans is an easy way to add height to your garden. They grow faster than most annual flowering vines, and bean flowers are just as lovely. If you want more ornamental value, grow a colorful variety, such as Long Red Noodle beans or Dragon Tongue.
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Eggplants will provide a beautiful pop of deep purple in your garden as they grow. Eggplant flowers are typically purple or white, and the fruits can sometimes have white, pink, or lavender shading.
Most four-footed animals avoid eggplants. But the plants are susceptible to some insect pests that are common to other plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes. So aim to plant your eggplants away from other nightshade plants to help prevent the spread of these pests.
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Allium species—including onions, garlic, and chives—don't often have pest problems. Rodents and deer tend to avoid them. Insects such as thrips can be an issue, though there are resistant varieties available.
Most of these species grow fairly low to the ground. But they can be a nice way to fill in space with their bright green foliage. And they can help to protect neighboring plants by repelling hungry critters.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Many edible pepper species, especially hot peppers, are sold as ornamentals. The fruits provide interesting pops of color in the landscape as they mature from green to red, orange, yellow, or purple. Some even turn to chocolate or white.
Growing peppers in the landscape poses the same problem as growing beans: The leaves are more attractive to animals than the fruits. Young transplants seem to be especially vulnerable. But once the stems toughen up, the damage becomes minimal. Knowing that, wait until plants are about 6 inches tall before planting them in the open.
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Annual and biennial herbs, such as parsley, basil, and cilantro, are appealing to animals. But woodier perennial herbs, such as sage, oregano, thyme, lemongrass, rosemary, and lavender, all fare better in the garden. Mint can also remain pest attack-free.
These herbs can provide interesting textures in the garden, as well as add visual interest with their blooms. Many work well as ground cover plants. And they will send wafts of their aromatic foliage your way.
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Edible flowers are best eaten soon after they’re picked. So it’s only logical to grow your own rather than try to find them in a store. They add just as much visual appeal to your landscape as ornamental flowers do, and no one will notice when you harvest a few for a salad, dessert, or drink.
Some excellent options include begonias, borage, chamomile, elderflowers, lavender, and lilacs. Make sure to mark your edible flowers in the garden, so you're able to identify them from flowers that are just ornamental.
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Although fruit trees, nuts, and berries are certainly alluring to wildlife, there is usually enough to go around on the plants. And you often can deter many animals just by using a little protection, such as netting.
The real advantage of using them as edible landscaping plants is they generally require minimal care—just some pruning and feeding—and they look good for multiple seasons. Consider the visual impact of a blueberry bush that covers itself with white flowers in the spring, dusky purple berries in the summer, and radiant red leaves in the fall.
Are Lawn Weeds Edible?
There are several plants many people categorize as weeds that are actually edible. But their weedy nature generally means they spread aggressively, so that should be a consideration before you plant them.
Some edible weeds include dandelions, red clover, lamb’s quarters, and wild violets. Some uses include adding them fresh to salads, steeping them for tea, tossing them in soups, or using them to decorate baked goods.
Caution: Animal Magnets
Some edible plants are just too tempting for a hungry animal to resist. Avoid edible landscaping with vegetables from these three groups:
If you want to attract every hungry animal in the woods, try planting any Brassica species in the open. Leafy salad greens don't fare much better. Oddly, it's not usually the rabbits that gravitate toward the lettuce. It's the deer and groundhogs.
Corn can be an unconventional ornamental grass. Unfortunately, squirrels and raccoons love nothing more than to climb the corn stalks and chomp on the cobs. They'll even bend them to the ground. Corn is also a plant that does best planted in multiple rows, which doesn't typically work well in a backyard landscape.
The young tendrils and the pods of peas tend to attract all kinds of wildlife. You can try to hide your peas by interplanting them with some of the more animal-repellent plants, such as lavender and onions. This might work if there are other good things in the area for the wildlife to eat, but it's no guarantee.
If You Plan to Eat It, Don't Treat It
If you plan to grow edibles alongside ornamentals in your yard, avoid commercial pesticides and herbicides. They typically use chemicals that humans shouldn't ingest. Likewise, use organic fertilizer that's marked safe for edible plants. And avoid compost made with plants that were treated with chemicals.