Ornamental shrubs, trees, lawns, and countless unknown plants fill most landscapes. These plants provide shade, beauty, and erosion protection, but you can't eat them.
As older plants are replaced, or new areas are developed, consider adding edible plants to the landscape. Often more flavorful than grocery store produce, homegrown edibles come in all shapes and sizes, making it easy to match any landscape design. Gardens are not limited to traditional rows of tilled soil. Even if all you have is a balcony or a sunny window, you can grow edible plants!
What do these plants need?
Nutrient rich soil, adequate water, and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight are all that's needed by most plants. Our soil tends to be heavy clay, which holds more water than other soil types, but it can be a tough barrier for young roots. Adding compost and mulching your soil will make it more hospitable and productive. If you have shady areas, mint, blackberries, chives, spinach and parsley can be planted. Before planting, be sure to read and follow the directions for specific planting depth, sun and water needs, and spacing. Mature plant sizes should be kept in mind, too. Some of those tiny seeds turn in to really big plants!
Creative Planting 101: Towers, Containers & Raised Beds
Many edible plants can be grown in containers, towers, or repurposed pallets. While there are many vertical or container gardens for sale, a little creativity can go a long way to adding edibles to a landscape without spending a lot of money. Leaky buckets, broken down wheelbarrows, plastic coffee tubs, even old boots can be used as planting containers! Just make sure there is good drainage.
Raised beds are easy to make and they have the added benefit of being easier to weed and work than traditional garden beds. They also allow the soil to get and stay warm sooner, extending the growing season.
The Stuff of Salads
Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, onions, garlic, fennel, cucumber, tomatoes and peppers can be added to most landscapes. Alternating green Romaine and red leaf lettuces make a lovely border. Repeat planting can provide many months of edible landscape. Cucumbers, squash and melons can be trained up a fence or trellis, providing beautiful greenery and blooms, plus a surprising bounty of food.
Herbs are very easy to grow and most of them require little to no care once they are established. Tender basil is an exception, but its favor more than makes up for the effort. Thyme, lavender, lemon balm, chives, lemon grass, parsley, cilantro, and sage all grow well from seed. Most of these plants are perennial, which means they will last for many years. Instead of traditional house plants, mint and oregano drape beautifully from a hanging planter and they add flavor to many favorite foods. They can be paired with a more upright plant, such as chives, to make the most of the space and provide twice as much food.
Fruits & Nuts
Fruit and nut trees, bramble fruits, and vines add value to property and they produce delicious edibles each year. Dwarf fruit trees can be grown on balconies, in containers. Bramble fruits, such as raspberry or blackberry, can be grown along a fence, providing extra protection along with luscious fruit. Instead of an ornamental trumpet vine over your pergola, why not plant grapes? Just picture those sweet clusters hanging above your head, only an arm's reach away.
You can learn more about edible gardening from your local UC Master Gardeners. Check out the Vegetable Planting Chart for Santa Clara County. Free talks are regularly offered to the public. For more information, check our events page. For gardening questions, ask online or call 408-282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
This article first appeared in the May 13, 2016 issue of the Morgan Hill Times.
Remove all lower leaves, keeping just the top two to three sets. Allow the wounds to heal for a few days, then plant in a deep hole or sideways in a trench so that only the remaining leaves are above the soil. Roots will form where the leaf nodes were, resulting in a stronger, more stable plant as it grows.
Prepare your soil by mixing in 2 to 3 inches of compost. Add in some organic fertilizer if your soil is lacking in nutrients. For raised beds or containers, add in some fresh potting soil and slow-release organic fertilizer to ensure plants have the nutrition they need to grow and produce.
Choose an area that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day.
To avoid problems with fungus and disease, don't plant in an area where in the past three years you have grown tomatoes or plants from the same family, including eggplants and peppers.
Rotating your crops will help to avoid fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt, two common fungal diseases that affect tomatoes.
Fusarium wilt invades the plant through its roots. It is a serious problem that causes branches and leaves to become yellow and wilt; infected plants usually die. Look for plants labeled "F," which means they are resistant to fusarium.
Verticillium wilt causes leaves to yellow and turn brown before dropping off. The infection usually appears in a V-shaped pattern. Although it is seldom fatal, it reduces vigor and yield. Due to significant leaf drop, sun damage to the fruit also may occur. Buy plants labeled "V" or "VF."
Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, often a result of irregular watering as well as a lack of calcium in the soil. Symptoms first appear as a water-soaked spot near the blossom end of the fruit. The spot will become brown, leathery and sunken, and may cover half of the fruit's surface. It's unsightly, but the fruit is still edible -- just cut off the damage and enjoy the rest. Avoid blossom end rot with regular and deep irrigation.
Another common tomato ailment is tobacco mosaic virus. It causes light green, yellow or white mottling on leaves, which may become stringy or distorted. It is usually caused by contact with tobacco products. Don't smoke or allow tobacco in or near your garden. Look for disease-resistant plants labeled "T."
Tomato and tobacco hornworms cause extensive damage to both plant and fruit. Look for black droppings or eggs on the leaves. It is best to hand-pick and discard them. If necessary, spray with Bacillus thuringiensis.
Russet mites are minute pests that can't be seen by the naked eye. Use a hand lens to identify their yellowish, conical-shaped bodies. They feed on leaves, stems and fruit, and if not controlled they will usually kill the plant. Apply sulfur dust or spray to young plants, and avoid planting near petunias, potatoes or other solanaceous plants that are often a host for the pest.
Blossom drop is caused by environmental issues. Insufficient pollination, lack of water, extremely high or low temperatures, and even smog -- all conditions we can't control -- are to blame.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the May 1 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.