Edible Landscaping

April Q & A

Question: Every year I grow kale in my North Carolina garden and it tastes chewy and like grass when I eat it. What's the key to growing good tasting kale?

Answer: Kale is a cool season vegetable that grows and tastes best when grown with temperatures below 70 degrees F. That could be a problem in North Carolina with your hot summers. The best solution is to plant it in late winter for an early summer harvest or in fall for a winter harvest. That way it's growing during cool weather. The texture will stay tender and the flavor mild.

You can try different varieties as well. 'Red Russian' has flat, thin leaves and is less chewy than a puckered leaf variety. 'Red Ursa' is more heat tolerant. I grow kale in my Vermont climate by sowing seed in spring and forgetting about them until fall. Other than keeping the cabbageworms off the plant, I just let it grow into small trees in the garden. By fall, after a few frost, the leaves get more tender and sweet tasting. I harvest into November, but I bet in your climate you can harvest right through the winter.

Question: I'm looking for an edible, evergreen foundation shrub for my Portland, Oregon home. The area I want to plant faces south.

Answer: You have a couple different options for a tasty edible in that location. One choice would be an evergreen huckleberry. This native Northwest shrub is hardy to USDA zone 6 and grows up to 4 feet tall and wide in full sun, so fits well under a window or near a door. It will grow taller in part shade and, in fact, is a good choice for a shadier spot as well. It likes well drained, moist, acidic soil. Like any blueberry relative, it produces delicious berries in summer. Since it's an evergreen the small leaves hold through the winter making for a beautiful four season landscape shrub.

Another option would be Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Another Northwest native, it produces yellow flowers in spring and blue-black berries by fall. It's hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9, and grows 3 to 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It should be placed where it won't interfere with windows, doors, and walkways. The flavor of the berries eaten fresh is tart and bitter, but if sweetened, it makes a fine juice or jam. If you don't like the berries the birds certainly will. Another plus is the holly-like leaves offer beautiful fall foliage color.

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