Home & Garden

Edible gardens will pay for themselves in produce

A bee pollinates a pomegranate flower.
A bee pollinates a pomegranate flower.

Does your home landscape deserve the time, water and money you put into it? Consider increasing your rewards by developing an edible landscape — incorporating plants that can be eaten, with or without plants that are purely ornamental.

The ongoing scarcity of water on the Central Coast, the rising cost of grocery store produce and the importance of conserving energy make it difficult to justify spending resources on gardens that do not pay their way in some fashion.

Having a variety of beautiful, edible plants, trees and shrubs among the ornamental ones can add an element of beauty, functionality and fun to your landscape.

When designing the edible landscape, consider plants you like to eat, assess the water needs, sunshine requirements (usually at least 6 hours daily) and growth habits of each plant, and include a pleasing palette of colors and textures.

Few plants are more beautiful than purple cabbages, scarlet runner beans, edible calendula flowers, interesting artichokes or colorful rainbow chard. Guavas and pomegranates make attractive shrubs.

Herbs in the garden are beautiful and aromatic, use very little water, and may attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden. Many plants are “super productive,” yielding a great deal of food in a small space.

Most fruit trees are avail able in miniature and dwarf sizes. In the milder areas, where we can grow citrus and avocados that are beautiful year-round, planting and watering a simply ornamental shade tree makes little sense.

When planning, remember that some edibles require frequent harvesting. These should be placed so that more permanent plants won’t be disturbed when you amend and cultivate the soil for replacement plants.

A few words of caution: Children must be instructed that it isn’t OK to pop just any plant in their mouths. Careful attention to safe cleaning and preparation of all food is important, and it is crucial to observe integrated pest management, using the least toxic methods of control possible. It would also be smart to con sider the habits of your dogs (especially male) when planning the height of your edible borders.

As always, the Master Gardeners are happy to help with ideas for plant selection and care.

GOT A GARDENING QUESTION?

Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners at 781-5939 on Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. in San Luis Obispo; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon in Arroyo Grande; or at 434-4105 on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at http://groups.ucanr.org /slomg or e-mail mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu  .

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