The idea of creating an edible landscape is very appealing. How wonderful would it be to have a snack at hand, anywhere in your yard? It sounds like the perfect solution for gardeners with limited space and many vegetables are as attractive as so-called ornamental plants.
The real caveat is finding vegetables that can survive outside of a fenced-in vegetable garden fortress. Humans are no alone in their enjoyment of pea tendrils and the luscious scent of tomatoes. Deer, squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits and lots of other critters know no boundaries when it comes to foraging. If you like to experiment with edible landscaping, start with some of these vegetables. They are not overly appealing to wildlife and if you interplant them among plants with scratchy textures and repellent scents, the hungry wildlife might just avoid them.
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The leaves of bean plants are more attractive to animals than the bean pods. To get around this, you can grow pole varieties in flower borders by encircling the bottoms of the plants in chicken wire. It isn't particularly noticeable at a distance and the plants eventually cover it. You may lose some leaves that poke through, but the animals don't destroy the whole plant and the beans remain intact, to harvest.
Trellising pole beans on any decorative structure or even a simple bamboo teepee is an easy way to add height to your flower border. They grow faster than most annual flowering vines and bean flowers are just as lovely. If you want more ornamental pow, you can grow a colorful variety, like Long Red Noodle beans or Dragon Tongue.
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Most four-footed animals avoid eggplants. That could be because they are scratchy and thorny or maybe there are just more tempting plants to eat in the yard.
Flea beetles can make eggplant leaves unsightly in a matter of days, but they seem to do less damage when the eggplants are interspersed among scented flowers, so planting them in the flower border is a win-win.
Certainly, there are few vegetables that are considered more beautiful than eggplants. From the glossy deep purple orbs to the splotches of 'Rosa Bianca', traditional eggplants are exotic fruits. The long, thin varieties, mature quickly and the dangling strands of 'Ping Tung' make a nice contrasting form against the whirl of flowers. You could also try some of the Middle Eastern varieties, like Turkish Orange.
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Let's face it, humans are the only animals that devour these alliums. If there are fail-safe vegetables for edible landscaping, it would be onions, garlic, and chives. You can protect other vegetables by interplanting them with chives, but chives have a tendency to quickly spread. If you don't want them taking over your garden, don't let them go to seed. Since garlic and onions need to be dug up when harvested, they can be trickier to interplant. But you could always use them along borders.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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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. Once the stems toughen up, the damage becomes minimal. Knowing that, wait until they are about 6 inches tall, before planting them in the open.
You probably don't need any convincing to think of peppers as ornamental plants. In fact, many hot peppers are sold as ornamentals. There are certainly more than enough hot pepper varieties to fill a yard, but don't overlook the sweet types. Most peppers start out green but once the fruits reach maturity you can enjoy a rainbow of colors from purple, to red, orange, yellow, and even chocolate and white.
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Perennial herbs are the safest choice for edible landscaping. Annual and biennial herbs, like parsley, basil, and cilantro, are surprisingly appealing to animals, considering their strong scent. Maybe it's their succulent foliage that makes them targets. But woodier herbs, like sage, oregano, thyme, lemongrass, rosemary and lavender, all fare better in the yard. Mint can also remain attack-free, although many gardeners would not mind if someone wanted to thin out their mint patch for them.
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Eating flowers from the flower garden may seem a little odd, at first. Somehow planting them in the vegetable garden makes it seem more sensible to snip them for a salad. But growing edible flowers throughout your yard should be a part of every edible landscape. Just be sure not to feed or spray them with anything you don't want to ingest.
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Although fruits, nuts, and berries are certainly alluring to animals, there is generally enough to go around, with a little netting and protection. The real advantage of using these plants as an edible landscape is that they require minimal care and most look good for at least 3 seasons. A little spring pruning and feeding and most will take care of themselves. Consider the visual impact of a blueberry bush that covers itself with white flowers in spring, dusky purple berries in summer and radiant red leaves in the fall.
Caution: Animal Magnets
Some vegetables are just too tempting for a hungry animal to resist. Avoid edible landscaping with vegetables from these 3 groups:
If you want to attract every hungry animal in the woods, try planting any brassica in the open. Leafy salad greens don't fare much better. Oddly, it's not 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, to share with others. Corn is also a plant that does best planted in multiple rows which doesn't work well in a backyard landscape.
Every animal in the yard appears to love the young tendrils and the pods. You can try and hide these vegetables by interplanting them with some of the more animal repellent plants, like lavender and onions. It doesn't always work, but if there are enough good things for them to eat with less effort, they may never get around to munching down your peas.
If You Plan to Eat It, Don't Treat It
If you plan to grow edibles alongside ornamentals in your yard, consider researching some tried and true organic methods such as interplanting and companion planting. Most commercial pesticides and many herbicides use chemicals not designed to be ingested by humans. Consuming vegetables treated with these substances can be potentially very hazardous to your health. There also are organically based products on the market today that don't require you to "wait before picking." Avoid compost treated with weed barriers and heavy commercial fertilizers. Instead feed your all your plants with organic compost and natural mineral substances such as bone meal.
Mason, J, Alford, Michael A, Kuhar, Patrick T. Flea Beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Populations, Effects of Feeding Injury, and Efficacy of Insecticide Treatments on Eggplant and Cabbage in Southwest Virginia. Journal of Economic Entomology, 113,2,887-895, 2020, doi:10.1093/jee/toz355
Peillex, Cindy, Pelletier, Martin. The Impact and Toxicity of Glyphosate and Glyphosate-Based Herbicides on Health and Immunity. Journal of Immunotoxicology, 17,1,163-174, 2020, doi:10.1080/1547691X.2020.1804492