By RENEE FITE
Landscape designs for homes are now including elements usually found in farmer’s fields.
More than shrubbery and flowers are accenting sidewalks and decorating mail boxes. Edible plants are beginning to add an exotic or whimsical element to lawn beautification and function.
For those with limited yard space, adding vegetables to the flower patch, hanging baskets or trellis can be colorful and what’s for dinner.
Garden stores and catalogs sell baskets already planted with strawberries or tomatoes, or a mix of plants. It’s as easy as picking what appeals and learning how tall a plant grows, how much sun or shade it can tolerate and how much water it needs to create a landscape both pretty and practical.
With snow still in the forecast, garden enthusiasts are considering this season’s landscaping ideas, browsing catalogs and magazines for food and flower combinations.
“Edible landscaping is the practical integration of food plants within an ornamental or decorative setting,” said Kim Toscano, host of the TV show Oklahoma Gardening and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.
She encourages people to enjoy the freshness and flavor of home-grown, fully ripened fruits and vegetables. With careful planning, gardeners can have a yard that is flavorful, practical and visually pleasing with the wise use of fruits, herbs and vegetables.
“Gardeners are able to control the amount and kind of pesticides and herbicides used on plants,” she said.
Other benefits include cutting down on the grocery bill, increasing food security and variety, and the fun of being outdoors enjoying nature.
Those with greenhouses can garden all year long, wintering over large plants inside and starting seedlings in February or March for outdoor planting.
Gardening and cooking enthusiast Lisa Blancher loves spending time in her greenhouse, often reading there when not pruning, watering or debugging. Even professionals have to fight unwanted pests like aphids. En route to the greenhouse, her winter garden grows spinach, broccoli and lettuce.
“I’m all about people growing their own vegetables,” Blancher said. “Lettuce and members of the cole family - cabbage, broccoli, spinach and onions – can all be planted in the ground right now.”
The ground temperature has to be 40 degrees to plant.
“Even with a cold snap, it won’t effect the seeds, unless it maintains a temperature lower than 20 or 28 degrees for an extended period,” said Blancher.
Her greenhouse is 90 degrees, even with vents and doors open, she said. It is filled with many varieties of blooming plants including hibiscus, begonia, aloe vera, cactus and succulents. She recently planted pots of vegetable seeds.
“I brought in coleus of each color to grow through the winter,” Blancher said.
She cuts stems 1/4 inch below the leaf node of the plants she brings inside, then puts the stem in room-temperature water or dips it in root stimulator and puts in a mixture of sterile soil, peat moss and sand.
“You can put plants together if they have the same light, fertility and water needs,” Blancher said.
Blancher said she keeps her seedling pots in trays. Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and egg plant can root now if kept inside.
“Once they sprout, they need light 10 hours a day, from a grow light or sunny window,” she said.
Rainwater is her choice for watering, which she collects and reuses, especially for potted plants.
Mid April or the first of May she’ll begin moving or replanting most of her greenhouse plants outdoors.
“Gardening vegetables is important to me,” Blancher said. “My grandmother was an excellent cook, and my mother, but I’m a better cook than she is, my daughter is a better cook than me and my granddaughter will be a chef when she graduates soon.”
Some decorative flowers that are also edible include chrysanthemum, day lily, rose, marigold, violets, pansies, lavender and yucca, said David Hillock, OSU Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.
“The flowers are usually used in soups,” Hillock said.
When cooking with flowers, use those grown yourself, he suggests, since pesticides or herbicides could have been sprayed on flowers from a florist or garden center. And beginners might want to sample just a few in the beginning, in case of allergic reactions.
Fresh herbs can be grown in pots and are great for cooking, such as mint, basil, thyme or sage. Hillock said.
Lavender, an herb with beautiful and fragrant spiky purple blooms, makes an attractive hedge along a sidewalk; a butterfly bush can grow more than 10 or 12 feet and blueberry bushes can be a decorative and edible edging along a road or fence line.
“People like to plant flowers around to attract bees to pollinate vegetables,” said Roger Williams, OSU Extension educator, “Salvia are good pollinators.”
There are two schools of thoughts on marigolds, Williams said.
“Marigolds are supposed to attract spider mites; some people think they attract them and keep them away from vegetables, others think they just attract them.”
A number of people are planting blueberries in their landscapes to also get something edible, he said.
Fruit trees and pecan trees, knock-out roses, ferns, spider plants, potatoes and onions are among the plants and trees already on sale at local stores, like Atwoods. They also carry greenhouses for most budgets.
“Greenhouses are good for starting seedlings and protecting them from the elements,” said greenhouse specialist Mandy Bear. “Choosing the right location is important and the right soil. We have different soil options, like alkaline and sandy.”
Trained in horticulture, Bear can help new gardeners determine which plants are shade- or sun-loving.
Cold-crop vegetables are ready to put out, said Atwoods assistant manager Lee Sullivan.
“Cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce and some tomatoes and others are coming in this week,” Sullivan. “But I’m not the expert. We’re glad to have someone with a degree in horticulture [Mandy] to look after our plants this year.”
Water in the morning before the sun comes up and in the evening when the sun goes down to avoid scorching plants, Bear said.
“Seedlings can be planted in pots with rocks in the bottom for drainage,” Bear said. “And water them two or three times a day.”
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