9 No-No’s in the Edible, Drinkable Landscape

Reader Contribution by Nan Chase
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Yucca. The beautiful flowers of a mature yucca plant may tower six feet. Beware: the root is tough and the spikes rough.

I’m a fanatic about the edible, drinkable landscape. Both parts: the challenge of creating a beautiful landscape in a city setting and that of getting maximum food production for year-round enjoyment. It has been exciting to be able to grow all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs even on a small city lot. And so satisfying to have enough to eat fresh and for canning, freezing, fermenting, and dehydrating!

But to be honest, as I look at the urban gardens all around me, mine included, what I see is overplanting. Over production. Too much plant material to be able to care for, let alone process in the kitchen.

Now that I’ve grown just about every edible plant available, here are some I would advise against planting, at least without some warning:

Elderberry. Fantastic plant for fast screening but then it keeps on going. Elderberry could take over the world. The flowers are wonderful, and the berries prolific, but a vigorous spreading habit takes a heavy hand to subdue in a city setting. Alternative: rhubarb.

Amaranth. Yeah, technically an edible grain, but also a terrible pest with its bossy self-seeding ways. A patch of this can choke out more useful plants and then spread. Alternative: okra.

Asian persimmon. Mild-mannered at first, bright green in spring, this tree can take off suddenly after a few years, splattering its many over-ripe fruits all around. It’s a hard fruit to preserve easily. Alternative: native American persimmon.

Yucca. Such an exotic edible and drinkable plant, an American native with spectacular (edible) flowers and roots that are usually deep-fried and served with creamy sauce. But…one established they are virtually impossible to move. The root goes deep and holds on, while the foliage just gets more aggressive. Alternative: rosemary.

Peach tree. Don’t bother. Nice folks in South Carolina and Georgia will grow them for you. Peach trees are notoriously short-lived, and plagued by diseases while alive. The only successful home peach tree I’ve known grew from a pit thrown into a compost pile…at 5,000 feet elevation, next to a pond. Go figure. Alternative: serviceberry.

Serviceberry ripe. Rather like blueberries, the berries of the serviceberry shrub, or tree, can be eaten raw, baked, juiced, canned, or fermented. Lovely in the landscape.

Rugosa rose. The so-called dog roses are known for their nutritious “hips,” the fruit of the rose and packed with vitamin C. True enough. But I’ve grown all kinds of roses, and mostly the other ones out-perform the Rugosas for consistency of hips. And the Rugosa roses run and take root all over the place. Alternative: mini-roses from the grocery store, cheap, hardy, and productive. Just plant outside.

Cherry tomatoes. If you must plant them, try doing it in containers. On the porch and close by, where you can pluck up all strays. Delicious though they are, the problem is that these little tomatoes have their seeds spread all over the place, and can overrun a landscape. Alternative: anything in the allium family, such as onion, garlic, shallot, leek, chive.

Onion flowers. Onions and their kin aren’t just delicious. Their flowers are beautiful and beckon to pollinators.

Plum tree, pear tree. Before you plant a plum tree, be clear about what you will do with the bushels of fruit that suddenly come ripe at once, and if you don’t pick and preserve them will fall to the ground and make a mess. Pear tree: opposite problem. Unless trained against a wall (espalier) or heavily pruned, the fruit soon gets out of reach, only falling to the ground when it is too ripe to use. Alternative: sweet crabapple.

Blueberry. Everyone’s favorite food, right? But the time and care it takes to get to the first harvested berry – wow, it’s a lot of work and expense. Proper siting and pruning, then netting against birds, with no guarantee of a good crop any particular year. Alternative: strawberries.

Strawberries. Take care of your strawberries and they will take care of you. Once established, and religiously groomed, strawberry plants will produce buckets of good eating.

I love all of those plants, but in downsizing my garden footprint I am sticking to the most useful and reliable: alliums of all kinds, perennial herbs, rhubarb, serviceberries, and some spinach and other greens in the shoulder seasons.

Nan K. Chase tends her edible, drinkable landscape in western North Carolina, concentrating these days on the allium family (onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives), perennial herbs, rhubarb, serviceberry and crabapple trees, plus greens and carrots in the shoulder seasons. She is the author of Eat Your Yard!and co-author of Drink the Harvest, and her crabapple jelly has won a blue ribbon at the Mountain State Fair.

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