Published on 05/13/96

Edible Ornamentals Add Diversity, Value to Yard

Ornamental plants, by definition, are those we use to enhance the beauty of our yards, parks and workplaces.

These trees, shrubs and flowers can increase the aesthetic and real estate value of your property.

Some have parts you can eat. Or the wildlife you want to attract can eat them. The plants we call edible ornamentals are all:

* Used now mainly for their looks.

* Produce edible fruit or other plant parts.

* Have edible parts that are underused because of the varieties you plant or how you place or prune them, etc., in the landscape.

* Have edible parts that don't require pesticides beyond those needed for ornamental purposes.

Plants that meet these criteria and are suited for Georgia gardens are listed in the table below.

Greater use of these plants can add diversity and value to your yard. Planted in full or partial sun, they should set fruit in Georgia.

All except bananas can survive winters unprotected. A pineapple guava will be killed back below 14 degrees but will resprout and bloom the same year.

Very few pests will attack the immature fruit of these plants, except for mayhaws, where wormy and diseased fruit can be picked out at harvest.

When mature, these fruits are highly prized by birds and other wildlife. If you want more birds in your yard, elderberries, Japanese yews and mayhaws are well-suited.

To get good fruiting, you may have to prune these plants differently. For instance, it's best to head-back spring-blooming ornamentals right after they flower. But that would remove the young fruit from edible ornamentals.

For these plants, use the timing and type of pruning normally used for fruit trees. As a rule, all they need is a light winter pruning to thin out crowded branches.

Mel Garber is a professor in the Office of Environmental Science of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.