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Edible Landscaping: From Lawn to Garden

Why Edible Landscaping?

Edible landscaping is the practice of removing ornamentals and replacing them with edible plants.  In our water district, it is estimated that over 50% of all household water is used to water landscaping.  With sustainability in mind, it stands to reason that if you are going to spend money and resources to water a landscape, shouldn’t it at least give something back?  The use of edible landscaping presents an opportunity to exchange something that mostly consumes resources, such as a lawn, with other plants that produce food, save money, conserve resources, and are attractive as well.  In this article, I’ll show you how to plan and implement an edible landscaping project.

Edible Landscaping Before After Suburban Stone Age

Before You Begin

The most important thing you need to do before you spend any time or money converting your lawn to edible landscaping is research.  This cannot be overstated.  Depending on where you live, there may be ordinances at the community, city, county, or even state level that will have to be taken into consideration.  Do not fear them, understand them.  Knowledge is power – by putting yourself in a position of knowledge you can make sure your efforts will not be in vain.  Additionally, by knowing the rules you can then work with them creatively.  You’d be surprised at how you can adapt edible landscaping techniques to suit a broad range of circumstances.

Design and Materials

Once the research has been done, prepare a garden design.  Your project will go much more smoothly if you have thought through the design first.  Having a plan on paper will allow you to coordinate details such as drainage, hardscaping, irrigation, plant choices, and disposal options, all before you remove a single piece of lawn.  Plus, you may be able to spot opportunities to upgrade or repair existing features, such as repairing buried pipe, that would otherwise be very disruptive to your garden once you have completed it.

Next, gather your materials.  This may include:

  • Shovel(s)
  • Wagon/Wheelbarrow
  • Building materials (based on your design)
  • Edible landscaping plants
  • Compost
  • Groundcover
  • Disposal options for lawn (I recommend the compost pile)

Once you have all your materials collected, it’s time to begin the work.

Phase 1: Lawn Removal

Removing lawn for edible landscapingThere are several ways to remove the lawn.  They range from digging it up,  to sheet mulching, to using a sod cutter, and more.  I personally chose to use a shovel and dig it out, mainly because my project was in a very public area and I had to be sure the grass was removed thoroughly and quickly.   Using my shovel, I began to cut into to lawn to a depth of about four to six inches.  I continued this cut along the width of the project (about four feet).  After that, I made a second cut on the opposite side of the first about six inches apart.  I then used my shovel to pry up a chunk of lawn.  The roots came up easily this way, and I was able to load chunk after chunk into my wagon for disposal in the compost pile.  In my case, the lawn removal phase of my project was about 80% of the total time and effort required by the project.

Phase 2: Preparation and Repairs

Drainage for Edible LandscapingNow that the lawn is gone, it is time to do preparation and repairs.  If you need to implement design elements addressing drainage, irrigation, or build features such as swales, now it the time to do it.  This phase is also an opportunity to make repairs to hard-to-reach assets, such as buried pipes.  In my project, I used this time to dig a channel around the perimeter of my project and fill it with gravel.  The purpose of this element was to to collect and store runoff water.  I also repaired and cleaned broken sprinkler heads for more efficient irrigation.

Phase 3: Construction

urbanite path under constructionNow that the project has been prepped and repaired, it is time to add any features that require construction, such as garden paths.  In my project, I added our urbanite (recycled concrete) walkway.  We removed dirt from the chosen area, put down a layer of sand, added the urbanite pavers, filled in the spaces with pea gravel, and added a border of rocks sourced from the project site.

Phase 4: Planting and Mulching

This is the fun part.  Now it’s time to add plants, compost, and mulch to your project.  In our case, I carefully dug holes under our existing fruit trees and added the edible landscaping plants.  This included pumpkin, squash, peas and more.  To each hole, I also added homemade compost, as well as added a layer of compost on top of the soil between the holes.  After the plants were in, I added a thick layer of bark as a mulch to protect the soil from evaporation and scorching summer temperatures.

Phase 5: Enjoy Your Edible Landscaping!

Edible Landscpaing PlantsCongratulations, your project is complete!  Don’t forget to kick back and admire all your work.  You’ll be rewarded over and over again every time your harvest something delicious from your edible landscaping project.

Things to consider:

  • Don’t forget to check local ordinances.  This is the most important step. 
  • Be mindful of access to utilities that may be near your project.  Plan and plant accordingly.
  • Build safety into your plan.  If your project is in a public area, make sure your design includes safety for pedestrians, kids, pets, etc.
  • Leave room to grow.  Edible landscaping plants can get big in a hurry.  It is tempting to overcrowd plants in the beginning because things look so “bare”.  Resist.  You’ll end up with a jungle on your hands  if you don’t leave room.

Sharing is Caring!

If you enjoyed this article, please share it![sharexy] I’d also love to hear any questions or comments you may have regarding this project.  Thanks!


9 thoughts on “Edible Landscaping: From Lawn to Garden

  1. Dear Suburban Stone Age

    Please check out our Face book page Incredible Edible Dunstable. I have done this with some friends and neighbours since 21 06 13.

    Please can you tell me if you are concerned about growing veg so close to the road and car parks isn’t there too much exhaust fumes.

    kind regards

    Sahira (pronounced Syra)

    1. Hi Sahira! Thank you, I will definitely chcek out your page. Suburban Stone Age is on Facebook too, if you’d like to check it out.

      Frankly, I am a little concerned about exhaust fumes. But luckily, we live on a very quiet street where there a car passes closely only two times a day or so. Even still, to be safe, I don’t plant edible leafy greens in the parkway. I feel the leaves down close next to the tailpipes would be most likely to accumulate exhaust, if there is any. What I favor are root vegetables (where most of the edibles are underground), fruit trees (up higher in the air and breezes, meaning exhaust is less concentrated), and pumpkins and squash, where the skin can be scrubbed vigorously and discarded when cooked. Sunflowers have also worked well (again, up high), and garlic is thriving there now. I hope this helps!

  2. Are there fruit and veges that prefer shade? I have a garden strip around the side of my place that is shaded by existing shrubs and sheltered by the neighbour’s unit wall. Could anything edible be planted there? The area also has automatic watering each morning from reticulation.

    1. Hi Deb! Thanks for your question… when it comes to shade, look for the veggies with big, dark green leaves. Rhubarb springs to mind, as well as things like Swiss chard and salad greens. You could also go with mint-esque plants, they like moist, shady places, just bear in mind they might get a little too happy and become invasive. Depending on your situation, you may also want to try a pumpkin vine… the roots may be in the shade, but the tendrils will crawl around and seek the light in other places. I hope this helps, good luck!

  3. Hi Brad! Thanks for your comment, I find a borage/zucchini combo particularly attractive. Not only are both flowers edible (the zucchini itself is too!), but the colors of the flowers are a good harmony. There are also some magnificent colored Swiss chards out there – the golds and magentas can blow your socks off. If you keep the older, lower leaves trimmed away, the bright stalks really show through and are magnetic. Another trick… nasturtiums + anything. Nasturtiums flowers are edible and can dress up less showy veggies and give them color and “flower power”. I hope that helps!

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