Landscape Fun Fact of the Day:
Of the 50 official state license plates, about half of them contain an example of the landscape found in their state. Examples include plains and/ or mountains sprawled across the plate to an enlarged picture of the actual fruit, crop, or tree associated with that state.
For today’s journal, I wanted to discuss edible landscaping, which is a subject that comes up many times amongst my clients, but is not always involved in the discussion of outdoor living. I thought Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” was a more than appropriate title for the journal, though many die-hard Beatles fans would likely point out that the song has nothing to do with eating strawberries. That’s ok; we’ll go with it nonetheless.
As a culture, we never really forgot about the idea of edible landscaping. Though, it often became less of a focus when thinking about all of the other components of landscape design and outdoor living. In a previous entry in regards to the history of outdoor living (Come Together, #3), I talked about how our backyards were used for growing fruits and vegetables, among other things. Then, the grocery store allowed us to let someone else grow these items for us, and our refrigerators kept them fresh for an extended amount of time.
This brings us to today where many people enjoy a small gardening space for growing tomatoes, mint, peppers, basil, and so many other delicious edibles. So much is already known about growing herbs and vegetables in our backyard gardens, that for the sake of not being repetitive, I’m going to skip all of that and talk about some of the lesser known details of edible landscaping.
Apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots, and nectarines can all be grown in our Maryland/ Virginia area. But, growing them does not always lead to them bearing fruit. Fruit trees are prone to many diseases and pests in our area, which is why most of these trees are grafted to other, more disease and insect tolerant rootstock. While this grafting is beneficial to the survival of the tree, it also might dwarf the tree, and so you should not expect a large, fully matured fruit tree that rains down copious amounts of fruits when all is said and done.
Additionally, planting size means everything, and in this case, bigger is not always better. Research shows that planting a “whip” (a very skinny 1-year old tree of about 4’ height) is better for long term success of the tree, than getting a larger, more mature fruit tree. This means that your patience will be put to the test, and an endless supply of love and proper care will not always result in fruit production.
If you’re extremely patient and would like to try growing a tree from the seed of the fruit you just ate, you can! However, please keep in mind that more than likely the fruit was grown in another state and under different conditions. As my 7-year-old self can confirm, those apple seeds never even germinated. If you’re fortunate enough to get through germination, and your tree survives the threat of insects and diseases, the actual fruit flavor will most likely vary from what you recall eating all those years ago because that apple was cross pollinated by something completely different than what your tree was pollinated with. What’s left is the amusingly entertaining story to share with your garden club friends about that time that your tree survived the odds, and after all those years, you were left with a really unpleasant fruit. At the end of the day, I don’t like to be a negative Nellie when it comes to growing fruit trees in our region. But, I’m also a realist, so good luck to you.
Additionally, as I talk to people about the fact that fruit trees are tough to grow in Maryland and Virginia, everyone seems to ask the same question. “Well how come we have full orchards in the area?” We have full orchards in the area because their businesses survive on producing these fruits. They actively pursue the best combinations of grafted trees, cross pollinators, and insect and disease prevention devices to ensure that their fruits are of the highest caliber.
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and grapes can all be grown quite “easily” in Maryland and Virginia; hooray! Most of these fruits enjoy growing in full sun with well- drained soils, but always double check with your supplier, as some varieties will differ from the norm. In addition to being delicious, all of these fruits are self-fertile, which means that you won’t need to set up a cross pollination network for the plants to bear fruit. That being said, some fruits, such as blueberries will do better when two or more cultivars are planted in the same area. Since there are various tips for successfully growing each, and I’d like to provide as much information as possible in this entry, I’ll separate each fruit out for more detail.
Strawberries come in many different varieties, but the two main groups they fall into are June-Bearing and Everbearing. The June-Bearing strawberries tend to be more popular in our area, and that’s due to all of the fruits that they produce at their given time in the Summer. The Everbearing will have a longer fruit bearing season, but the amount of actual strawberries grown in that timeframe will be dramatically less than many of the June-Bearing varieties. “Earliglow” is the go-to favorite for June-Bearing in our area, as it has a good flavor and a medium sized fruit. Additionally, some newer varieties of strawberries are disciples of Earliglow, but are said to be more disease resistant.
For the proper planting and care of strawberries, see that they are in full sun and well drained soil. Enriching the soil with organic matter prior to planting is encouraged, and a healthy supply (2-3”) of mulching around the plant itself will help provide the plant with additional moisture and nutrients. During the entire first growing season, I recommend pinching the flowers off, as this will encourage strong growth and good production in the years to follow. Lastly, after the first frost, for protection in the winter, covering the plants in a thick (4”) layer of mulch will help protect them from the cold. In the spring, the mulch can then be relocated to around the base of the plant.
Raspberries and Blackberries-
I grouped Raspberries and Blackberries together because they are both a type of bramble, and belong in the Rubus genus. Once planted, the bramble will initiate the growth of new canes either by the crown of the plant or by root suckers. Once established, the brambles can be easily propagated from cuttings and so, if a friend or neighbor has an overgrown variety, let them know you’d be happy to take some off their hands. If you’re the only potential bramble grower you know, don’t fret; many garden centers have raspberry or blackberry plants for sale. With the options available, you should never propagate from a wild bramble because they might be a carrier of a disease and you couldn’t be sure what you’re going to get.
When growing bramble, it is best to give them full-sun, well-drained soils, and lots of space. Some varieties of bramble will get more tall than wide, while others will get more wide than tall. In any event, plan on giving them space, and make sure you know the mature growth size of your variety. Some varieties will benefit from being supported by trellises or guide wires, while others won’t need the help. It is also suggested that they be planted in the ground as opposed to in a raised garden or pot, since they will naturally spread outside of these contained areas if given the opportunity. In regards to watering, I would consider these plants low maintenance, since they only need to be watered until established or in times of drought. However, when it comes to pruning and care, I would consider these plants as high maintenance. Many varieties have thorns, and others require seasonal and yearly cutbacks. Additionally, if you believe in having your bramble somewhat contained, you will find yourself spending time each year removing new growths.
There are several categories of raspberry that will do well around our parts and they are the Red-fall bearing, Red-Primocane bearing, Yellow-Primocane bearing, Black, and Purple. The biggest debate in raspberry growing is whether fall-bearing or primocane bearing types are better. And the best answer to this is what works best for you and your needs. Naturally, raspberries produce new canes annually, but these canes are actually biennual. The first year they grow, they are known as primocanes. On the fall bearing varieties, these primocanes will overwinter, and the following year, are known as floricanes. The floricanes are the branches that produce raspberries for fall bearing plants, and that second year, there will be plenty of them and they will have a great size and flavor. After the floricanes are done bearing, then they can be cut down to make space for next year’s growth. With the primocane bearing raspberries, you can actually get fruit the fall of the first year planted, and then again, the following summer on the same branches that already bear fruit. Following that second year, the primocane bearing varieties can also be cut down, but some growers cut them down after each fall because the summer session is not as productive as in the fall. Also, even though the canes are biennuals, you wouldn’t have to replace the plants every two years, as new growth comes from the roots (which are perennial) and will keep putting up new canes for the life of the plant (approx. 5-12 years).
On the blackberry side, there are the Thornless-trailing, Thornless-erect, and Thorny varieties. Since there are many cultivars for each grouping, I would recommend seeing what’s available to you and finding out which you might prefer out of those options. The thorny types of blackberry are usually more popular because the fruit is a better quality and has more sweetness to it than the thornless plants. Also, the thorny plants are more cold-hardy and can handle some of our winters better than the others. The Thornless-trailing blackberries will require a trellis for new growth to climb on to, and the Thornless-erect, which are the newest variety of blackberry, have been created to give growers a thornless variety that doesn’t require the need for a trellis. Since the blackberries shoot up new growth from the crowns of the plants, pruning is recommended at two times each year. In the spring, tip pruning will promote new growth. In the summer, following the fruiting of the blackberries, cutting the floricanes out of the plant completely will make room for next year’s primocanes.
As often is the case with my journal entries, I feel like I’ve gotten wordy and am losing my target audience due to boredom, but I feel like this information about growing raspberries and blackberries is the bare-minimum of knowledge needed for growing these great pieces of edible landscaping. That being said, there is one very important item that I have not hinted to yet, and that is placement of your bramble. I know, you know already, “full sun, well drained soil, space to grow, yadda, yadda, yadda, it’s been covered already!” Well, how about placement away from your other edibles! Verticillium Wilt is a major soil-borne fungal disease that targets many plants but is notorious for affecting bramble, tomato, pepper, eggplant, strawberry, and potato. It lives in the soil and is very difficult to get rid of once established. Black raspberries are more susceptible to the disease than red raspberries, and blackberries can also be attacked, but not show the wilting that you will typically see in plants that have been compromised. At the very least, try to find varieties of the bramble which are more resistant to the disease, and in the better safe than sorry category, keep a good distance between bramble and your other edibles.
In my world, I’m as familiar with blueberries by their scientific name, Vaccinium, as by their common name, Blueberries. You may or may not be in the same world as me (I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t, as it’s a strange world), but I thought I would share because Vaccinium could be considered as one of the staple plants that many landscape designers and architects use in their landscape plans. The most notable of which is called the Northern Highbush Blueberry, or Vaccinium corymbosum. There are many varieties of the Northern Highbush available around Maryland and Virginia, so if you’ve found one, just see what the mature size of it will be so you know if it will be the right fit for your landscape.
Most blueberry prefer to be planted in full-sun, but some can tolerate part-shade. Planting sites should be moist and away from windy conditions. On the flip-end of that, Vaccinium should not be planted near stone or brick structures, as summer heat radiating off of some surfaces will burn the foliage. Blueberries prefer acidic soils with a considerable amount of organic matter mixed in. Once planted, mulch should be spread around the base of the plant, and a steady supply of water will be required to get the blueberry established. With good rain, blueberries will do fine without the watering, but they are very sensitive to changing soil and water conditions, so try to keep the areas well maintained on a daily basis.
The best method for getting a full crop of blueberries is to use (2) different varieties of blueberry and offer them selective pruning during the early spring. In year one, after installation, the plants should be cut back by about 50%. Following a full year of growth, light pruning should be done in March. This light pruning should remove all small twigs and some slightly larger wood in the middle of the shrub. Fruit is produced on wood grown during the previous season, and the largest berries are found on the most vigorous branches. Once you have established a mature blueberry, in addition to the typical light spring pruning, feel free to cut off any canes over 1” thick since that fruit is not as good, and you would be creating space for newer growth.
Deciding on growing which species of grape, is far more complex than deciding if you want a seeded or seedless grape. The genus for grape is Vitis, and the grapes that are grown around the area are either Vitis labrusca, Vitis vinifera, or some variety of a hybrid. As a side note there is also Vitis rotundifolia (Muscadine Grape), but I’m not going to write about it because it typically does not grow well this far north.
There are many similarities and differences between labrusca and vinifera, but, it’s worth noting that the biggest difference between them is that vinifera is typically referred to as the wine grape, and labrusca is typically referred to as the table grape. Additionally, labrusca is native to eastern North America, while vinifera is native to Europe and the Mediterranean region. For the purposes of only providing quality information about growing grapes, I’m going to refrain from talking about how to grow Vitis vinifera (the wine grape) in your backyard. Just like orchards growing apple trees successfully in the area, vineyards successfully grow Vitis vinifera. However, both of these businesses have the resources, knowledge, and experience to grow their respective fruits for the most gains. If you would like more information about growing wine grapes, I would encourage you to go on a vineyard tour and see if it’s something that you’d like to tackle.
Moving on to table grapes, popular seeded varieties such as Concord and Niagra can make for a good addition to your edible landscape, as well as seedless varieties such as Reliance and Canadice. I should also note that no matter what grape you decide to grow, they should all be considered high maintenance to get them established. Once they are established, I would move them into the moderate maintenance category. The biggest reason for saying they are high maintenance to begin with is because of everything that goes into getting the site ready. First, you need to have stakes, a trellis, or something similar that the grapes can be tied to. Second, you need to establish your planting space by ensuring that the area gets full sun, and is not exposed to low wet spots, frost pockets, and strong winds. Additionally, soil should be well-drained and have a ph between 5.8 – 6.8. Third, you need to make sure that the area is free of weeds such as thistle and nutsedge. When you have all of that ready, and you’re good to plant, the grapes roots must be soaked in water for a few hours and immediately planted in early-spring, before the last frost. At this time, prune the plant to one cane with up to six buds. After the spring frost is past and shoot growth has begun, remove all but the two strongest shoots. At this time, get a stake in the ground next to the vine, in order to support growth. In the first year, you will have to keep the plant well-watered and remove any flower clusters. This will lead to early establishment and help produce a great source for grapes through the lifetime of the plant, which in good conditions will be 20-30 years.
At the start of year two, a lot of the hard work is done, but there is still a lot more to do. Your goal at this time is to continue establishing the trunk and the roots. In early spring, remove the weaker of the two shoots, and tie the stronger one to the stake; this shoot will become the trunk. As the shoot grows, continually tie it up the stake, since having a strait trunk will be critical to the vines success. When growth has reached your wire (about 5’ off the ground), cut the vine just above the node closest to the wire (that is already above the wire). This will prevent damaging the node, but will allow the shoot to be secured to the wire. From here, lateral growth can be trained and tied to the wire in each direction. Through the second year, remove any flower clusters from the lateral growth.
Come year three, you should only be one year away from success. In early spring, cut the two strongest lateral growth shoots from each side, down to 5-7 buds and tie them to the wire. Continue to care for the vine, removing any unwanted lateral shoots, or canes around the trunk. Since grapes produce fruit on canes that are two years old, if you have continually trained, watered, mulched, fertilized, sprayed for pests, and kept weeds at bay, by year four you will hopefully be enjoying the “fruits” of your labor. Lastly, I’d like it to be known that this guide to growing grapes should be considered a beginner’s guide. If you would like to go down the path of having a successful growing operation, please continue to further your education and do more research. There are a lot of good resources online that will help with getting the right setup, the right pruning techniques, and other important considerations to help get you the most out of your edible landscape.
As always, feel free to email or call if there is anything I’m missing, or if you have any additional questions.