What Types Of Trees Should You Use In Edible Landscaping?

There are many types of trees that could go into an edible landscape: fruit trees, nut trees, bonsai trees, pine trees ... depending on your climate you could even go with unusual trees like the Kentucky coffee tree (decaf, anyone?).

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So how do you decide what types of trees to use in your edible landscaping?

Since trees are by definition perennial, you might take a look at the perennial garden design page for some design hints.

Bottom line is that you need to know some basic things about the tree or trees you're considering:

How big will they get? Think about their final width as well as their final height. You will most likely be planting your shade gardens underneath this tree once it gets larger, so take that into consideration. A tree looks cute when it's in the pot, but if it takes up your entire yard a few years later, it might turn into a nightmare.

Also, take a look at the tips for starting a garden when it comes to tree placement. Putting a tree under a power line or over a sewer main is asking for trouble.

In general, it's best not to plant a tree closer than 10 feet from your foundation or the nearest hardscape, especially if the tree has shallow roots or a wide spread. Of course, there are exceptions, but keep that rule of thumb in mind when you're planning out your edible garden design.

Will they grow well in your area? Trying to plant a tropical tree in the desert (unless you're next to a river) might require more watering than you're prepared for. Many types of trees require cold weather to set fruit (some apples, for example), while others can be damaged or even killed by cold (peach trees and most of the tropical trees fall into this category).

Some trees grow better in one kind of soil than others, too. If you're not sure what kind of soil you have, get it tested.

With small plants and shrubs, it's possible to amend the soil enough for your plant to survive a bad situation, but since a tree is so large, choosing trees that are suited to your area's soil and water conditions will lead to a more successful result.

Do you have a plan for the food you'll be producing? Sure, most edible trees take several years to produce anything, but ten years from now you might have bushels of fruit to deal with. Make sure you're prepared.

Using trees in your landscape design

There are many ways to look at trees: by shape, color, what they produce, by what you will be using them for (shade vs bonsai vs espalier)

Tree shapes

The shape of the edible trees you plant can be part of the design in your yard. Round windows with round trees will look well together. Rows of columnar trees on either side of a long country driveway makes an elegant statement.

The arbor day foundation has a nice search function to find trees with the size and shape you want.

You might also look at the shapes of the tree's leaves, if you want to get really specific with your design, and see if can't duplicate that somewhere else in your garden.

Tree colors

When investigating a tree, find out what colors it has in its bark, leaves, fruits, and flowers. Do its leaves turn colors in the fall? Is it evergreen, or will it drop its leaves in winter?

A good nursery will have someone on staff who can tell you the answers to these questions, or you can look at pictures of the particular plant online.

The types of trees you want

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Would you like a fruit tree? A nut tree? A palm tree? A banana tree? An olive tree? A row of pine trees? Each has its own special needs.

Many fruit trees need another of its own kind (or a close relative) for pollination, so if you buy one, you will need at least one more -- that is, if you want the fruit to be good!

Think about what types of trees you want then investigate their needs before you go to the trouble of planting something so you're not disappointed in the results.

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Ways to use trees in your edible landscape design

Any tree can be used for shade when it has grown tall enough, but some trees grow in a more dense pattern or have a wider spread than others. Peach and pecan trees are some examples of edible trees that are good if you want a shady area in your yard.

Bonsai is an ancient form of container gardening. A bonsai artist plants trees in trays or small pots then trains them to grow into artistic shapes. Bonsai is mostly used for ornamental purposes but some mature edible bonsai provide fruit as well.

A bonsai fruit tree would look great in a Chinese or Japanese themed patio.

To espalier a tree means to train it to grow flat along a wall. This is one way to have fruit trees in a small space where a normal orchard isn't possible.

While all types of trees can be espaliered, your best results will usually be with dwarf fruit trees.

Trees can also be trained up over arbors to form archways, just like grapes and other vine fruits.

Edible trees can also be used as borders, as hedges, and in hedgerows.

There are as many things to be said about edible trees as there are types of trees, and there's no way for me to ever cover them all!

I'll make a list of a few topics to help you in growing edible trees -- let's start with this:

A great article on pruning fruit trees, with photos!

Twelve Steps to Successful Fall Fruit Tree Planting (from Mother Earth News, Sept/Oct 1980)

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Do you want to talk more about trees with a group who loves edible plants as much as you do? Join the Tasteful Landscape community.

What would you like to read about next? Here are some related pages:

Shade Gardens - Backyard Ideas - Front Yard Ideas

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