Eat That Hedge!
We love the concept of edible hedges and landscapes toward expanding food options. There are many plants that are both ornamental edible, and also medicinal. The best of both worlds of beauty and function.
For years we’ve only planted for beauty and aesthetics, mainly because we live in the woods where it’s been too shady for a full on vegetable garden. But in the last couple years we finally cut down a few scrub pines to let in more light to make room for a vegetable garden. But beyond that, we’re really getting into planting edible plants whenever possible.
When the plant is beautiful and has food benefit, it’s a win. If that plant is lovely, can be eaten, AND has medicinal benefit, it’s a win-win-win! One of our favorite examples is nasturtiums. The plants are beautiful and the leaves and flowers are edible and add a zesty peppery flavor that spices up salads and sandwiches and compliments omelets beautifully.
When it comes to plants for hedges, there are many shrubs and trees that can be trained and pruned to be effective fences and hedgerows.
The Common Privet Hedge, Not Edible, but...
Okay, while the fast-growing privet hedge may not be edible, privet has benefits far beyond that of a privacy fence. More studies are needed for widespread acceptance in the west, but we believe there’s value in traditions that have stood the test of time, even if science hasn’t yet proven it. I mean… who would fund such a study?
Privet contains ligustrum, an active therapeutic compound and has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years! However, in the US, ingesting privet is advisable only under medical supervision. https://www.home-remedies-for-you.com/herbs/privet.html https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ligustrum-lucidum
Purpose and Repurpose!
We’re all about leveraging time by planting perennials, when available, and multi-purposing whatever we can. So when we first saw examples of creative fencing using edible plants, trees and shrubs, we were intrigued to learn more and to try some.
GROW A FENCE! Instead of building a fence… plant it and grow it!
Growing Edible Hedges
When planting a hedge why not make it dual purpose and create an edible hedge? It will mark your boundaries, or block unsightly views plus give tasty treats and added landscape beauty. A win-win situation!
If you’re tight on space and want to use as much of that space for growing food, all the more reason to plant edible hedges. While you’re at it why not consider planting edible ground cover plants too?!
This lovely English garden offers one example of the edible hedge concept. It’s not entirely an edible hedge or edible fence, but it’s so beautifully arranged where the edibles hug the perimeter walls surrounding the small lawn area blending flowers and staging plants by height from smallest in front to tallest in back. Smart, efficient and lovely!
In the following photo, that perimeter brick wall could also serve as perfect for growing espalier fruit trees. Walls add support, radiant warmth, and protection from the elements.
Ideas for Growing Edible Hedges
Consider what purpose you need your edible hedges to serve.
- To keep out wildlife and dogs, select hedge plants with sharp thorns such as blackberry, gooseberry, and rugosa rose. Plant these thickly so they fill in quickly, forming an impenetrable wall.
- For an evergreen hedge that won’t lose its leaves. Depending on your area, these might include citrus, natal plum, sweet bay, and rosemary
- For edible berries, consider elderberry, blueberries, mahonia, blackberry or raspberry
- Edible vegetables might include asparagus, corn and sorghum
- Seasonal hedges can include beans, peas, squash and other vining vegetables, growing on attractive trellis fences that should be fine even for picky home owners associations.
- Nut bushes such as hazelnuts (filberts) make an attractive hedgerow
Espalier Fruit Trees for Fencing and Fruit
You can also train fruit trees into fences and hedges that make crossing difficult. Espalier and Belgium fences take apples, cherries, peach, figs, pear, and citrus trees and turn them into an edible fence that provides fruit and blocks a view or entrance. I still fondly remember the edible fences at Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello, Virginia that define the garden beds.
SOURCE: Charlie Nardozzi on Garden.orghttps://www.garden.org/ediblelandscaping/?page=201110-edible-hedge
There are many types of plants, shrubs and trees that can serve as an edible hedge. We’re featuring some of the favorites below here, listed alphabetically by name of the fruit or vegetable. But first, here’s a longer list of many of the best options for edible hedges.
Plants that are more trees than shrubs, are good for taller edible hedges, however, you can also keep them pruned to be shorter and smaller. Herbs like lavender and rosemary can make low hedgerows that are good for defining landscape areas and perimeters.
The list of possibilities is vast and includes many varieties that most people are not familiar with considering that few of the hundreds of edible plants are actually sold in stores. We’ve included bamboo, which young shoots are edible, however, it’s also very much a functional plant. From fishing poles to a bean teepee trellis, tomato supports and pea trellises, growing bamboo is like growing garden tools.
So this list is a start and includes some familiar and some that may be new to you, as they were for us. But this is a start to get us all thinking on and exploring some of the many options.
Edible Hedges List of Herbs, Shrubs, and Trees
- Bamboo – (Arundinaria & Phylostachys species); choose clumping varieties to prevent bamboo invasion
- Bay leaf tree or shrub – Willow Bay (Laurus nobilis)
- Chokeberries – Aronia melanocarpa
- Cornelian cherry dogwood
- Cranbush, American var. – (Viburnum trilobum)
- Gooseberry –
- Huckleberry – (Vaccinium ovatum Pursh)
- Lingonberry –
- Mulberry – (Morus nigra)
- Natal plum – (Carissa macrocarpa), fragrant flowers, edible fruit, zones 9-11
- Oregon Grape – (Mahonia aquifolium)
- Roses – especially, R. acicularis, R. rubiginosa, R. rugosa (make very good flowering hedges), & R. villosa for the largest rosehip fruit
- Rosemary – tall growing varieties for hedges; low growing, creeping variety for edible ground cover
- Serviceberry – (Amelanchier alnifolia), AKA Juneberry, the Saskatoon var. is the most flavorful
- Strawberry tree – (Arbutus unedo)
- Yucca – Yucca filamentosa – for an ornamental wide and low-growing hedge with edible, medicinal and functional uses.
Yucca Filamentosa Plant
Mahonia Berry Bush – AKA – Oregon Grapes
You can try espaliering any fruit or nut tree onto a fence or wall for your edible hedge. Find more on espalier here.
For a seasonal edible hedge, the wispy ferns of the asparagus plant make a beautiful landscape feature when the ferns are allowed to grow after harvest. However the asparagus frond must be propped up with some kind of fencing or other support and they will turn brown and need to be cut back winter.
A perennial, asparagus should be planted with care since it will take three years in the landscape to start producing edible spears. While you have to be patient, after the first three year wait, asparagus can produce for 20 more years or more as a permanent planting.
After harvesting the asparagus spears, the ferns continue to grow tall and wispy throughout the season, but will need a little fencing support to prop them upright.
As an edible hedge, asparagus is lovely, green and fern-like in spring and summer, needing support as it grows tall. It will turn brown in fall and winter and is best cut to the ground.
Asparagus is a perennial that takes 3 years to produce food, but continues producing 20 years or more thereafter.
Another North American native, the blueberry bush thrives in acidic soil. Blueberries can tolerate soggy soils, but prefer well-drained sandy soils and full sun. For best results, plant at least 2 types of blueberries in your yard or orchard.
Use finely ground sulfur if your soil tests is above the desired pH of 4.5 to 5.2. Blueberry plants need at least one inch of water weekly during the growing season, especially for the first couple years. Use peat moss or pine needles to help retain moisture and prune plants in late winter or early spring.
Low Growing BerryBux Blueberry
For suburban edible landscape gardening, also known as “foodscaping”, we love this relative newcomer. The BerryBux blueberry plant for a low-lying edible hedge or landscape plants. This grows to about the size of the lovely Sweet Box plant that announces spring is around the corner with it’s wonderful powerfully fragrant mid winter blossoms.
Planting Full Sized Blueberry Hedges
- Plant blueberry bushes 2.5-3′ apart.
- Use the same variety blueberry for the same hedge row.
- For a shorter blueberry hedgerow, use compact varieties such as Patriot blueberries.
- For tall hedges, plant faster growing upright varieties such as Jersey or Bluecrop.
Find more information, images and videos on how to grow blueberries here.
Blueberries grow to heights of 6 to 12 feet, making excellent edible hedges, windbreaks and privacy screens, when planted 2.5 to 3 feet apart.
From the WaldenEffect.org
Nanking Cherries are shrubs or small trees growing 9-15′ in full sun and well-drained soil. Plant more than one Nanking Cherry for cross pollination, 15 feet apart for trees, or 4 feet apart for hedges.
Cranberry – Highbush Cranberry – Viburnum trilobum, AKA crampbark
This native North American plant is self fruiting, disease and pest resistant and grows to 8–15 feet tall and 8–10 feet wide. Annual pruning is needed to maintain the desired size and shape. For a solid hedge, plant bushes in full sun to partial shade in rich and loamy soil, 2-3 feet apart.
A favorite for birds, the antioxidant rich fruit, is high in vitamin C making it very tart. Reminiscent of cranberries in look and taste, this lovely red berry, is ready for an easy harvest in August, and is often sweetened and used in jams and sauces to be palatable.
The viburnum bark contains a bitter compound called viburnine, and is an antispasmodic, used for centuries for relief of menstrual and stomach cramps and also asthma.
Nut bushes, such as filberts and hazelnuts, make an attractive hedgerow while providing edible nuts for people and wildlife.
Hedging – Hazel makes a great hedge taking well to trimming and providing a dense screen. Nut production is not as high as when grown as free standing plants but some nuts can be harvested from the hedge. The plants are also tolerant of wind and a 2 or 3 row windbreak can be set up where alternate rows are coppiced on a 7 year cycle.
~Essential guide to hazelnuts
Hardy to USDA zone 7, in warm areas rosemary makes a great low growing, 3-5-foot tall hedge. The rosemary bush grows densely, produces beautiful blue flowers, wispy foliage and a memorable scent.
- Thick foliage
- Easy to grow
- Not disease prone
- Abundant fragrant blossoms
- Large rosehips packed with vitamin C
- Grows tall and wide – 4-8′ tall and 4-6′ wide
- Leaves and flower buds can be made into tea
- Rosehips can be made into jams and preserves, fruit leather and teas
- Rose petals are edible and favored for desserts, jams, honey fresh in salads
- Very thorny – need gloves to work with bush
- Very Invasive – spreads by rhizomes and runners
WARNING: While the rugosa rose has lovely, fragrant roses with highly beneficial rosehips, it’s a very invasive shrub. A highly determined grower, our rugosa rose bushes would love to take over our blueberry patch.
Fiercely hardy and thorny, rugosas can be exceedingly difficult to get rid of, not only because of the rapid and prolific growth rate, but also because they’re very hard to handle. So take care on where you plant them, and consider some sort of barrier to keep rhizomes from spreading.
If you want the benefits without the invasive concerns, you could try growing rosa rugosa in huge pots.
You can find more here on Rosa rugosa.
Rugosa Rose – rose buds, petals, leaves and rosehips are all edible and medicinal.
Willow Whip Fence
In closing, the Willow whip is a very popular fencing topic when we share it on the Gardens All Facebook Page, and has the added benefit of being used for energy in the UK.
As for edible, while the Willow Whip Fence inner bark is edible after boiling, that isn’t the best feature of this plant. Rather, it’s the strength and flexibility for weaving attractive fences.
Vertical gardening is another option for getting the most produce in the least space.
Willow for Biomass and Medicine
But there are more potential benefits to growing willow. Willow is a fast growing tree crop that can be harvested multiple times before replanting, and can be used medicinally for the aspirin component, salicin, as well as for biomass. So if you’re looking for a crop to grow that has multiple benefits and purposes, you might look into willow trees! https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US201301598437
Here’s are more examples of living willow whip fences.
And… if you want more on how to create these fences, you may enjoy this espalier video.
The Art of Espalier
Let us know what kind of edible hedges are you growing? We’d love to hear about it and see your photos!
Enjoy growing edible hedges and landscape!
I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always kept plants, been interested in medicinal herbs and nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. I assist in our family gardening projects primarily (at present) through the sharing of information through our websites and newsletters.
As a family we’re steadily expanding our gardening, experimentation and knowledge around all things gardening, edible landscaping, fresh organic foods and self sustainability and hopefully, farming in our future. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community. I also own and manage theiCreateDaily.com.