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How to Grow: Edibles in Hedgerows
Hedgerows are great ways to block an unsightly view, define a boundary or create rooms in your yard. They are more cost effective than building wooden fences and stonewalls, but unlike those structures, do require more maintenance. Hedgerows traditionally consist of a variety of plants. These provide habitat for birds, animals, and insects. These types of hedgerows have a wilder look and are considered more of an informal hedge than a formal clipped planting. In a modern landscape, often hedgerows are constructed of one plant such as privet, photinia, hemlock, cedar and lilac. Although the look is more uniform and stunning, you do sacrifice ecological diversity in a one-plant hedge. But if you are growing a formal clipped hedge, then using all the same plant makes sense.
The common assumption is that hedgerows should be tall and a visual block all year. If that’s your desire, look for evergreens, such as cedar and hemlock, to grow your hedgerow. However, you can grow hedgerows that will provide seasonal protection by using deciduous plants such as privet and forsythia. These can still be large hedges and block a view in summer, but once the leaves drop become more transparent. These plantings can also act as a windbreak to stop cold winds from harming your plants and create microclimates in your yard.
Hedges don’t have to be just tall and massive. You can grow shorter hedges of boxwood that creates a garden room. Even though you may be able to see over the hedge, it still has the effect of defining the plantings in one section of your garden.
In the foodscape hedgerows can be great places to grow edible plants. Often hedgerows are planted in the open with lots of sun, so fruiting plants can thrive. If you’re growing a hedgerow with a mix of different species of plants, you can still grow the ornamentals you like but also substitute some trees and shrubs with edible ones. Plum, persimmon, serviceberry and mulberry are just some of the trees that fit well in this type of hedgerow. You can also mix in shrubs, such as currants, elderberries and gooseberries, to complete the planting. If you want to focus on all one plant, edibles still can fit the bill. A tight row of highbush blueberries stands 5 to 6 feet tall and is a good deciduous hedge plant. A row of rugosa roses will sucker freely and fill in a hedgerow quickly. Not only will you enjoy the scented flowers, but species roses also produce edible rose ships in fall. A bed of asparagus can be trellised or fenced so the ferns stand tall (up to 6 to 8 feet), providing a summer and fall visual barrier in your yard after the spring harvest. Even if you want a formal clipped hedge appearance, in warm climates rosemary and lavender, work well as an edible that can be sheared into a traditional hedge shape. You can even use espaliered fruit trees to create a hedge. Although not a visual barrier, once established, an espaliered fruit tree can function as a fence to define a walkway, garden room or bed.
Sometimes gardeners want to block a specific view and not create a whole hedgerow. Plants make great screens for utility boxes, fire hydrants, and other unsightly objects in your yard. Evergreens, such as juniper and cedar, can provide year round screening. But elderberry, currant and citrus can also provide screening and produce food for you, too. For public utilities, you should check first about how close to the object you can plant your edibles and if you need to provide service access to the box or hydrant. The last thing you want is your beautiful foodscape plant ripped out or pruned severely because service workers needed to get into the area.
Hedgerows are great ways to block a year round or seasonal view, but sometimes you need plantings that create more security. Plants can make great barriers keeping wildlife, dogs and people out of your yard or garden area. They’re a softer, friendlier way to discourage visitors than constructing a solid fence. The best type of plants used as physical barriers have thorns and growth rampantly. Luckily there are some foodscape plants that have those characteristics and can be used as barriers in your yard.
If you ever have tried to walk through a patch of wild blackberries, you know that brambles can create a formidable barrier. Consider growing a wide row of blackberries along an area where deer or dogs enter your yard. Make the blackberry barrier at least 5 to 10 feet thick so it’s not easily breeched. Once established, not only will this be a great barrier to keep deer, dogs and the neighbors out of your yard, it provides food for them and you.
As I mentioned in the previous section, species roses sucker freely creating a dense wall of foliage and branches. Many also have thorns that will thwart even the most determined animal. Enjoy the flowers and hips for food and tea and every few years cut back the barrier hedge to invigorate the planting.
In warmer climates, citrus, such as lemon, can be used as barriers. These evergreens have good-sized thorns and give you the added benefit of a year round visual screen.
For lower growing barriers try gooseberries. Look for thorny varieties. There are newer varieties that don’t feature thorns. Although not as tall as citrus, brambles and roses, gooseberries create a low barrier hedge that can be still be effective.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping, (CSP, 2015)