Saturday, April 20, 2013

Shrubs Provide Fruit Too!

     Continuing my series on edible planting, I would like to move on to smaller plants.  Not all fruit bearing plants have to be trees.  Some could be shrubs.  We use shrubs for screening, foundation plantings for buildings, specimen plantings and hedging.  Why not make the choice to use edible shrubs where ornamental ones might have been selected in the past?  Edibles, like ornamental shrubs, come in a variety of sizes, shapes and growth characteristics.
     The first shrub that usually comes to mind when thinking about edibles is the blueberry.   This is a deciduous shrub that can reach only a foot tall or as high as fifteen feet tall depending on the variety selected.  Flowers are small, white bells that appear in the spring, and the fruit appears in the summer.  The fruit is a small, soft blue berry that is great fresh or used in jam, syrup and pie.  Two general kinds of blueberry are offered for sale:  the lowbush which also can be found growing wild in the woods throughout the area, and the rabbiteye which grows taller and is a bit less hardy.  Both prefer moist conditions, but the lowbush can grow in full sun to partial shade.  Rabbiteye need full sun.  Lowbush make good ground cover while rabbiteye are great shrubs.  In order to get a good crop of berries, you will need to plant at least two varieties relatively close to each other.
     Blackberries and raspberries are both considered to be brambleberries.  They are deciduous and produce biennial canes that can reach five to twenty feet in height.  Typically they are extremely thorny but thornless varieties are available.  These are closely related to roses and produce small, white to pink, five-petal flowers like simple roses in the spring.  In fact, wild roses are often confused with wild brambleberries.  The fruit is ripe in the early to mid summer and is small and very sweet.  They are great raw or in pies, cobblers and jams.  The plants prefer full sun and in the wild are some of the first to colonize an open site.  Because of their thorny and dense nature, they make a great barrier or hedge.
     Edible shrubs can also provide interest in the form of flowers.  Rosa rugosa, sometimes called Japanese rose is a lovely deciduous shrub that can reach four to eight feet in height.  It has compound leaves and needs full sun.  Flowers are two to four inches across and are fairly simple in form, often having only five petals.  They come in white, red, pink, yellow or lilac depending on the variety selected.   The shrubs make great hedges because they produce wickedly thorny branches and because they tend to sucker forming a denser mass of plant.  Blooming occurs throughout the summer and fruit, called rose hips, develop in late summer to early fall.  Rose hips usually develop to about an inch in diameter and turn red when ripe.  They are high in vitamin C and are great raw or used in jellies and sauces.  The flower petals are also great raw in salads or used in jam.  When selecting this plant, please remember that this is native to Eastern Asia and can become very invasive here in North Carolina.
     Pomegranate is another lovely flowering shrub that also produces fruit.  It is a deciduous shrub and is usually propagated from seed or cutting.  The species originates in the Mediterranean and India so it generally prefers a warmer climate than that in North Carolina, but there are varieties that will grow here.  Typically the shrub matures to a height of ten feet and prefers full sun.  The flowers are a showy red/orange reaching two inches in diameter and appearing in the late spring and on into summer.  The fruit is even more showy, ripening in the fall to a two to six inch red ball.  This ball is actually a leathery outer rind covering masses of red, juice filled arils that contain the seed.  These are eaten raw or are used for jelly and juice.
     Quince is a fruit that is not frequently found in American gardens of today but was once found in nearly every middle class homestead throughout the country.  The plants originated in the Trans-Caucasus of Southwestern Russia and Armenia and were introduced to Europe prior to the fourteenth century.  Flowers appear in the spring and are white or pink. They reach a showy two inches in diameter.  The shrub can reach fifteen feet in height and is deciduous.  It prefers full sun.  Fruit are pear or apple-like and are ripe in the fall.  They are not good raw, but can be cooked into pies, sauces or jelly.  They were the primary source of pectin for the Colonials which is why they were so widely used.
     Trees are not the only fruit producers that you can plan in your garden.  Shrubs provide fruit too!

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