Floridians take pride in their yards and gardens, and with little effort can make them not only beautiful, but edible too, says Florida Friendly Landscaping guru Julie Schelb.
Schelb is a specialist and program coordinator with the Polk County UF/IFAS extension service who recently offered tips and encouragement to a group of about 20 residents interested in adding fruit and vegetables to their home gardens and ornamental landscapes.
Central Florida’s climate and soil conditions make incorporating edibles into landscapes was easy and fits in with today’s trends. “There are plenty of native and non-native vegetables that can not only make your yard pretty, but add diversity to your table,” she said.
“All you have to do is make sure you put the right plant in the right place and you are bound to be successful. Many, if not most, vegetables are attractive and blend easily into an ornamental garden.
“You have to keep in mind your existing hardscape when you are incorporating edibles—some plants are great for pathway edges, others are great in containers and others need containment — like mint. If you aren’t careful, mint will take over your yard,” she said.
Schelb suggested adding herbs like rosemary, mint, oregano, basil as well as lusher and heartier veggies like ruffled cabbages, kale and Swiss chard to gardens along with shrubs like pomegranate and blueberries, and trees like bananas, peaches and palms. “Not only will they enhance the look of your garden space and provide plenty of variety to your yard, they will add lots of healthy goodies to your dinner.”
The hour-long program was give and take with gardeners and landscapers like Steve and Laura Larsen of Haines City, Mike Britt of Winter Haven and Richard Palazzo of Davenport sharing their successes and failures in their own endeavors.
The Larsens asked Schelb about being successful with hydroponic gardening. Schelb has seen some gardens that incorporated plastic kiddie pools as containers to float plants in Styrofoam containers as basic hydroponic systems.
Whether growing vegetables or fruits, gardeners should be mindful of each plant’s water needs, hence the “right plant, right place” focus. “You need to make sure you put the plants that need the same amount of water with your existing plants,” she said.
Most vegetable and fruit plants flourish with micro-watering systems rather than sprinklers. “The drip or micro systems seem to help most edible plants because it keeps the water on the root system and not on the leaves,” she explained. “It also is easier to control the amount of water the plants receive.”
Schelb said gardeners should also keep in mind that many edibles bring other benefits. Many are magnets to garden insects that help keep pest populations in balance.
“There are some insects that are drawn to edibles that help control the mosquito population and others that morph from caterpillars into butterflies. It’s OK to share with them — they will only eat about 20 percent of the leaves on your veggie plants.”
“That was important to know,” said Winter Haven teacher Rebekah Pratt, “and just the sort of information I came to get.” Pratt also said she was particularly interested in learning what herbs and veggies could flourish in containers. “I live in an apartment but have a nice balcony that I could grow lots of things in pots.”
Schelb didn’t disappoint, explaining that virtually any herbs or vegetables can grow in containers, but may require more attention than those soil-planted. “You’ll have to be more mindful of watering,” she said.
Palazzo, already a master gardener certified in Osceola County, said he drove from Davenport for Schelb’s class “to keep up with trends and learn anything new that I can.”
During the presentation, Schelb offered a list of plants that do well in Polk County that included beautyberry, Chickasaw plums, fennel, rosemary, onions, chard, lemon grass, grapes, passion fruit and guava. “There are many more,” she said, “and they are easy to find on our website.” The website is polk.ifas.ufl.edu.
Julie Schelb also can be reached at 863-519-1068 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.