Edible Landscaping

December Q and A

Question: Recently I have seen elderberry shrubs planted here in Utah. Do they have fruits? Can I grow them?

Answer:Yes, elderberries do produce clusters of small, black fruits that are excellent for making juice, jams, pies, and wine. They will grow in parts of Utah. Here are some elderberry growing basics. The species of elderberry most likely seen in the wild in Utah is Sambucus glauca or the blue elderberry. Varieties of Sambucus nigra are found commonly in nurseries and garden centers. Most are small, shrubby, multi-branched plants, but some, grown along streambeds and in ravines, can reach 30 feet tall. The shrubs produce dense clusters of white flowers that can be used to make an excellent champagne or to draw a soothing bath. The seedy black fruits are popular with wildlife such as birds and deer. Plant elderberries in full sun, in moist, well-drained soil. Apply compost annually and water frequently during droughts. Protect the shrubs from browsing deer and elk and you'll be rewarded with abundant berries each year.

Question: I live in Georgia where the dirt is hard clay. What's the best way to grow edible plants in this soil?

Answer: Clay soil is both a curse and a blessing. It is hard to work— muddy when wet and like concrete when dried out. It warms up and dries out slowly in spring. Plant roots really have to work to grow in clay. However, on the plus side, clay soil is loaded with nutrients and holds water well. Once established, plants thrive in it. The key to working with clay soil is to add organic matter in the form of compost, manure, dried leaves, grass clippings, hay, straw, or whatever is available. Add materials in their raw form in fall so they can decompose over the winter. In spring add finished compost or composted manure before planting.

If you don't have the time and energy to keep amending the soil, consider building permanent raised beds and buying topsoil and compost to fill them. That way you avoid having to work with clay soil all together.

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