Are any of your clients “foodies,” or simply just love and enjoy cooking? Then they might appreciate some unique and useful foodscaping planters on a patio off the kitchen. The foodscaping concept is simple: combine ornamental and edible plants together for beauty and bounty—and containers are an ideal place to start. Here are some “recipes,” followed by general tips for foodscaping success.
Warm Season Combinations. The sky is the limit when it comes to foodscaping combinations. Always grow what you love, both aesthetically and from a practical eating standpoint. The general rule includes a “thriller”, “filler”, and “spiller.”
- Fruiting plant (tomato, pepper, eggplant) = Thriller
- Foliage/ Flowers (coleus, angelonia, plectranthus) = Filler
- Colorful vines (sweet potato, creeping Jenny, petunia) = Spiller
- Groundcover Herbs (oregano, thyme, creeping rosemary, sage) = Spiller
Cool Season Combinations. To extend the gardening season consider growing frost-tolerant plants. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Grains (barley, oats, wheat) = Thriller
- Brassica (kale, cabbage, broccoli, mustard, etc) = Filler
- Ornamental Flowers (pansy, snapdragons, violas) = Filler
- Groundcover Herbs (oregano, thyme, creeping rosemary) = Spiller
Summer Rice. Have you ever considered growing your own summer rice? Oryza sativa is a fantastic summer-loving grain and is an ideal plant for gardeners that live in regions that are hot and humid. It also thrives in containers with no drainage holes. It will look beautiful all summer, and the local birds will appreciate it as they usually steal the ripe seed first! (No, this won’t replace your need to buy rice at the grocery store, but it is a unique growing experience.)
Grains. Grains are a great candidate to be grown in containers as the “thriller” element, akin to how Purple Fountain grass is used. There are a lot of different grain plants to choose from. A few of the best performers in containers include: Barley – Horedeum vulgare • Oats- Avena sativa • Wheat- Triticum aestivum
The process for planting is simple:
- Fill a pot that has drainage holes with soil – I like using five- to seven-gallon sized pots.
- Scatter grain seed on top of the soil.
- Lightly cover the seed with soil.
- Top dress with the mulch of your choice to reduce soil splatter and make it look professional.
- Grains will germinate outside in roughly two weeks and grow all season.
Remember, that just like many ornamental grasses, grains prefer to be grown in full sun, with moist, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH. Though they are adapted to adverse environments, the advantage of growing grains in containers is that you can provide the ideal conditions to maximize their growth. Compared to more commonly cultivated plants, such as tomatoes, grains are the easiest plant in the world to grow!
Follow these tips to ensure the planters aren’t just pretty at planting time, but productive too.
Site. Full sun (six to eight hours daily) is best for traditional vegetables. However, some plants will perform in less exposure, particularly leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, and spinach. Locate the container near a water source because the foodscaping must be kept moist (warn clients of upkeep) and container combinations get thirsty in summer. Also, be sure to locate the pot in a convenient spot for harvesting. One of my favorite areas to display foodscape containers is right outside my kitchen door.
Containers. Essentially any pot will work. I love using five to 10-gallon plastic pots because they are large enough to fit four to seven different plants for dynamic combinations. Plastic containers are also less expensive and lighter to move. Grow bags are another wonderful option and are inexpensive and easy to plant.
Soil & Mulch. Traditional potting soil works well for foodscape containers. After planting, mulch the pot with your choice of top dressing to maintain moisture and eliminate any soil splash during heavy rainstorms. I use triple shred hardwood mulch most often, but also recommend pea gravel, and even well-washed shells. Ultimately, mulch just makes your foodscape containers look more professional.
Fertilizer. I recommend natural fertilizers which will lead to long-term success. Avoid fertilizer with a ratio that is too strong. It can lead to the plants growing excessively and then succumbing to insect infestations. I apply fish emulsion or liquid kelp to all my containers once a month in May through September.
Insect Control. Insects infestations are usually much lower when growing in containers. However, if you have a sudden outbreak of aphids, whiteflies, or mealybugs, insecticidal soap is the easiest and safest remedy. And you, or your client, can make your own:
- Soap: Pure Castille soap has fatty acids and dissolves in water
- Water: Tap or distilled depending on your water quality
- Bottle: 1 quart of water per 1 tablespoon of soap
How To: Fill a 1-quart spray bottle up with warm water. Add 1 tablespoon of soap. Screw on the lid and shake to mix well. Variations: 1 tsp apple cider vinegar will help with powdery mildew. 1 Tbsp vegetable oil will allow the spray to stick longer.
Caterpillars can also commonly cause damage to your favorite summer veggie plants. The easiest and safest way to control problem caterpillars such as cabbage worms and tomato hornworms is by applying Bacillus thuringeiensis (BT). This bacterium is rated as organic and is safe to apply on food crops.