Edible plants for an HOA landscape part 2

Figuring out how to grow useful and beautiful things that are edible in your HOA landscape is a challenge. This post is going to focus on smaller shrubs and perennial plants (ones that come back year after year) rather than trees which are covered here in part one.

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Evergreen edible plants & ground covers

Evergreen shrubs are extremely important in the landscape. They form the backbone during winter. I want to be able to look out and see a ground covered in green in January. Not a bare silvery weathered fence, some bare twigs and tan grass. That’s common here in the burbs of Austin.

Herbs

Rosemary – Has multiple varieties. They all seem to have the ability to get large. 5 feet tall, no problem, 6 feet wide, Yep. Some grow upright and some are the “weeping” variety that crawl and look great draping over an edge of a raised bed.

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Sage – Multiple varieties and colors. From my experience the silver one does best in our area. but there are yellow and purple varieties that are beautiful and would work also. There are some that are more hardy than others Pineapple sage you’ll probably have to plant every year it because it’s not cold hardy. Some sages are really only ornamental so make sure you’re picking a cooking variety if your thinking about eating it. These are relatively short lived in Austin. 3 years is probably the max you’ll get out of them before they need to be replaced. But it’s easy to make more plants out of your existing one so that’s not too much of a deterrent for me. We use sage mostly in making Rosemary-Sage Salt.

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Thyme – Multiple varieties and colors. These can be green, yellow, variegated with white edges. Some have beautiful pink, red or purple flowers.

Society Garlic – I see this plant EVERYWHERE. A lot of people don’t realize it’s edible. Traditional gardeners may even think that it’s not edible because it is commonly sold as an ornamental. But it is, and you can. The problem is that I have yet to find a recipe I like to really put it to good use. In the victorian era it was dubbed “society garlic” because it was thought to be less pungent of a flavor punctuating the breath of the people that ate it compared to regular garlic. So it was thought to be more polite to use it in a dish for company. It has pretty purple flowers that make it a great addition to any front yard. So far the only way I can find to use it is in chicken noodle soup. The variegated variety is less rugged than the traditional.

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Oregano – Soooo many kinds and colors. I have two in my Yard. One gets to be a massive bush that I have to beat into submission so I can still use the pathway it is planted along and the other is a super low growing variety that has started to invade the grass in the yard. both are great for cooking.

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Green onions – Believe it or not, the green onion bunches you buy at the store are made for Texas. Every time I buy a bunch i leave 1 inch of white stem with the roots still attached and plant them out in the yard. They are carefree and easy. They are green all year round and the best part is, next time you want some you can just snip off the top and they’re gonna grow right back.

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Other

Spine-less prickly pear – Not entirely true as my shin can tell you. This evergreen cactus has edible paddles and provides prickly-pear fruit in late summer/fall. it’s a win-win in my book. You can eat both the fruit and the main plant. Mine personally struggled through last winter but prevailed so That’s why it still gets a post of honor here. Even though it may be sold as “spineless” don’t be fooled. Little tiny splinter still protrude from the nipples of the plant (where normal large spines would be) These are called glochids and there are just as evil as their large spiked cousins. Not because they hurt more, but because they are hard to see and have a tendency to break rather than be pulled out. Never-the-less I think it’s a valuable addition to the edible landscape.

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Dwarf Bottle brush – This plant is great for making tea. The dwarf variety is more cold-hearty than it’s taller relative. It’s beautiful red flowers attract hummingbirds in spring. It’s a lovely addition to the landscape.

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Dianthus – Sweet william is a great low-growing ground cover that provides edible flowers that smell sweet and spicy. They flower in spring and fall, and are dormant but still provide a blue-green foliage when it’s too hot in summer and when it’s too cold in winter.

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Deciduous edible plants & ground covers

Herbs

Mint – most people want to contain it. This one tolerates more shade and I use it as a ground cover beneath deciduous fruit trees. It also is more thirsty than a lot of other plants to keep it looking good.

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bee balm – Good for teas it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and has beautiful flowers. be prepared for it to spread. In my yard it’s crazier than any traditional mint plant the way it spreads. the flowers get to be 3-4 feet tall so put it in the middle or back of your landscape and probably not next to a fence if you don’t want to be responsible for it getting into your neighbor’s yard.

Mexican mint marigold – has pretty little yellow daisy like flowers in fall and an anise taste (black licorice). It gets to be about a foot and a half tall and loves full sun.

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Lemon balm – is less invasive than mint and my go-to for under fruit tree ground cover in more shady areas. It doesn’t like full sun, it will burn in our Texas summers but it still needs some sunlight, dappled sunlight is fine. This is a staple in my sun tea. Not as thirsty as traditional mint in my experience.Lemon-Balm

Echinacea – beautiful flowers and if you feel like it, you can dig up some of the root and use it to make things to stave off winter colds. I have multiple plants in my yard and I have to confess the idea of pulling them up is not my idea of fun. They are too pretty. I’d rather just buy echinacea tea.

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Chives & Garlic chives – similar to the society garlic but smaller in stature and less pungent still. It adds a delicate onion flavor when a hint of it is desired. Plus the purple flowers are pretty.

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Sorrel- This sees to be a short lived perennial here. full sun burns the leaves. It needs a partial sun position with deep rich soil that drains well to do its best. Mine is in clay and is just sort of doing ok. Makes a great addition to salads with a zippy lemony-sour punch that is fun. The red veined variety tastes just as good and is more ornamental than the solid green.

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Fruit bearing plants & other

Chile pequin – a naturalized native hot pepper that grows into a sizable shrub if you let it. Responds well to pruning. You could have a little hedge of this if you wanted to in a full sun location. I got mine courtesy of a bird dropping which now grows next to my fence. It may die back in winter but it will come back again in spring.

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cardoon – This is a Mediterranean native. It’s related to the artichoke. You eat the stems of the plants instead of the flower. I made a traditional Mediterranean cardoon casserole with a rue base and the best description I can come up with is artichoke mac-and-cheese. It’s pretty delicious although a little bit of work to get it prepped. And yeah, they get huge. I had no idea mine would end up being 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Ideally you’ll cut them to the ground when they get maybe 3 feet tall to harvest the leaves for their stems. They will pop back up again. As long as they have sun they seem to be happy.

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Edible plants for an HOA landscape part 1

There are tons of plants that are multi-functional. Beautiful and tasty. Probably wouldn’t recommend putting tomatoes in the front yard if you’re in an HOA that doesn’t allow it, but there are so many other things that you can do to get your yard to be productive for you. Here in Austin Texas this is some things that you can plant that you can eat in addition to serving other purposes in the landscape that are also beautiful and you can put in your landscape without worrying about HOA’s.

I’ll starting with the big stuff and work my way down through the different layers of a landscape which is how you plan out what you want to plant. I’ll provide pictures and ideas on how to use the plant and where to put it to make it the most happy.

One thing to keep in mind is fruiting times. I tried to pick varieties that vary when they ripen so I don’t get gobs of fruit in fall but nothing in spring or winter. Also since we are on the verge of semi-tropical/arid here but still have the ability to get snow, I also picked an array of trees that will do well under different conditions. If we get an unseasonably cold year, the peaches, pears, persimmons and plums will do great, if it is a warm winter year, I’ll get plenty of loquats, and mandarins, kumquats and pomegranates.

Evergreen Fruit Trees/Large Shrubs

Evergreen with fruit that you can eat! Evergreen trees do not lose their leaves in winter and are great if you are trying to block a view or provide a permanently shady location. Austin has two of them that seem very happy in this climate and a few more finicky varieties that may or may not be happy depending on the sort of whether we get that year and the site that you plant it.

The lovely Loquat

This thing grew SUPER quickly it can get 25 feet tall and wide so be sure to give it enough space from the fence line and other trees. It has nice large dark green leaves with lighter new growth all year which is valuable when the typical scene in the winter time here is tan grass and silver leaves. I NEED GREEN. It’s Perfect for blocking views of neighbors. Not only that, it fruits in winter/early spring when the winters are warm enough to not kill the blossoms.

Pineapple Guava

(also known as Feijoa)- you’ll see this name when looking for recipes since it’s a South American plant

This was plant is a slower grower but still grew to approximately 7 feet tall in 4 years. Pineapple guava will get to be about 15 feet tall without pruning which it takes well. It would be well suited to a hedge, or tree form. The stunning flowers you see in spring have the added surprise of having edible petals. They taste like tutti fruity which is why the birds go crazy for them. Then in fall the fruit drops to the ground which is how to know it is ripe. takes about 4 years to produce. I had 2 or 3 fruits last year on all 3 of my trees this year they are loaded so heavily it’s weighing down the limbs. The one that is the happiest is in Part shade. The one in full sun doesn’t fruit as much and is shorter. It looks fine but could probably do with supplemental water. The best thing about these is that all pests – even the birds – seem to leave them alone.

Other Evergreen Edible Trees

  • Bay leaf – for cooking spices needs full sun and winter protection. I have one in a pot that I bring in for the winter. I’m sure I could put it in the ground if I was willing to baby it for a few years with winter protection…but I’m not. Full sun, they can get HUGE but do well with trimming.
  • Olive – I have mine in a pot that lives outside all year and can take the cold and yes it fruits olives! (making them edible is a longer process than I was prepared for).
  • Mandarin – This one is more of a temperamental plant, careful site selection for full sun but shelter from winter winds and cold is important. Pay attention to variety. Mine is arctic frost. It’s given me 5 mandarins one year and they were dry and not flavorful. I assume that’s because the plant is still young and takes longer to produce good quality fruit. There’s one in our neighborhood that’s HUGE. I wonder how long it’s been there to get that big.
  • Elaeagnus or silver berry – has a wonderfuly fragranced flower in winter and fruits berries that taste close to grapes with one long football shaped seed in each. Used commonly for hedges in sun-part shade areas. Bees love this plant and so do I.
  • Kumquat – Same issue for variety and site selection as mandarins. We got a cold snap last year down to 26 degrees (only for a day or two) and that was enough to kill off over half the plant.
  • Pygmy date palm sounded tempting but when a description of “the absolute worst tasting ‘date’ I’ve ever had, may be edible but is not palatable” description popped up in my searches I decided against trying it. After all, I’ve got limited space to work with.

Deciduous fruit trees

for places where you want shade in winter and full sun in summer or don’t care about blocking a particular view all year-long.  They loose leaves when it gets cold. Consider the following when selecting trees:

  • Fruit. Trees. Get. Big. look for dwarf or semi dwarf varieties if you don’t want to hassle with ladders or extensive pruning. If you have enough space to get a standard apple tree that will get 50 feet tall and wide that’s great, but that’s not my little suburban back yard.
  • Chilling hours. A lot of fruit require a certain number of hours a year below 45 degrees in order to even form fruit. I looked for the lowest number of chilling hour requirements. We supposedly get 700 on average a year. However, that is average. We get winters so mild banana plants make it through the winter every few years, then will get a light snow. My philosophy here is hedge your bets. Plant things that require a lower number of chilling hours (I looked for ones in the 400-500 range) because they will most likely get that, even in a mild winter. Cold doesn’t kill stone fruits like apples, peaches, pears and plums. A lack of winter will though. Enough winters without enough chilling hours will stress the tree so much it will die.
  • Self pollinating. This was another big one for me. A LOT of fruit tree varieties require a pollinator to get anything, but there are always a few that don’t. Most will say something like “is self fertile but will produce more with a pollinator”. Those are fine. Anything that says self fertile go for. If you’re lucky a neighbor a few blocks over will have a peach or plum tree too and you’ll get even more. You don’t need a self pollinating variety if you’re willing to plant two or more types of whatever you’re looking at but that takes up space and you want to be sure they’ll flower the same time.
  • Plant them in Fall. It gives the poor thing as long as possible to grow roots and to get adjusted before summer hits. Buy them bare root or in a pot dig a large hole, fill it with a TON of amended soil and water it well. It will reward you with leaf buds in spring. The first TWO summers water it very frequently and deep if you want it to live. When we get a crazy summer every other day may be necessary.

Peaches

I am so happy with my peach tree. It’s been the most reliable producer of fruit of all my trees to date. Fruiting buckets when it was only 3 years in the ground. In spring you get beautiful flowers and later on you get wonderful fruit: IMG_6382

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It was a four foot tall, wispy stick when I stuck it in the ground 4 yeas ago which is the first picture. I had to prop it up with bamboo sticks during a windstorm its first year. This is my first recommendation for anyone wanting traditional fruit here in Austin. It’s far and away out performed every other tree I have.

It’s provided us with fun things like peach cobbler, peach pie, and peach salsa the past two springs (which is must do if you haven’t tried it).

Persimmons

This is by far the second best fruiting tree I’ve planted. I actually have two of these. They are self pollinating but I love them so much I wanted more than one variety. They love full sun.

 

This was my tiny persimmon tree. It’s fourth year in the ground it decided to give me a bumper crop. Both trees were LOADED.  I hadn’t expected that so it caught me off-guard since every other year the fruit dropped before it was mature (it’s common for young trees to do that and focus their energy on growing instead of producing fruit). I had so many I didn’t know how to use them all so I froze pulp until I could figure out what to do with all of it. The largest variety is now 20 feet tall and the other variety is a dwarf which will stay provably 6 feet tall or so.

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Other Deciduous Fruit Trees

  • Plum – Mexican Plum handles the summer heat well in our area but is a sporadic producer.  Plant in full sun to part shade
  • Pomegranates – have the most beautiful red showy flowers. I planted the “wonderful” variety and have been very unimpressed. The tree is only in the ground 4 years so it’s possible it needs longer to produce than that. So far last year we got two extremely tiny and under-ripe pomegranates. I only see 3 flowers this year so even if they all pollinated I’m certain it will be about the same. Plant in full sun.
  • Pears – be very choosy what variety you pick for this. Mine hasn’t even flowered yet. I’ve seen nothing. My neighbor however gets tons of fruit every few years. Full sun.
  • Figs – are suited well to the area. This is the first year I’ve gotten any figs about 3 handfuls. Plant in full sun.

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