A lot of people are interested in edible landscaping but get discouraged by their small space, maybe they don’t have enough room for fruit trees or can’t have a compost pile in their neighborhood. Having a small yard can actually be a blessing in disguise for edible landscaping, less space means less work! You can fit a lot of tasty things in a small space if you know how to make them work together. Here are some handy tips for landscaping your small yard with deliciousness!
- What do you like to eat? Pick the types of foods that you eat the most and prioritize for those. Do you eat a salad everyday? Then make sure you have sunny garden boxes for lettuce. Do you thrive on avocados? Consider grafting a tree so you can have multiple varieties of avo’s on one tree, saving space and getting fruit all year! Make a list of your top foods and find spaces for those first, you might not have room for everything you want to eat but if you start with your priorities you can fine tune the rest later. If your space really is too small for what you want most then go with smaller, higher value edibles and find someone to trade with! Trade bananas and dragon fruit for avocados and lychee or vanilla beans for breadfruit! Your community is a great resource, making friends with your neighbors is the best way to achieve abundance.
- Prioritize your time as well! How much time do you have to spend on your landscape? Can you do all the weeding, pruning and fertilizing yourself or will you need help? When you make your plant list, figure out how much time and care each thing will need. This will help you streamline your plant choices and make the best decisions. For each plant make a list of its requirements, what kind of sun/shade does it like? How much water? How frequently should it be pruned and fertilized? When does it bear fruit and how much? Gathering all this information beforehand will help you make the best placement decisions and also gives you a reference for maintenance.
Map Your Site!
Once you’ve prioritized your list and gathered your data you can start mapping and planning! Making a map of your space is incredibly helpful and worth all the time it takes. It’s good to start with a base map of your site, I like to use Google Earth but you can also use your county tax map or an existing site plan. As you are adding to your map make sure you include:
- Property lines
- Any buildings, existing or planned
- Access & Utilities, i.e. water lines, gas lines, electric, septic, driveways, walking paths and places where you might need access for maintenance such as the sides of your home, solar panels, propane tanks and AC units.
- Any plants or landscape features that are permanent, i.e. existing trees, a big hillside or slope, any hardscapes
- Sector analysis: this is a planning step that helps you collect information about your site. Sectors are energies moving through your site such as:
- Prevailing wind direction
- Solar aspect – which areas of your site get sun, what times of the day/year do they get it and for how long?
- Where are the view planes? Can you see your neighbors? Can they see you?
- Which direction does noise come from and do you want to block it? Can you hear your neighbors or traffic from the street?
- Which way does water flow across your property? What is the general slope and are there any swales or soggy spots with drainage issues?
- Zone mapping is a planning technique that helps you place elements in your design based on their usage and maintenance requirements. In small spaces zone mapping isn’t always necessary but it is a great way to make the most of your site and use your energy as efficiently as possible. The basic principle behind zone mapping is to place the elements that get the most use and need the most care closest to your home. That way less energy is expended accessing them. The things that need the least maintenance or get the least use should go farther out away from the home. You can number your zones 1-5 for usage, things in Zone 1 get used or need attention daily or even a few times a day. Zone 2 should receive attention a couple times a week, Zone 3 maybe just once a week, Zone 4 maybe just once a month and Zone 5 can be things that only need attention maybe once a year or that take care of themselves. A basic example of zone mapping might look like this:
Once you have your site map make copies! That way you can sketch out ideas on different copies and still have your main base map if you decide to change anything down the line.
Now that you have done all your data collecting and organizing you can start getting creative! Cross reference your plant list with your zone and sector analysis to figure out what’s going to grow the best where and where to put things in relative location to how frequently they will be used or maintained. Figure out what zone each of your desired plants or elements would do best in and start sketching out ideas.
Make Your Yard Multitask!
Another great planning technique is the concept of Stacking Functions, which basically means making sure each plant or element in your design performs more than one job! When you make your plant, list all of the things those plants (or other elements) provide. Here are some examples;
- A hedge of edible hibiscus on my western property line screens my view of the neighbors, gives me leafy greens to eat, provides late afternoon shade for my lettuces in the hot summer and has beautiful flowers.
- An icecream bean tree produces delicious fruit, provides shade for other young fruit trees, fixes nitrogen in the soil and can be “chopped and dropped” as mulch for other plants
- Chickens produce eggs, meat and manure for use in the garden. They also scratch up weeds and clear grassy areas when they are in the chicken tractor. They are also cute and funny and we enjoy their presence (when they aren’t too noisy!)
Each element in your design will have inherent functions (such as the fruit or food they produce) but can also serve more functions depending on where you place them in your design. Play around with putting different things in different locations on your map and seeing what additional functions they can serve in each place. A fruit tree can provide shade to a hot lanai AND be a great block of your neighbor’s upstairs window, A fence around your garden can keep chickens out AND be a trellis for lilikoi or dragon fruit. Multi-functionality is the best way to make use of your small space. Make a game of it! See how many functions you can get out of every element and make your design as efficient as possible!
Make sure you have everything you need to complete your project before you start. This will prevent any hold ups in your process. Make a list of the things you need and where to get them. Make a budget for yourself and prioritize your projects by your budget. Use your community, they are your greatest resource! Invite friends over for a garden or tree planting party. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor who had a tree removed and needs some mulch moved off site, use it in your garden! Figure out who in your community has access to tools or machinery or knows how to set up irrigation and what you might be able to offer them in exchange for help. Or if you are at a loss, give us a call at Seascapes!
All of your observation and data gathering is the groundwork for a great design but you can never know exactly how something is going to work unless you try it! Start small, work on setting the area up so that when you plant your first priority things they will succeed. Get your irrigation materials and stock up on compost and mulch. Then work on things one zone or section at a time. Go at a pace you will be able to maintain, if you install everything at once you will also have to keep everything weeded all at once. But if you go section by section you can get one area established, fine tuned and successful and then move on to the next. This will also help as you observe your process, if you make a mistake in one area you’ll have time to notice it so you don’t make the same mistake again. Unless you have a lot of help, go slowly or you’ll go crazy!
Edible landscaping in a small space can be challenging but the rewards far outweigh the cost! There’s something so wonderful about being able to just walk outside and gather a salad or bringing a box of citrus to a friend to share. With an edible landscape not only can you save money on groceries but you can also earn income from selling your excess yield! We hope you enjoy the process of planning your edible landscape so we’ll leave you with a few more resources. Here are some handy lists of edibles for your reference:
Fruit Trees for Small Spaces:
- Surinam cherry
- Tahitian Lime
- Dwarf Coconut
- Surinam Cherry
- Cranberry Hibiscus
- Bele / tongan spinach – edible Hibiscus
- Tulsi Basil
- Blackberry Jam Fruit
- Hawaiian Chili pepper
- Sugar cane
Edible Ground Cover
- Sweet Potato
- Okinawan Spinach
- Sissoo Spinach
- Creeping thyme
- Pigeon pea
- Perennial peanut
- Koa and Koai’a
- Mamane Tree
- Ice Cream Bean
- Black Pepper
- Pole beans
- Chayote Squash
- Dragon Fruit
Shade Tolerant Edibles:
- Black Pepper
- Kale & Mustard Greens
- Alpine Strawberries
- Sweet Potato
Fruit Tree Guild Plants:
- Pigeon Pea
- Perennial Peanut
- Society Garlic
Erosion Control & Multipurpose:
Best Choices for High Food Production:
- Breadfruit, Ma’afala and Ulu Fiti varieties
- Bele / tongan spinach – edible Hibiscus
- Chayote squash
- Pigeon Pea
- Sweet Potato
How to establish a small space intensive food garden with Geoff Lawton
The Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner
Permaculture for Urban Homes and Small Spaces
6 Tips for Backyard Permaculture
And remember, if you get overwhelmed you can always call on Seascapes to help You with your edible landscape design!
This article was written by Zoli, Senior Sales Associate and Landscape Designer at Seascapes Nursery.
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