From the Vine: Edible Landscape
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If you are building or purchasing a new home and aren’t sure what to do with your landscape, or wanting to renovate your old, boring landscape, you may want to think about incorporating edibles into your plans to help create beauty, shade, serve as a windbreak, and provide a fresh nutritious food source. If you choose to add edible fruits into your landscape there are a few options that are a good choice for beginners, and it isn’t an all-or nothing proposition. It is possible to start small, replacing just a few ornamentals with edibles, or to use edible plants in the entire landscape. Edible plants can perform many of the same functions as ornamental species, if selected carefully.
Edible plants for beginning gardeners include figs, persimmons, mulberries, grapes, blueberries, and pecan. All of these edibles are low maintenance and require less watering, mulching, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, and spraying.
Select a site that will accommodate the plants when mature and receives full sun. Pecans require approximately a 40’x40’ space, persimmons, and mulberries need a 20’x20’ space, figs need a 10’x10’ space, blueberries need a 4’x4’ space, and grapes need trellising in a 4’x20’ space. Once you select the appropriate site, collect a soil sample and amend the soil according to the soil analysis. Most all landscape edibles need a soil pH between 6 – 6.5 except blueberries. Blueberries should have a soil pH between 4.5 – 5.5.
Figs can be grown as a tree or shrub and produces a greenish-yellow to purple fruit with a sweet and delicate flavor. Figs are well adapted to Sampson County and are extremely low maintenance. The two most common varieties for our area include ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste’. Plant figs in the spring in well-drained loamy soil. Fertilize with 2 to 3 cups of a balanced fertilizer 3 times a year and water when rain isn’t sufficient. The major pest issues of figs are birds and Japanese beetles, both of which can be deterred with netting. Figs are harvested in mid-summer and can be eaten fresh, made into preserves or jams, or dried for later use.
Native persimmons were once cultivated by our local Indian tribes and are native to eastern NC. Oriental persimmons were introduced into the US over 100 years ago, and they have larger, sweeter, and tastier fruit. Both grow well in the Sampson County landscape. Native persimmons are dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees and you need one of each in order to produce fruit. Oriental persimmons produce male and female flowers and will self-pollinate. Persimmons flower in spring and produce fruit in the fall. Plant persimmons in late winter being especially cautious to not damage their fragile root system. Persimmons require little fertilization and no fertilization if you are fertilizing your lawn around the trees. Harvest in the fall after the first hard frost. The fruit can be eaten fresh, or used in puddings, breads, and cookies. Varieties for our area include ‘Fuyu’ and ‘Jiro’.
Pecans were also cultivated by local Indian tribes in NC. Pecans are monoecious meaning they have separate male and female flowers on the same tree. Pollen is not released when flowers are receptive so pollination within and between the same cultivars is limited. Cultivars are separated into type I and type II and you need one of each. Cultivars recommended for the Sampson County landscape include Caddo, Mandan, and Lipan as type I trees, and Lakota, Sumner, Elliot, and Kanza as type II trees. Pecans should be planted in late winter in sandy loam soils that are well drained. Pecans can be fertilized by applying 1 pound of 10-10-10 per year of tree age in February and March, not to exceed 25 pounds per tree. Pecans are harvested in the fall when the nuts drop. Store nuts in a burlap or porous bag with moderate ventilation and heat. They can also be shelled and frozen. Pecans can be eaten fresh, roasted, or in baked goods.
Red Mulberries are native to NC and grow best in well-drained rich soil. They should be planted in fall or late winter and are easily grown from seed or cuttings. Mulberries are also self-seeded and can become prolific or weedy. Mulberries produce fruit similar to blackberries that ripen in late spring and early summer. They can be eaten fresh or used to make jam, jelly, or in baked goods. Cultivars that grow well in Sampson County include Collier, Silk Hope, and Townsend.
Blueberries are also native to NC and grow well in the home landscape. Cultivars include Legacy, Columbus, New Hanover, Tifblue, and Powderblue. Blueberries can be used as a border, windbreak, or scattered about the landscape. Blueberries need acidic soils ranging from 4.5-5.5 pH, and they should never be limed. Blueberries can be planted in the fall or late winter and prefer well-drained soil. They should be pruned annually for optimal production and mulched. Blueberries are harvested in early to late summer and can be harvested every 5-7 days. Blueberries can be eaten fresh, frozen, or dried.
Muscadine grapes are native to Sampson County and can be found growing in the wild on the forest edge. Cultivars for Sampson County include Supreme, Paulk, Tara, Triumph, and Carlos. Plant grapes after the last chance of spring freeze in loamy, well-drained soils. Grapes should be trellised on a single wire trellis with plants 10-20’ apart. Grapes should be fertilized with ¼ to ½ a pound of 6-6-18 fertilizer in early May and every 6 weeks until the end of July. Grapes are best eaten fresh, but can also be frozen as a cold, sweet treat as an alternative to ice-cream.
For more information on edibles in the landscape visit the NC State gardening website, or contact the Master Gardener plant clinic at the N.C. Cooperative Extension,Sampson County Center.