In a previous column, I discussed the enjoyment you can derive from planting "edible landscape" or trees and bushes that produce fruit. The emphasis then was on apples and the benefits of some of my favorite varieties. However, there's no need to stop at apples! Today, I'll turn the spotlight onto some other trees and bushes that are pleasing to your tastebuds as well as your eyes!
Let's start with a fruit that's almost as popular as the apple. Yes, you guessed right: the pear.
I like to think of pears as being great trees for the horticulturally-challenged. Why? Because they can tolerate many different soil conditions, they don't require much care or fertilizing once established and they rarely need pruning. And, yes, they can produce fairly sizable crops of fruit for decades, with little care.
Pears are an excellent food for people watching their diet, too. Of course, pears contain no fat and are a good source of B-complex vitamins. They taste good too. Here are some popular pear varieties you might consider:
Bartlett Pear. Arguably the most popular pear variety in America because it's ideal for both eating fresh or canning. Bartletts look lovely on the tree with their yellow-green skin, long neck and smooth shape. Although they're somewhat self-fruitful, I recommend cross pollinating with another pear variety for best results. I like to begin picking them in September then allow them to ripen in the refrigerator to bring out the full flavor.
Pineapple Pear. As you might guess, this pear has a taste reminiscent of pineapple that I happen to find very appealing. The fruit is large and russet colored with a long "keeping" life. If you enjoy pear preserves, this would be a good choice.
Kieffer Pear. This hybrid might not be a familiar name, but has a major benefit over some of the better-known varieties: it is resistant to fireblight, a major disease of European pears grown in humid regions. It bears fruit at an early age and ripens in September.
If your landscape isn't suitable for standard-sized fruit trees, you might want to consider fruit bushes. Here are some idea starters:
Thornless Blackberry (Rubus ulmifrolius) could be a very good choice! In addition to being thornless, they do not need a trellis, and I find that they have a particularly sweet flavor. I like two varieties, Arapaho Thornless and Navaho Thornless. Both produce sucker plants that help them co-mingle quickly and produce an appealing blackberry hedgerow that can be very attractive in various different landscape designs. By the way, Arapaho is the earliest thornless blackberry of any variety. Both are hardy in zones 3 - 8.
Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa). "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." That's a quote from William Butler (1535-1618) that I found at a web site that tells you just about everything you could ever want to know about strawberries. You can find it at http://www.jamm.com/strawberry/facts.html and you can click on a direct link from this column at my web site, www.landsteward.org
I have been able to harvest more than 50 pounds of fruit from as few as 25 strawberry plants just one year after planting. You'll need to find a site that is open to direct sunlight most of the day, and it's a good idea to avoid very low-lying areas that are prone to spring frosts. I also suggest that you invest in a white spunbonded row cover to protect open strawberry blossoms from spring frosts and freezes. The same cover comes in handy for bird control during harvest, too.
There are a number of very good varieties of strawberry available. If you have questions about which varieties might be best in your area, you can drop me an e-mail at email@example.com One variety that I frequently recommend is the Ozark Beauty because of its exceptional hardiness and because it's one of the heaviest producing plants I've ever tested.
If you'd like to find a strawberry that's also an effective and attractive groundcover for your landscape, take a look at Honeoye. Yes, it's a weird name, but it produces runners freely, making for good groundcover, and it produces large, juicy fruits with a tart, distinct flavor.
Here's a pleasant mental image for you: It's a Saturday morning, and the weekend is stretching lazily in front of you. How about a plate of home made pancakes? Step outside in you pajamas and pick a handful of your own fresh blueberries and you're all set. I love the distinctive taste of blueberries, and the plants are an attractive element in your landscape, too. Bear in mind that you will need to plant at least two different varieties for proper cross-fertilization.
Some of the varieties of blueberry I often recommend are Blueray, Bluejay and Patriot. A comparative newcomer is a variety known as Duke. I've noticed that Duke ripens early and seems to have consistent high-yields. It has an excellent flavor and produces nicely colored firm fruit.
Well, there you have it. Just a few ideas that should get you thinking about landscape that tastes as good as it looks! I invite you to tell me about any topics you'd like me to address in future columns.