Landscaping with Edibles – The Fall Edition
There are so many choices when it comes to landscaping your home to add curb appeal. But have you ever considered that your landscaping could actually help feed your family, feed native wildlife, and even help alleviate certain ailments?
Most people don’t realize there are options for getting even more use out of your landscape plants besides just looking good. And when you plant Florida Native plants, you will not need to care for them as much – they grow “wild” and are accustomed to Florida climate. They support native insects, pollinators, birds, and more.
By planning your edible landscaping you can make the most of each season, so that you have something exciting (and delicious) to look forward to all year. We’re lucky to get such great and diverse growing conditions year-round and your landscape can look great while making the most of our seasons.
There are a few native plants that grow well here in Florida, that are beautiful, functional, and once established require little care in your landscape – and are the perfect fit to make the most of the fall weather. They’re the perfect fit for any home or yard.
There are 8 different species of native Florida blueberry bushes, but I promise that they are all delicious. Some of those work great in the landscape! They attract butterflies and pollinators when they flower, and produce beautiful delicious blueberries too. If you’re quick and pick them before the birds and rabbits get to them, you can enjoy a tasty treat, too! Southern Highbush and Scrub blueberries are two of my favorite varieties.
Blueberries really like acidic soil, a pH of only 4 – 5.5, so your soil around your blueberries will need to be amended with something acidic to help them thrive. You can do this with a soil acidifier like granulated sulphur (which you can find here at Shell’s Feed) when you’re planting, but you’ll want to make sure you keep the pH nice and low year after year. Applying pine needle mulch to the ground around the rootballs is a great easy fix – the tannic acid from the needles supplies a constant source of acidity as the needles decompose. Pine bark also works well for pH maintenance.
Several varieties of Southern Highbush will grow well here in Tampa, including Emerald and Jewel cultivars. Check out more information at the University of Florida IFAS website here.
This very productive plant is so popular it goes by many names. You may recognize it as tea hibiscus, red or Indian sorrel, roselle, or Florida Cranberries. The leaves of this plant can be used as greens in salad, and the fruit has a tart, cranberry-like flavor which can be used in jams, jellies, and to make a “cranberry sauce”. It’s been recorded that some individual plants have created up to 16 pounds of fruit! This is a native plant with a track record of being enjoyed in food – it’s been grown and eaten in Florida since before colonization.
This plant can be grown from seeds or cuttings and take about 4 months to mature. It grows to about 5-7 feet in height making it a perfect statement piece in your landscape that also reward you with delicious treats. There is more great information about the Florida Cranberry here.
Yaupon Holly has been used for centuries by Native Americans in tea, but its gorgeous leaves and berries make it a popular decoration, too. It has beautiful green foliage and the female plants produce a red berry (or you can find orange or yellow berries in some cultivars). It can be trimmed as a bush or hedge, but can also grow to 15-25 feet, and trimming off the lower branches be groomed into a small tree, making it a great customizable decorative plant, too.
One of the most interesting things about Yaupon Holly is that it is one of the only North American native plants that contains caffeine. That means you can dry the leaves and make a delicious tea right from your yard to replace the green or black tea you buy at the store while keeping that alertness pick-me-up.
One note to the wise though, many sources advise that brewing the leaves too strongly can cause a little gastric unpleasantness, so be sure of your brew time!
More information about growing Yaupon Holly can be found on the UF IFAS website here.
Scrub Mint – Calamantha spp
Another native plant in the highlands and scrub areas of Florida is the Scrub Mint, also known as False Rosemary. This lovely mint-family species boasts beautiful silver-grey leaves and white, lavender, or blue flowers.
It grows 2-3’ wide and high, so it’s a perfect pick for bed plantings. The butterflies love it, too! It’s popularity with these pretty pollinators make it a great plant to attract the right attention to your garden from other beneficial insects and humans alike. It has a similar look to rosemary but when a leaf is crushed you might be surprised by its distinctive mint aroma. It is unknown if you can make an herbal tea from this, but I’m adventurous enough to try if I can get my hands on one! I’ll let you know.
This plant is on the endangered species list, as its scrub habitats are being consumed by agriculture/pasture projects as well as residential neighborhoods. In fact, in Broward county area which was originally part of their native habitat, there is only 1% of the scrubland where this plant natively grows left. Planting in your landscape can help save these beautiful natives!
The Cocoplum is a South Florida native, but I have seen it growing in Tampa area, too. It has very interesting round leaves and beautiful creamy flowers. The fruits vary from white blush to pink to purple and are edible – and are perfect for jams and jellies.
One of the more interesting perks of cocoplum is that it is a plant that has a particular hurricane resistance – it seems to be very resilient and doesn’t break away in strong winds like other plants. These plants are tough and resilient, making them a good choice for hedges, as they grow anywhere from 10-30’ high and 10-20’ wide. They are hardy but they still put in the work to attract the right attention to your yard. Their dense foliage and fruits are great for birds, and the flowers attract local pollinators like bees, native wasps, and butterflies.
Here is some great information about this versatile plant from UF IFAS.
This beautiful, native Florida honeysuckle has cultivars with red, scarlet, or yellow flowers and a trumpet-shaped flower. Their blooms are so notable that this flower is sometimes also called the Trumpet Honeysuckle. This great vine will quickly climb a lamp post, arbor, or cover a fence once established, and provides food for butterflies and hummingbirds, as most trumpet-shaped flowers do.
You won’t be disappointed by the MONTHS of color this vine gives you in its flowering season. It also has beautiful green foliage that gives a very complimentary backdrop to the flowers, making for an all-season performance. And the birds will love the berries it makes; between the butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds, you’ll have quite a show for most of the warm seasons!
This plant is used in natural medicine quite often. The leaves can be dried and smoked for asthma, or boiled for sore throats and coughs. Chewed leaves can be applied to bee stings for relief, too. You can get the nectar from the flowers as well. A few nibbles is ok, but too much of a good thing might cause some stomach upset.
More information about this beautiful plant can be found here, amongst other places.
The Beautyberry is a great plant to mix in with other plantings, as it grows well in full sun, dappled sun, and even part shade. It will stretch 5-9’ towards the light, and it flowers and fruits on new growth. The large light green leaves are spaced far apart to allow the flower groups (called clymes) to form – they are anywhere from white, to pink, to pale purple – which then make the bright purple beautyberries that are common in our area. Butterflies love the flowers when they are blooming, and their delightful colors live up to their name.
While they are edible, they don’t have any particular flavor, and a non-pleasant texture. To get the most of them though, you can make jelly out of them for their beautiful magenta color. We might not be a fan of the berries fresh, but birds and squirrels LOVE them. Deer do too. If the critters don’t eat them all first, the berries will persist on the stems after the leaves fall off as the weather gets colder, making an interesting natural garden “architectural feature” during that time.
Native Americans cultivated these plants for ceremonial purposes. They also used them as a dye, and used the leaves to make a substance that would stun fish for easy spearing. Also the twigs and bark were boiled and applied for rheumatism and for malarial fevers – usually in a sweatbath. More information can be found here.
As you can see, there are lots of different useful plants you can use in your landscape. Here at Shell’s Feed we are currently working on getting some native plants available for you to purchase. In the meantime there are local Tampa Bay nurseries that carry them! I know that Wilcox Nursery in Largo has a large selection, and they often work with the Pinellas County Extension Office in doing talks about native plants. We’re always excited to help you get started with native plants to make the most of your landscape and garden all year.
I’m an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child.
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me. The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they’re delicious!) Thanks for reading!