Edible Plants

Start browsing now through the edible-ornamental possibilities for your summer garden.

Credit: Janis Nicolay

Start browsing now through the edible-ornamental possibilities for your summer garden

Shrubs, trees and large perennials are vital in our landscapes, providing us with privacy, shelter for wildlife, colour, texture and structure. Many gardeners today are choosing plants both ornamental and edible that—in addition to a delicious harvest—offer showy displays of foliage and blooms, fall hues and winter interest. (Plants are hardy to the zone number indicated.)


Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum cultivars) – zone 3 Blueberries have a pleasing habit, forming a rounded, upright shrub. The simple blue-green leaves turn brilliant crimson in autumn. New shoots are red and mature to brown; this two-tone effect combined with an intricate branching structure makes this a handsome plant in winter as well. Tip: When planting blueberries choose at least two different cultivars to ensure cross-pollination, as they are not self-fertile. ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Hardy Blue’ are good choices. Red Currants (Ribes rubrum cultivars) and Black Currants (R. nigrum cultivars) – zone 4 An excellent fruit for pies, wine and jelly, red and black currants ripen from June to August on high-yielding shrubs. Their early-spring blooms of brilliant pink or white attract hummingbirds. ‘Red Lake’ is a popular cultivar of red currant with an abundance of clear red fruit produced on two-year-old wood. The high-yielding black currant Ribes nigrum ‘Ben Sarak’ provides large black fruit on new wood. Tip: In early spring, if you notice your leaves being eaten, the cause is most likely the common currant worm. Try spraying your plant with BTK, beneficial bacteria that treat the problem quickly and safely. Left untreated, currant worm will destroy the plant. Gooseberries (Ribes grossularia cultivars) – zone 5 This excellent sweet fruit, with a delicate apricot flavour suitable for pies, jams and jellies, ripens in early July. The plant has a nice 1.2 m (4 ft) round shape with beautiful green-white flowers adored by hummingbirds. Can be grown in full sun or semi-shade. Tip: To prevent the common gooseberry fruitworm, Zophodia convolutella, from destroying your harvest, a yearly preventative application of BTK in mid-spring, as the plant begins to set fruit, is recommended. The fruitworm is green with darker stripes, and is actually the larva of a moth, and thus a true caterpillar. Raspberries (Rubus idaeus cultivars) – zone 4 Raspberries make a 1.2- to 1.5-m-high (4- to 5-ft) summer screen. Tayberries (Rubus hybrid) – zone 4 Developed in Scotland, tayberries are a cross between the blackberry and raspberry, with whopping sweet fruit 50 percent larger than a raspberry and very flavourful. With pretty soft-pink/white blooms and large deep-red fruit ready for picking in early August, tayberries can be trained as a shrub, planted as a hedge or used for screening. Juneberries, Saskatoon (Amelanchier spp.) – zone 4 This woodland shrub brings bright red or yellow foliage to the autumn garden and pure-white flowers in the spring, followed by the purple-black fruit. Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) – zone 2 This creeping alpine evergreen shrub, less than 30 cm (1 ft) high, blooms late spring to early summer with bell-shaped white to pink flowers, followed by its acidic fruit, good for jams and cooking.


American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) – zone 5 • Japanese persimmon (D. kaki) – zone 7 Both have attractive orange-red blooms. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) – zone 6 This vigorous, spreading shade tree has glossy tropical-looking aromatic leaves and spherical fruits containing edible nuts. Tip: This tree may inhibit the growth of other plants growing under it, so is best placed on its own. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) – zone 4 This hard-working tree is truly a four-season delight, with masses of yellow spring blooms, abundant red fruit, fall colour and beautiful bark for winter interest.Fig tree (Ficus carica) – zone 7 This deciduous tree has a tropical texture, with large-lobed glossy leaves and green fruit that turns darker green, purple or dark brown. The fruit take two seasons to ripen and need protection from birds with a net.


Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) – zone 2 This makes a beautiful “hedge,” with ferny foliage up to 1 m (3 ft) high. Wait until plants are three years old to begin harvesting the spears. Japanese wasabi (Wasabi japonica) – zone 8 With a heart-shaped lime-green leaf, wasabi is lovely in the shade. Harvest and grate the rhizomes after 18 months for a horseradish-like condiment. Tip: In colder zones, try heavy mulching prior to winter, or bring the plants indoors until late spring. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) – zone 4 A member of the sunflower family, this very vigorous perennial can reach 3 m (10 ft) high and has a gorgeous yellow sunflower-type bloom. Tip: This one can get out of hand, so keep it in check, remembering that you can eat the delicious roots of the plants you pull up. Rhubarb (Rheum) – zone 5 A classic reliable perennial, for hundreds of years rhubarb has been grown in gardens as a staple of summer pies, cobblers and wine. Rhubarb is easy to grow, productive and attractive with its bold, tropical-looking leaves and ruby-red, green or pink stems. Tip: Pruning rhubarb is done while harvesting. To harvest, pull the leafstalks from the plant and trim off the leaf blades. The leaf blades contain large amounts of oxalic acid and should not be eaten.


When you finish your final lawn cut in the fall, use your grass clippings to protect your berries from winter cold and rain. Next spring, the clippings will have broken down, providing nitrogen and nutrients to your plants. Grass clippings are also an excellent way to fertilize the lawn and help reduce nasty thatch. Try the following grass-clipping recipe as a mulch for raspberry or strawberry plants. Of course, to do this, you must not use herbicides or pesticides on your lawn! Raspberry or Strawberry Mulch • 1 wheelbarrow full of week-old organic grass clippings • 1 kg (2 lbs) glacial rock dust • 500 mL (2 cups) kelp meal Mix together all ingredients and apply a 7 cm (3 in) layer as a mulch around raspberry plants, using one half the depth for strawberries. Apply in spring and/or fall.

Controlling Fruit Tree Borer

When you spot clear slime on the trunks or branches of your fruit trees, you’ll know that a fruit tree borer is on location. Left untreated, these pests can cause death by cutting off the vessels of your tree, thus ending the transportation of water and nutrients throughout the plant’s system. Damage is caused by the cream-coloured, brown-headed larvae, which grow up to 2.5 cm (1 in) in length and arrive via their parents, a clear-winged moth. Fruit tree borers are most common to trees in the Prunus genus, such as plums, cherries and peaches, and it is the newly planted trees or trees under stress that are most often attacked. Borers may be hand-removed by cutting into their tunnels and removing the insect itself, often using a piece of wire. Branches with large infestations should be cut off and burned. Then fertilize and irrigate the tree to reduce stress and encourage vigour. To discourage fruit tree borer, plant the base of your fruit trees with a combination of garlic, chives and nasturtiums. These plants will not only look pretty all summer long, but will also help repel the borers, and as a bonus, keep away aphids.