David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Picking the Landscape
Vines with fruit provide double duty
It seems like 2009 will find folks turning to growing their own produce as a means of cutting costs. Part of me wants to scream, “Hooray,” while the other part says, “What took you so long?”
Many of us grew up with large vegetable and fruit gardens tucked somewhere in the back yard, mostly out of sight of the landscape simply because the gardens were, to be blunt, ugly for eight months of the year.
Is it necessary to have an actual plot though? Absolutely not.
Several of the small fruits lend themselves nicely to landscape use tucked here and there. Sure, large patches may produce the most, but there’s no law that says you have to raise huge quantities.
Of all the small fruits, strawberries are the best landscape subjects. They have shining green leaves throughout the growing season, attractive white flowers, red berries, and they add a little fall color, making them a three-season plant. If only they had something during the winter.
Strawberries are easily tucked into a corner of the flowerbed or shrub border, used as ground cover, or as edging for flower border or walk. They may also be grown in pyramids or barrels, or even grown individually in strawberry pots to be placed in selected garden spots.
You won’t get huge quantities, but if you’re not worried about freezing some or making jams, you will get enough for your cereal or shortcakes.
Of all the small fruits, blueberries are the best landscape plants. Readers of this column know that I rank blueberries as one of the top five ornamental plants to put in your yard, whether you like the fruit or not.
The plants have shiny dark green leaves. White bell-shaped or hoop-shaped flowers are produced in the spring. While not perfumed, they are attractive in their little clusters. These are followed by the blue berries.
Come fall, the leaves turn colors ranging from yellow to orange to red, surpassing the intensity of burning bush euonymus. The stems in the winter carry the same color range, standing out against the snow like beacons.
Blueberry plants grow quickly to maximum size and if properly maintained, remain about the same size and shape for more than 20 years. They rarely outgrow their original location and function. Just make sure the soil is acidic. You can do this by feeding the plant ammonium sulfate every year according to directions.
Just remember to give them room to grow. A blueberry plant needs about 6 feet by 6 feet, and full sun.
Grapes make excellent vines to cover a trellis or arbor, possibly shading the house during summer’s heat. Grapes grow fast, and need strong support. Even a metal hurricane fence will support the plants. As long as you keep the herbicides away, and prune the plants regularly each spring, there’s little other problem.
While not great shakes in the ornamental department, older vines do have interesting trunks with shredding bark and gnarly twists.
Forget the brambles, such as raspberries and blackberries. They do best behind the garage or barn and not really in with other landscape plantings.
However, don’t forget the gooseberries and currants. Most people don’t plant them anymore, but they make great landscape plants. Like blueberries, if you’re not fond of the fruit, don’t worry. The birds will pick the plants clean.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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