Edible landscaping combines fruit and vegetable plants with ornamentals for a landscape that is both flavorful and attractive. Just as with traditional landscapes, an important element in designing your edible yard is appearance. After all, you won't just be eating these plants - you'll want them to accent your landscape's appearance with texture, color, and variety. The best time to plant shrubs and trees is fall, starting in October, when the roots are still actively growing, but the tops are not. There is less stress in the cooler weather and they will be established by the time next summer's heat arrives. October or February is also the best time to start a vegetable garden in NE Florida. Protection will be needed for freezing temperatures.
The Big Bag Bed comes in a 3-foot wide size that is a good way to start a smaller and manageable vegetable bed. Fill it with compost or other organic soil and plant with seeds or plants. They are weatherproof and last for years. Just unfold, fill and plant. They provide excellent drainage and prevent soil compaction. The circular size makes it easy to reach into the center. $25 each bag.
By growing what we need near where we live, we decrease the "food miles" associated with long-distance transportation. We also get the freshest produce money can buy, and we are encouraged to eat in season. You might want to experiment with a few plants before you take on the full project to see what grows well and what looks best intertwined with your ornamentals. Also be sure to select plants suited to your winter temperatures. Some temperate fruits demand cold weather, whereas tropical fruits can't tolerate it.
The most attractive design is going to come with healthy plants. Keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, with well-draining soil. Once you've picked the right location, there are a variety of ways to incorporate tasty edibles into the landscape:
Grow herbs outside your kitchen like rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, dill and oregano; they'll blend in well with flowering perennials.
Blueberries, figs, guavas, and pomegranate can all be substituted for shrubs.
Build a grape arbor or pergola.
Natal plum and Feijoa are already used as hedge plants and the fruits can be made into jelly.
Tuck yellow and red Swiss chard or purple kale into a flowerbed or border.
Grow edible flowers such as violets, nasturtiums, and pansies from seed and use them in your salads and teas.
Strawberries can also be an attractive groundcover in sunny spots.
Plant a citrus tree as a shade tree on the west or south side of your house.
Some edible plants require more attention than traditional ornamentals. To produce fruit and vegetables, they often need considerable amounts of water, fertilizer, and pest management. Monitor your plants closely and tend to them as necessary. Harvest your edibles daily or weekly as needed during the harvesting period. Dont let fruits or vegetables rot in your landscape; it may attract vermin.
Edible landscapes are rewarding if properly maintained and designed correctly. Contact your local University of Florida extension agent to determine which edibles will grow best in your area. Some of this info is from their September Neighborhood Gardener newsletter. For more info, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep146
Growing vegetables and fruit in NE Florida has its challenges with weather, insects and vermin. If you use a raised bed or the Big Bag Bed, you will cut down on the challenges, because you can start with good soil. For weed control and solar gain white-on-black plastic mulch is a relatively new product. The white surface is laid up to reflect heat. It reflects most incoming radiation, so the soil stays slightly cooler, but the weeds are kept in check with the bottom black surface. The white surface promotes better growth and higher yields, because the light levels are 3 times higher than bare soil. There is also less nutrient loss in heavy rains.
Fruit trees & shrubs that do well in northern Florida and are available:
- Blueberries in many varieties and sizes
- Citrus: cold hardy varieties like orange, lemon, grapefruit, limequat
- Cold Hardy Avocado Brogdon, Day, Winter Mex, Mexicola, Pancho, Joey, Brazos Belle
- Fig: Celeste, Brown Turkey, Jelly, Black Mission
- Nectarine: Sunhome, Sunraycer, Sunmist (white flesh)
- Olive: Arbequina
- Papaya: Solo (needs cold protection)
- Peach: FL Prince, Tropic Beauty, FL Crest, FL Belle, FL King, Peach (white flesh) FL Glo, Tropic Snow
- Kaki Persimmon: Non-astringent or astringent
- Pomegranate: Christina, Eversweet, Fleishman, Russian-Turk
- Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt
- Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver by Fern Marshall Bradley
- The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques by Rosalind Creasy, Marcia Kier-Hawthorne (Illustrator)