If you would like to maximize your yard space for nutrition, wellness, and enjoyment, check out these sixteen plants, many of which are highly nutritious, support pollinators, provide year round interest, or attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Enjoy! 🙂
Citrus ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’
Lemons have a relatively low heat requirement in terms of citrus, and do very well near the California coast. All citrus is frost sensitive. Improved Meyer Lemon is one of the only disease free lemon varieties allowed for sale in California. Meyer Lemon can be easily maintained at 6′ x 6′. Lemon trees are evergreen and have dark green glossy leaves. Meyer Lemon is thin skinned, is very juicy, and has a less acidic taste than most lemons making it a great variety for juicing. Lemon is extremely valuable medicinally, and for preparing herbal home cleaning products.
Like lemons, orange trees are beautiful in the landscape, and very valuable in the home garden. The orange blossom fragrance is very calming, and oranges are a wonderful source of vitamin C. There are many varieties of oranges that ripen at different times of the year. If you love fresh oranges, you might consider having one tree that ripens in Summer, and one that ripens in Winter. All citrus is frost sensitive. Citrus can successfully be grown in containers for years. Use a dwarf variety for container planting. Check with a nursery or citrus grower for best varieties for your needs and growing area. Four Winds Growers is an excellent source of information on citrus selection and care.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Pomegranates produce a highly nutritious, fruit that is very high in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, and is usually very expensive when purchased in stores. Many of the juice brands sold in stores have added sugar and other ingredients. Pure pomegranate juice will be the most expensive. The fruit ripens in Fall, and can be stored for several months in the refrigerator. For this reason, I consider pomegranate one of the most valuable trees to have in the yard if they can grow in your area. Pomegranates are one of those plants that I’ve often seen thriving in spite of neglect. Although they can tolerate considerable drought, trees grown for fruit should receive regular watering. There are many varieties available with differences in tartness or sweetness of juice, and some varieties are better than others for juicing. Pomegranate trees are deciduous, and usually grow as a large multi-stemmed shrub. Pomegranates can tolerate heat and many soils including alkaline. I’ve seen them produce well in clay soil as well.
Pineapple Guava (Feijowa Sellowiana)
Pineapple Guava is an evergreen shrub or tree that can take full sun. The plants can get quite large (to 15′ x 25′), but can tolerate heavy pruning. These plants are usually grown as large broad shrubs or multi-trunked trees. Flowers and fruit are edible, and attractive to birds and bees. The pretty flowers can be added to salads, and the fruits can be eaten plain or used to make jelly. The plants are drought tolerant, but should be watered regularly if grown for fruit. Improved varieties such as ‘Beechwood’, ‘Coolidge’, ‘Mammoth’, and ‘Trask’ will be self-fruitful. Older varieties will need a pollinator plant nearby.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a great culinary herb that also makes an exceptional landscaping plant because it is tough and easy to grow. Rosemary comes in spreading or upright forms, and is usually grown as a large shrub or mounding ground cover. Depending on variety, plants can typically grow to 6′-8′ wide and 3′ tall or more. Rosemary can also be used to create topiaries or shaped into small living Christmas trees which can be used year after year. Rosemary can be grown in full sun, and is a low-water user. The plant tolerates ocean spray, wind, heat, poor soils, and clay. Rosemary is also fire resistant and deer resistant. There are many varieties available with differences in growth habit and size. Depending on where it is grown, it may bloom off and on all year. Most flower in some shade of lavender blue, but there are a couple of pink varieties as well. To save yourself work, and maintain the attractiveness of the plant, be sure to plant it in a location where it can grow to full size without needing extensive pruning to control size. Variety ‘Barbeque’ is very upright and narrow. It grows only 2-3′ wide and up to 6′ tall. This variety would be great for small yards or for creating a natural living screen. Rosemary is attractive to bees when in bloom.
As an herb, rosemary is commonly used to flavor meat, pasta, fish, and other dishes, and has medicinal properties as well. Rosemary, like orange blossom, is another plant that makes me feel better instantly just by smelling it. Rosemary has been regarded throughout history as being uplifting and energizing, and has been used to relieve depression, exhaustion, and arthritis. The essential oil of Rosemary is believed to stimulate hair growth, and is an ingredient in many shampoos.
Purple Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) has long been associated with health and longevity. This is the plant referred to in the saying, “Why would a man become sick when Sage grows in the garden”. This is also the herb commonly used to flavor chicken. Some herbal references say that Purple Garden Sage (Salvia o. ‘Purpurescens) is more effective medicinally than the green leaved variety, Salvia officinalis. In the garden, both varieties are easy-care plants growing to about 3′ x 3’ with stalks of purple flowers that are loved by bees and hummingbirds. The purple tinged leaves on Purple Garden Sage will stay through the Winter in Central California. Both varieties can tolerate ocean spray, poor soils, clay, wind, deer, rabbits, and alkaline soil.
California White Sage or Sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Salvia apiana is a California native with aromatic silvery white leaves and lightly fragrant white flowers growing on 2′ tall stems. This plant is loved by bees and hummingbirds. The silvery foliage shines in moonlight and provides a great background for dark purple or red flowers. This plant requires very little summer water once established, and tolerates poor soils, heat, deer, and rabbits. It is also considered fire resistant. Sacred White Sage has medicinal properties, and is the sage commonly used ceremonially by Native Americans. The plant should be located in full sun.
Blueberries are highly nutritious, and given the right conditions, can be grown successfully in the landscape or in containers. Being native to Eastern North America, Blueberries thrive in conditions that suit Azaleas (cool, acidic soil rich in organic matter with good drainage). There are now many varieties available for all areas of the country. Varieties also differ in size of plant, as well as size and sweetness of berries. Because blueberries require specific conditions for fruit production and to keep the plants looking good, I would encourage you to learn about them before adding them into your landscape. When receiving the right conditions, Blueberry plants look great in a landscape, and are a valuable addition to the home garden, especially if you are gardening with children. I live in California, and our native soil conditions are about opposite of what Blueberries like. However, we do have some Blueberry farms here where they plants are growing very successfully in the ground. I first tried growing Blueberries in containers rather than planting them in the ground. Ours have been in barrels for two years now. The first year, we hardly had any berries. The second year was great. The bushes were beautiful and loaded with berries. Blueberries can remain productive in containers for several years, and I know some people who have had some very impressive results here in California.
Lavender is water-wise, very beautiful, loved by bees & butterflies, and is very useful. Lavender has calming and antiseptic properties as well as a wide variety of medicinal uses. Lavender flowers are edible, and can be used to flavor ice cream, cookies, and pastries. Lavender is commonly used in sachets, perfumes, soaps, and baby products as well as cleaning products, and as insect repellents for pets.
Lavender is easy to grow, especially in hot, dry climates. Lavender can thrive in heat or cool climates, and requires little to no fertilizing. The most common causes of death or poor growth of Lavender are over-watering, over-fertilizing, frost, or humidity combined with heat. There are many varieties available with differences in size of plants, flower color, and strength of fragrance. Some varieties have been developed with better tolerance to certain environmental conditions such as humidity. Lavender needs full sun. If you are wanting to grow Lavender for medicinal or herbal use, plants with variety name beginning with Lavandula angustifolia would be best.
Oregano (Origanum AKA Marjoram)
Oregano is a valuable herb that also makes a great landscape plant. Most of us are familiar with Oregano as one of the herbs that gives the sweet taste to Italian pasta sauces. Oregano is one of my essential cooking herbs. I find the flavor kind of addicting like Basil and Dill! I also love oregano as a landscaping plant because it thrives in heat, is a low-water user, and grows only to about 2′ x 2′. It is also a butterfly attractor, and bees love it. Oregano can be used as a small ground cover, in rock gardens, and cascading over retaining walls. Oregano has really pretty flowers that can be cut and dried.
Thyme is another popular culinary herb that makes a great landscaping plant. The small mat-forming varieties make an excellent ground cover for small spaces. Most varieties prefer full sun, or afternoon shade in hot summer areas. Elfin Thyme has tiny leaves and only grows to 2″ x 5″ wide. This variety is a low-water user, and does not produce flowers, so it would work well between stepping stones. There are many varieties with differences in scent, flower color, and growth habit. My favorite is Lemon Thyme Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’. The plant grows 1’x2′, and has grayish green leaves splashed with gold. Leaves have a lemon scent and flavor.
The medicinal and nutritional qualities of Garlic make it essential in the family garden. Garlic is one of the most valuable plants on the planet. Garlic has several medicinal qualities, and is an essential cooking herb for flavoring meats, dressings, sauces, and many other foods. Garlic can be used in home made pest repellent and pest management recipes for the garden, and is said to be a good companion for roses. Fresh Garlic is far superior in flavor and nutritional quality than Garlic typically found in stores. In mild winter areas, plant in Fall for early summer harvest. If your winters are cold, plant in early spring.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe is another of the most medicinally valuable plants on earth, and it is not difficult to grow in relatively frost-free areas. Pure, raw Aloe Vera juice and gel can be expensive to purchase. If you are using Aloe juice on a regular basis, you might consider growing your own. You can’t get fresher than harvesting from your own plants, and by growing your own, you know it is 100% pure and contains no chemical additives. It takes several years for Aloe plants to grow large enough for harvesting significant amounts of gel or juice. A couple of years ago, I was growing my own plants, and harvesting the gel and juice. My plants were doing very well, and I was amazed at how fast they were growing. I had them all in large containers filed with soil from the yard. They were receiving mostly indirect light in a spot that received sun around noon and maybe a little again in late afternoon. Do your research on how to properly harvest, store, and use the gel and juice. There is an irritating and fowl-tasting sap in the leaves that must be drained prior to juicing. Aloe is frost sensitive.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a beautiful annual plant I fell in love with the first time I saw one. I’ve never grown it myself, but would love to give it a try. The following is information I’ve learned about the plant through books and other resources. Borage grows to about 3′ x 2′, and has bright blue flowers, and fuzzy green leaves. Borage doesn’t transplant well, so direct seeding in late spring is the best way to get it started. The plant will self-seed, so you should be gifted with new ones each year!
According to the Sunset Western Garden Book and other herbal references, the leaves and flowers are edible. Flowers are often used in salads. The plant also has a wide variety of herbal uses. Borage is know to stimulate the adrenal glands, reduce stress, soothe cough, and more. Flowers can be used in fresh arrangements. The plant tolerates poor soil and some drought. It needs afternoon shade in hot summer areas, and needs frost protection. Seeds are commonly available in retail stores, nurseries, and online sources.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
The sight of Calendulas growing in Winter always brings joy to my heart. Come to find out, ancient herbalist used to recommend Calendula for “clearing the head, and encouraging cheerfulness”! Calendula is a plant I love not only because it blooms during Winter here, it is medicinal! Many of today’s modern homeopathic remedies contain Calendula. Herbal handbooks and internet sources contain instructions for making a variety of home remedies including teas, compresses, and creams. Calendula is super easy to grow, and can be started from transplants in Fall or grown from seed. Calendula provides masses of dependable color from Fall through mid Spring in mild Winter areas. Use calendula in flower beds, along driveways, or plant some seeds in a sunny spot where you just need some quick and easy color. Calendula comes in orange, yellow, as well as other new shades. Calendula is great in children’s gardens and play areas, and the flowers can be used for cutting. Remove spent flowers to prolong bloom. Allow some plants to go to seed at the end of the season, and they will self-sow for you year after year! 🙂
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
Like Calendula and Borage, the sight of Sunflowers always bring me joy. Sunflowers are among the easiest plants to grow. They are often found growing wild along roadsides and open areas. There is a wide array of varieties available in a wide range of colors, sizes, and growth habit. Some are annuals, and others are perennials. Sunflowers are great in the family garden and child play areas. A friend of mine planted some of the giant ones in a half-barrel with Zinnias in front, and they looked great. Many varieties make great cut flowers, and birds love their seeds. Sunflowers bloom in Summer and Fall, and need full sun. Most non-native varieties need regular watering. Plant in early Summer.
To find out if these plants will thrive in your growing area and to see ideas for how you might use them in your garden, click here: http://www.plantmaster.com/share?id=59ebc8f51a9ec
Take care, slow down, and enjoy!