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8 Ways to Use Edibles as Ornamentals

Planning your garden? Mix it up by choosing edibles in place of the usual suspects

Sunset
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Instead of an evergreen groundcover

Plant: Strawberries for berries from spring into fall.

How to grow: In mild climates, start from bare-root plants in late winter or early spring, or from plants in late summer or fall for a spring crop. In colder regions, grow from bare roots or plants in early spring. Space 18 inches apart, in rows that are 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart. All zones.

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Instead of a common perennial with showy leaves

Plant: Rhubarb for pies.

How to grow: Start bare-root plants in late winter or early spring; in zones 10 and 11, plant in fall as a cool-season annual. Plants reach 3 feet tall. (When harvesting, eat only the stalks; leaves are poisonous.) Best in Sunset climate zones A1–A3 and 1–11 but may do well in 14–24.

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Instead of annual front-of-border foliage

Plant: Loose-leaf lettuce for just-picked salads.

How to grow: In mild-winter/cool-summer regions, sow in early spring and again in late summer or early fall. In cold-winter areas, start seeds after frost has passed in spring; in mild-winter/hot-summer climates, sow in fall and winter. All zones.

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Instead of a familiar semi-evergreen shrub

Plant: Blueberries to add to muffins and smoothies from spring into summer.

How to grow: In mild-winter areas, start from bare roots in winter or from plants in fall; where winters are cold, start plants in early spring. Different types range in height from 1 1/2 to 8 feet tall. Zones A2, A3, 1–9, 14–24.

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Instead of a flowering deciduous vine

Plant: Kiwi for fruit plates and salads in summer and fall.

How to grow: Start from bare roots in winter or early spring, or from plants when weather is mild. These vigorous vines can grow up to 30 feet long. Zones A1–A3, 1–10, 12–24.

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Instead of an ordinary small evergreen tree

Plant: A lemon tree for juice and zest year-round.

How to grow: Plant in spring after frost has passed but before summer heat kicks in. ‘Improved Meyer’ grows to 12 feet; on dwarf rootstock, it will be about half the standard height. Zones 8, 9, 12–24, H1, H2.

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Instead of low-growing, dark-leaved annuals for pots

Plant: Purple basil, which you can add to summer salads and pasta dishes.

How to grow: Start from seed or seedling in spring, after frost has passed. Pinch off flower spikes as they form, and plant a new crop every two weeks for a continual harvest. Basil reaches 16 inches or taller and a foot wide. All zones.

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Instead of a low-growing perennial hedge

Plant: Rosemary to spice up pastas and roasts.

How to grow: Plant these perennials in spring or fall in well-draining soil. Prostrate varieties like ‘Huntington Carpet’ and ‘Irene’ top out at 1 1/2 feet tall; upright ones including ‘Blue Spires’ and ‘Gorizia’ are hardier and can reach 4 to 6 feet. Zones 4–24, H1, H2.

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