Probably the simplest way to start with foodscaping in your yard is to substitute plants. Look at the ornamental flowers, shrubs and trees in your yard and consider similarly sized and shaped alternatives that are edible as well. With the advent of so many new plants that blur the line between edible and ornamental, it’s not so hard anymore to find the right substitute for your yard.
This process may start simply because a plant has died, died back significantly or outgrown its location and has to be removed. When looking for a substitute plant use your filter of edibility to find just the right candidate. Of course, if you’re really gung ho on foodscaping you might start pulling out healthy plants and giving them away or landscaping areas that have been neglected!
There are many possibilities when substituting edible plants for purely ornamental ones. The key is remembering the mantra, select the right plant for the right place. Find a plant whose ultimate size, shape and features will fit in the location long term. Sometimes it will seem a bit undersized at first, but remember plants grow, and sometimes grow fast. Your substitute plant will need to have the proper light, soil, hardiness and exposure to thrive. For example, you might think a blueberry is a good substitute for burning bush in your foundation planting (and you’re right it is!), but you also have to remember that blueberries need a lower pH than the burning bush so you’ll have to adjust the soil acidity when planting and keep it low afterward. Citrus trees may be good evergreen substitutes for holies, but be sure you can successfully grow citrus in your region before planting one.
Below, I offer some common landscape plants and possible foodscape substitutes you might try. These substitutes may be based on a similar flowering time, plant look and feel, or similar growing requirements. Some of the substitutes are very closely related to the ornamental plant while others may take a little more imagining. The key when substituting a foodscape plant for a purely ornamental one is to make sure it’s the right plant for the sun, soil and space allowed. Sometimes you’ll have to select a specific variety of that tree, shrub or flower to be a good match. For example, when replacing an 8-foot tall evergreen holly tree in your yard with a citrus tree, look for those citrus that stay naturally dwarf such as ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon. After you have the right sized plant, then you can look at flowering color and time, seasonal interest, fruit production and other characteristics. There are many other examples that you can imagine, but this list gives you an idea of the possibilities.
Ornamental Trees Foodscape Substitute
Crabapple, Flowering plum
Flowering cherry Apple, Cherry, Plum
Camperdown elm Weeping mulberry
Evergreen holly Improved Meyer Lemon
Ornamental Shrubs Foodscape Substitute
Burning bush Blueberry
Dwarf Spirea Currant or gooseberry
Panicle hydrangea Elderberry
Hybrid roses Rosa rugosa
Privet hedge Asparagus
Flowers Foodscape Substitute
African daisy Calendula
Shasta daisy Bee balm
Bidens Signet marigold
Profusion zinnia Mounding nasturtium
Zinnia Tall marigold
Mounding artemisia Alpine strawberries
Flowering allium Chives
Vining/Creeping Plants Foodscape Substitute
Trumpet vine Hardy kiwi
Morning glory Scarlet runner bean
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping (CSP, 2015)