7 Secrets to Incredible Edibles

Whether you have a big lawn, a small courtyard, or just a patio space, edibles can enhance your enjoyment of that space. The climate of Coastal North Carolina allows for growing edibles year round.

Traditional Southern summer veggies like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash can be cleverly tucked in among flowers, herbs and shrubs.

Cool weather veggies such as broccoli, collards, kale, lettuces and Asian veggies thrive from October to late May.  Many of these veggies easily withstand a few freezing nights.

There are seven (7) secrets to success in including edibles in the average homeowner landscape.  For purposes of this discussion the term “Edible” means plants that are not toxic to humans.  Many plants sold as ornamentals are, in fact, edible.  This includes sweet potatoes, kales, flowering cabbages, etc.

1.  Know Your Dirt.  Have a soil test done of your planting area, pH matters a lot.  Asparagus loves a high pH over 7.5, but blueberries need 5.0 or less.  Most edibles need something in between the two.  But pH is not the only thing a soil test tells you.  It will help you know what kind of fertilizer your soil needs to maximize your chance of success.  When someone asks, “what kind of fertilizer should I use?” the answer is, “It depends on your soil test…”

2.  Biodiversity is Your Friend.  Including a variety of edible flowers, herbs, and even vegetables into your landscape design makes your yard healthier by attracting a wider variety of insects.  Beneficial insects not only pollinate your flowers and veggies, but they also help control the populations of harmful insects.

3.  A Little Shade Can Save the Day.  Summers in the Coastal Carolinas can be very hot and humid stressing plants in the middle of the day.  Even tomatoes can thrive beneath a crape myrtle canopy if they have a Southern exposure that allows several hours of sun.  Cool weather crops such as Red Russian Kale will stay fresh a few weeks longer if they are grown in dappled sunlight (part shade).

4.  Integrated Pest Management is Key.   What if you could plant a certain plant among your veggies and bugs would eat that plant instead of eating your veggies?  Wouldn’t that be great?  Well, there are such plants – known as trap crops.  Edible flowers, herbs and veggies can be great companion plants that deter deer, insects and other critters.  Many French and African Marigolds trap Southern Root Knot Nematodes and keep the juveniles from maturing to adulthood.  In March or April plant Tatsoy, an Asian green, to attract Flea Beetles and cabbage worms away from other veggies as the weather warms up.  White Amaranth attracts cucumber beetles beginning in May.  These plants do not kill the beetles, so one has to exterminate them by spraying the trap crop with insecticide or simply scoop up the bugs with a hand-held vacuum. Cardoon is an excellent trap crop for the Leaf-footed bug that haunts tomatoes and peppers in Summer.   Japanese beetles can also be scooped up in a jar or vacuumed and then exterminated.  By managing pests in these creative ways, we can minimize our use of insecticide on the flowers, herbs, and vegetables that we actually eat.

5.  Combine Perennials and Annuals.  When creating a living arrangement in your landscape, include perennials, including evergreen perennials like Thyme, Lavender, Snow in Summer, etc.  Other perennials can include Turmeric, Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes, and asparagus.  Leave room for annual edible flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  Summer vegetables should be treated as annuals – when they expire, remove them and put something else in their place.

6.  Let Some Edibles Go to Seed.  Explore your landscape’s full potential for long-lasting beauty.  Lettuces, carrots, broccoli and many other edibles contribute for an ever-changing beauty in the landscape when they flower.  Endive is a great example.  The 12” high salad green shoots up to 5 foot high with beautiful blue flowers when given that option.  It creates a very different look in the landscape in this stage of growth.  Of course, harvesting seeds when the flowers are spent saves lots of money.

7.  Planning is the Key to Successive Planting.  Now is the time to plan a winter garden.  Plan at least one season ahead to know what plants you will put in place when the current plants are gone.   Some brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, parsley, and chamomile behave like biennials – they need cold weather to fully mature.  Some can take 6 months to mature and can last throughout the winter months.  Winter months are usually cold enough so that bugs are not nearly such a problem as in Summer months.  Kale planted in November can still be going strong the next May.  Tomatoes and other Summer veggies started in the greenhouse in mid-February will be ready to go into the garden by April 15 after the last frost of Spring.