Planting Edibles in Cities

The snow has just started falling and I’m already thinking about what I’m going to be planting next spring.  Most of my plantings won’t be at my own house, they’ll be out in the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  We’ll be looking at all kinds of fun stuff like growing trees in various new types of containers, adding compost to planting holes in different circumstances, and even pruning methods.  But one of the big things that we’re starting to look at are new trees for the urban environment.  Cities have always spent time considering what they plant, but with the emerald ash borer ravaging the Midwest, now they’re thinking even harder.  And because of the local food movement, suddenly the cities are at least considering trees like apples and hazelnuts on a trial basis (sure, there are some places that use them here and there, but they’re less than common).  Of course, if this movement stalls, the cities would be upset at having so many “messy” plants around (that’s their big concern about edibles right now), but I don’t think it will.  I’m actually pretty optimistic about using fruits and nuts on public property.  Sure, some plants will fail because they get too many diseases or insects, or because they’re weak wooded, but some will make it too.  I think hazelnut has a great chance in the right place (it would be too bushy for most boulevards….).  Do any of you have a favorite edible that you think might work well in a city?  Let me know, maybe we’ll try it!

14 thoughts on “Planting Edibles in Cities”

  1. Pawpaws. Native, hardy to zone 5. Edible, but too perishable fruit for commercial exploitation. Perfect “local” “native” fairly pesticide free, etc. Not sure of the urban environment, though.Dr. Lee Reich is my go-to source for recommendations on edible landscaping that could work in an urban planting environment from an ease of maintenance standpoint. Uncommon Fruits.  Landscaping with Fruits.
    If shrubs are an option, I love the Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)- another one of Dr. Reich’s recommendations. Wonderful (albeit short) floral display in early spring.

  2. Agree with recommending Lee Reich’s advice! I like Amelanchier spp., especially A. alnifolia (Saskatoon berries), but all are attractive and edible. Nice fall colors, too.

  3. I saw a TED talk given by a woman named Pam Warhurst on the topic “How we can eat our landscapes”. She’s a compelling speaker, I highly recommend.

  4. This is a cause near and dear to my heart. I get frustrated when I see huge amounts of attention lavished on the same old trees. And then a food drive collecting boxes of processed food.

    My favorite is Asian persimmons. Gorgeous low care trees with virtually no pests here. Also pecans, walnuts and crabapples.

  5. As a culture we’ve never been more dependent on processed food and out of touch with nature. Richard Louv’s blog addresses this in detail.

    The local food movement is an opportunity to address this trend. Why don’t you try growing some Fireweed?

  6. In warmer areas, Loquat trees are a good choice. Big leathery evergreen leaves are probably more of a mess than the fruits are.

    Here in WA state, cities often plant evergreen huckleberry in planting strips and such. Attractive small bushy plants, evergreen obviously, and small berries don’t make a mess. Easy to grab a handful as you walk by.

    Wouldn’t try either one where you are though!

  7. Some low input, easy to grow options for me are prune plums (I like Stanely), crab apples (less mess than bradford pears, just as pretty, useable fruit or food for birds? What’s not to love?), and persimmons.

  8. Think about small, sweet pears like Seckels that are great right off the tree but too small for commercial growing. Many pears are hardy enough for MN winters and tend to have attractive flowers, foliage, pyramidal shape, etc.

  9. I’ve read in some British permaculture and forest garden books about a Tilia they refer to as limes… the young leaves are edible as salad greens. Is that the same linden I’ve seen grown as a street tree here in Seattle? Of course who would know to eat the leaves? Thanks.

  10. Nanking bush cherry – hardy to zone 3, delicious berries. The plant is quite bushy though.
    Also, cornelian cherry (dogwood) has great shape and good tasting berries.

  11. Great ideas! I especially like the pears and the fireweed (which I hadn’t heard of before). Many of the plants that were mentioned won’t grow here in MN, but some will. I like Reich’s books too. And Cynthia — everything that I can find says that Lindens do have leaves that are edible when the tree is young.

  12. Columnar Apples are super easy to care for (no pruning) and conform to narrow parking strips. And, who doesn’t know what an apple is for?

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