Renovating part of your landscape this year? Consider incorporating fruiting plants. They can fulfill many of the functions of ornamental landscape plants with the added benefit of supporting bees and wildlife. Humans will also enjoy eating the following fruits fresh, or processed into juice, jelly, jam, desserts, or wine.
Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) make an excellent groundcover in the landscape, filling in space under trees and shrubs and in flower beds, and are especially useful on slopes to prevent erosion. The plants produce runners and daughter plants that will quickly fill in the space (Fig. 1), covering the ground and choking out weeds. Strawberry cultivars are either ever-bearing/day neutral (bear several crops of fruit throughout the season, but fruit tend to be smaller in size) or June-bearing (bear larger fruit but only for a 2-3 week period in the early summer, which is best if you want volume for processing). If you want the plants to stay put, consider Alpine strawberries (Fragaria x vesca) which don’t send out runners and produce small fruit all summer long.
If you’re in the market for a fruiting shrub, there are several options suited to our area including Aronia (Aronia spp.), Currants (Black, Red, and White; Ribes spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa), Jostaberry (Ribes nidigrolaria), and Serviceberry/Juneberry (Amelanchier spp.; some are small trees). Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus), and Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) can also be used in the landscape, though they will require more management than the other shrubs to keep them contained (Fig. 2) and minimize disease.
Grapevines (Vitis spp.) and hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.) vines (Fig. 3a and 3b) are beautiful trained to grow over a trellis or arbor in the landscape. They can provide shade on a patio or create a living screen between your yard and your neighbor’s property. ‘Issai’ is a hardy kiwifruit cultivar that can produce fruit on a single plant; all other kiwifruit cultivars will require that you have enough space to plant a male for pollination purposes if you want fruit.
4. Shade trees
Many fruit trees are available to provide shade in the landscape. Small trees (less than 30 feet tall) are often preferred by homeowners and include Black cherry/Rum cherry (Prunus serotina), Chokecherry (P. virginiana), Cornelian cherry/Dogwood (Cornus mas), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), and American (wild) plum (P. americana). Mulberry (Morus spp.) and Persimmon (Diospyros spp.) are taller trees that also work in the landscape.
As with many ornamental landscape plants, fruiting plants in the landscape may require watering, pruning, fertilizing, or pest management, but the effort required is a small price to pay for the many benefits listed above. And the satisfaction that comes from growing your own fresh fruit is priceless!
For more information:
Edible Woody Landscapes for People and Wildlife, http://nac.unl.edu/documents/morepublications/sfp3_EdibleWoodyLandscapes.pdf
Edible Landscapes, http://arboretum.unl.edu/documents/The Seed Edible Landscapes 2010.pdf