Edible Hedge Plants That Serve as Both Privacy and Food
Are you thinking of adding some hedge plants to your yard or garden, but want the plant to also be edible? The good news is, there are plenty of plants that can be trained into being hedges, all while bearing edible fruit. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton examines the most popular hedge plants that yield edible fruit.
Hedges are a traditional garden staple. They offer privacy, security, and protect your vulnerable plants from wind damage. They demarcate areas of the garden, allowing you to have all the garden styles you want in one place. And, when planting edible hedges, they provide tasty fruits too.
Edible hedges are a great way to make the most of your garden space. This is especially true in small gardens, where space is at a premium.
If you’re wanting to grow your own food, but lack the backyard for intensive vegetable gardening, replacing your existing ornamental features with edible plants will provide a year-round harvest. Toss in some edible ground cover, and you’ll have more food than you could ever imagine growing in a small space.
The following plants look good enough to eat and suit a range of climates and conditions. You may choose to grow one for a more uniform look, or grow many together for a wider range of produce. Whatever you choose, you certainly won’t regret adding an edible hedge to your property.
Choosing a Hedge
As hedges are designed to serve a number of purposes at once, it is important to find a plant that ticks all the boxes for your hedge needs.
But before you consider your needs, you’ll need to consider the needs of the plants. Edible hedges can only grow well and produce food in the right conditions, which obviously differ for each plant. Start by choosing an edible hedge that thrives in your USDA Zone to ensure it will survive through the winter.
Next, check your sunlight exposure. Most fruit-producing plants need a healthy amount of full sun during the day, but some may need more than others. Ensure whichever hedge you choose will be happy with the light levels of your planting site.
With that out of the way, you can start choosing based on your particular hedge needs. Planting for privacy? Choose an evergreen hedge that doesn’t shed its leaves over winter. If height is a consideration, pick taller plants or climbers that cover the required area. Planting for security? Dense hedges with thorns are your answer. These also keep intrusive animals out of areas you don’t want them.
And finally, when choosing an edible hedge, it is important to pick plants you actually enjoy eating. It sounds like an obvious point, but many gardeners choose plants based on looks or growing difficultly first, forgetting that the goal of edible hedges is to eat the produce at the end of the day. Unless you want to leave your hard-won fruits for the birds, go for a plant you like the taste of and will use regularly.
Planting Edible Hedges
Before planting your hedge, prepare the soil to give your plants the best start. Clear the area of all weeds and mix in some compost for a nutrient boost. Most edible hedges are best planted in early spring when all frost has passed to take advantage of the peak growing season.
You may be tempted to squeeze the plants together first thing to make the leaf cover as dense as possible. But planting edible hedges too close together may stunt their growth as they compete for space and nutrients. It also increases the risk of pests and diseases as there is less airflow between the plants.
Always give your hedges enough space to grow healthily. It may look sparse at first, but fast-growing plants will soon fill in to provide the cover you’re after.
Once planted, water deeply and thoroughly to encourage the roots to spread. The plants will need to be watered more often as they establish, but will likely need less attention in later seasons. A thick layer of mulch around the base will help retain moisture and keep the weeds from spreading around your vulnerable plants.
7 Edible Hedges To Plant In Any Garden
While there are a few different edible hedges that may be successful in just about any garden, there are a few that stand out amongst the rest. Typically, any of the following hedges will be fairly easy to grow for both experienced and novice gardeners alike. Let’s take a look at our favorite hedges!
When thinking edible hedges, berries are usually the first fruit to come to mind. And most popular among those is undoubtedly the blueberry. With the right care, these low-maintenance plants can last decades, providing fruit reliably year after year. They also have telling signs like red leaves, when there’s a plant problem, making them easy to troubleshoot for novice gardeners.
Certain varieties grow taller than others and will keep their leaves over winter in moderate climates. ‘Jersey’ and ‘Bluejay’ can reach heights up to 7 feet, while ‘Rubel’ hits an impressive 8 feet with a 4-foot spread. These particular varieties grow best in USDA Zones 4-7, with ‘Jersey’ handling the heat in zone 8. Those in Zone 3 can still grow a slightly shorter but more cold-hardy variety, ‘Patriot’.
For blueberries to stay a low-maintenance plant throughout the season, they need to be planted in the right soil. When preparing the beds, enrich the soil with plenty of compost. These fruits prefer very acidic, well-draining soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Space each plant around 3 feet apart to allow the shallow root systems to spread horizontally. Once planted, cover with a thick layer of mulch – around 3 inches – to keep the roots moist and cool.
Depending on your chosen variety, the berries should be ready to harvest from late spring through to summer. Berries that are ready to harvest should be completely blue and easy to remove from the branch. Keep the ripening berries on the plant for as long as you can hold out. The longer they stay on the branch, the sweeter they will be.
The elderberry is a less common choice for home gardeners, but its density and low-maintenance nature make it an ideal edible hedge. For the little effort you put in, you will be rewarded with masses of berries useful to you in your kitchen, or to the birds in your garden. The delicate flowers also attract butterflies, encouraging a bounty of wildlife to your garden across the seasons.
Varieties of elderberry can grow incredibly tall, making them ideal privacy screens or windshields. ‘Adams’, the most common variety, grows to 10 feet and produces deep purple berries in massive clusters. The blue elderberry, commonly mistaken as a blueberry, grows far larger. This variety grows between 10 feet and a towering 30 feet, spreading around 18 feet. It also grows in many regions, thriving in USDA Zones 3 up to 10.
Elderberries may tolerate some shade in parts of the day, but grow best in spots with full sun. While not fussy about soil, they do need to be watered often. Apply a layer of mulch to prevent evaporation and lessen the number of waterings. These plants take a couple of years to mature, but will fill out into a massive hedge, making the extra time worth the wait. They may not be the tidiest hedges, but they make up for their scruffy look with mounds of fruit come harvest time in fall.
Be careful when harvesting, as the leaves, stems, and roots of the elderberry plant are toxic to humans. Some believe the unripe berries are also toxic when ingested as they result in a build-up of cyanide in the body. Cooking the berries before eating eliminates this risk and can make them taste better too. Add a bit of sugar and you’ll have a wonderful elderberry jam.
Last on the traditional berry list is the blackberry, producing rows of sweet, delicious fruits. While there are thornless varieties on the market, the thorned options are perfect for edible hedges. They provide security, creating an impenetrable tall barrier guaranteed to keep intruders, whether they be people or pests, out of your yard.
When planted, some blackberry cultivars may not fruit in the first year. These are the thornless Osage or Apache, or the thorny Kiowa. Others, known as primocane-bearing cultivars like those in the ‘Prime’ series, will fruit earlier, ideal for impatient gardeners.
Blackberries should be planted in early spring, around 2 feet apart for a dense hedge. Like the other berries, ensure the site is weed-free before planting as they will be incredibly difficult to remove once the hedge has grown in. They also prefer acidic soil, although not as acidic as blueberries with a pH of just under 6. They will tolerate some shade but grow best in a full sun position.
Your blackberries will be ready to harvest in summer, indicated by their change in color. The rich tones will dull slightly, and the berries should be easy to remove from the plant. They can be eaten raw, but are usually saved for jams, preserves, or cooked desserts.
Those in more tropical regions may be unable to grow cool climate berries successfully. Instead, you can grow a fruit less common in American gardens but just as delicious, the Natal plum. Native to southern Africa, this plant produces fruits that look like plums but taste closer to cranberries. The dense, evergreen leaves and sweetly-fragranced foliage combine to form a unique edible hedge.
Many Natal plum varieties have sharp spikes perfect for security around your property. But, there are a few thornless varieties for easier harvesting. Unlike the wilder-looking blueberry plants, these shrubs are easy to shape and look more like a traditional hedge than some of the other options on this list. However, they are not as tall, with most varieties only growing a couple of feet tall.
This shrub grows best in a full sun position. It may tolerate some shade but will fruit far less. It needs less water than other edible hedge options and is considered slightly drought tolerant. The soil can be left to dry out completely before watering again, without impacting the juiciness of the fruits. Growing in USDA Zones 9-11, the Natal Plum is not tolerant of cold and will likely die if exposed to temperatures below 30F.
After two years, your Natal plum will begin producing fruits. The fruits are ready to harvest when they turn a dark reddish-purple color, usually around summer and into autumn. While they are edible raw, these fruits are usually cooked into pies or made into preserves to get the most of their delicious flavors.
Moving away from the fruit category and into nuts, we arrive at hazelnut – a quintessential edible hedge. These plants grow into thick, dense shrubs around 10 feet tall, providing plenty of cover as a privacy screen. They also respond to shaping, a great option for formal edible gardens or to separate parts of the garden into rooms. And, they provide shelter for wildlife, increasing the biodiversity in your backyard.
The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) grows vigorously across the United States and is incredibly easy to care for. It is cold hardy, disease-resistant, and grows well despite a bit of neglect. A hazelnut relative, known as Filbert, grows taller than its American counterpart and has varieties with stunning deep-purple leaves for a feature that is both edible and ornamental. To achieve the desired bush shape for hedging, hazelnuts will need to be pruned regularly.
In extremely hot climates, hazelnuts will appreciate some shade, but typically prefer full sun. American hazelnuts will self-pollinate, meaning you only need to plant one variety for a successful harvest. However, planting more than one may improve yields and can limit pest and disease problems.
Hazelnut is one of the few plants that appreciate poor-quality soil. Too many nutrients will encourage the foliage to grow, leaving you with fewer nuts. This is an ideal hedge for parts of the garden where other plants struggle to grow, as they are more tolerant of a range of conditions and still produce nuts without too much fuss.
Crabapple trees are world-renowned for their captivating floral displays. The sweet blossoms range in color from white to pink or red, covering the entire tree in seas of color. Once the flowers die back, the tree will be covered in bright red fruits that last until winter.
These floral displays are even more impressive when clumped into dense, expansive hedges. If pruned and trained correctly, these plants make great screens, attracting masses of butterflies and bees in spring. The fruits are also beloved by birds, bringing color to your garden through the flowers, fruits, and the wildlife they attract.
Crabapples are best grown in full sun when used as an edible hedge. The more light they receive, the denser their leaf coverage will be. These trees benefit from regular mulching with a thick layer of compost and will need extra water during dry spells, especially while establishing. Pruning is not a necessity but will help shape these expansive trees into shorter, more manageable hedges.
The fruits are not typically eaten raw due to their sour taste. However, when cooked, they make a fantastic jelly or jam. If you have more fruits and more jelly than you know what to do with, you can always leave some of the ripe apples on the tree to attract more birds to your garden. They’ll appreciate the extra food and may reward you by snacking on some of the damaging pests that plague gardens.
A popular fruit across the Mediterranean, the pomegranate is a delectable, rewarding edible hedge. When pruned regularly, the branches form a low, dense shrub. They may look small when first planted, spaced around 6 feet apart, but will soon spread to form a tough thorny hedge up to 20 feet tall. They do drop their leaves in winter, and so aren’t ideal privacy screens year-round, but make up for this flaw with their delicious fruits.
There are several pomegranate varieties to choose from, each with its own unique flavors. ‘Sienevyi’, one of the more popular options, produces large, sweet fruits. ‘Desertnyi’ sports a slightly citrusy flavor, while ‘Kashmir Blend’, a shorter shrub, has a more tart taste ideal for cooking or in savory salads.
Pomegranates need warm climates to thrive, with varieties growing in USDA Zones 7-10. Diverging from the other plants on this list, pomegranates prefer slightly alkaline soil with a pH between 7 and 7.5. Plant the hedge in a full sun position to ensure thick growth and regular fruiting.
After flowering in spring or summer, the fruits will be ready to harvest in autumn. Once the fruits have changed color, tap on them and listen for a hollow metallic sound, indicating the fruit is ready to be cut off the tree.
These seven plants are certainly not the only edible hedges on the market. Many other berries, or fruit-producing trees like plums or cumquats, can be trained as hedges. In warmer climates, gardeners can grow bay leaves, olives, or even coffee under the right conditions. But for a no-fuss hedge providing a range of benefits, one or more of these seven are bound to suit your needs.
Those in cooler climates will be successful with any of the berry options, while those in warmer zones will appreciate fruit like the Natal plum or pomegranate. Some with thorns, like the blackberry, make wonderful security screens, while others are most useful for their impressive height (the Blue Elderberry comes to mind). No matter the use of your edible hedge, these plants will provide produce and a privacy screen for small or large gardens.