10 Edible Plants for Early Spring
The edible landscape can be rather dull near the start of spring, so it is worth giving this part of the year special attention when planning your yard. Here are ten stars of the early-spring edible landscape, along with planting tips to get you started.
After a long, cold winter, nothing makes me happier than tulips coming up in spring. They come in so many wonderful colors, and they really brighten up an otherwise dull yard. Because they die back in late spring, they offer a huge impact for an almost negligible sacrifice of space. Also, because the blooms are short-lived, it's your chance to use colors that wouldn't work with your summer-time color palette.
While the bulbs can be poisonous, the petals are edible if not treated with chemicals, and they make beautiful garnishes. They have a pleasant mildly sweet flavor. However, I cannot bear to eat them; they are so beautiful!
Tip: Tulips are planted as bulbs in the fall.
Although almost all fruit and nut trees have showy blossoms in the spring and are wonderful choices for the edible landscape, the serviceberry is special for several reasons. Serviceberries
- are an excellent choice for alkaline soil
- grow into lovely hedges or small trees
- have orange foliage in autumn
They come in many varieties with varying names such as juneberry, Saskatoon blueberry, shadbush, shadblow, and sugar plum. Some varieties are designed to have showier blossoms or brighter autumn foliage. I am growing several Saskatoon blueberries and several purple juneberries.
Tip: If possible, plant serviceberries when they are dormant to prevent sulking. If transplanted once they are in leaf, you may miss a whole season of growth.
Growing rapidly in popularity, these hardy berries deserve a place in a spring landscape because their dainty foliage appears so much earlier than most deciduous plants. Along with the leaves appear attractive little yellow bell-shaped flowers followed by bluish berries that resemble elongated blueberries. They are also called Haskap or Blue Honeysuckle.
Tip: Plant it in full sun. Though many have had success growing honeyberries in the shade, mine have failed to thrive anywhere but in full sun. Honeyberries require pollination from a different variety of honeyberry.
Bramble berries tend to burgeon earlier than many other fruiting plants, but for an edible landscape, I specifically recommend mounding raspberries so as to avoid the disorderly appearance of most bramble berries.
Tip: If you don’t want them to spread, keep on eye out for suckers and dig them out before they become established. I prefer to just give them some space.
Rhubarb has so much to offer an edible landscape, aside from the tangy pies, sauces and pickles that can be made from the ruby-red stems. Here in southern Idaho, they begin to appear almost as soon as the tulips emerge. I am enchanted by the huge leaves that are so uncommon in a temperate, edible garden and add a great deal to the texture thereof.
Tip: Rhubarb requires a lot of water, so plant it away from more thrifty plants such as lavender or rosemary. I give it two wraps with a drip hose. It grows quite large (3’ spread or more), so give it room or it will overshadow other plants. Because of its stately presence, it can be a good foundation in a small planting or a sentry on either side of a path.
This humble plant often stays green all winter if it doesn’t get too cold or if it is protected from the cold by snow. Fresh green leaves appear around the time the tulips bloom. They make a good, edible ground cover to give your landscape some negative space and replace the ubiquitous lawn. From May until frost, we savor those sweet gems every day.
Tip: Most strawberries spread on runners and can fill in a space quickly. However, to keep them from becoming too invasive, choose everbearing strawberries, which tend to make fewer runners.
Blooming right after the tulips, this grassy-looking plant also offers a texture that is unusual in an edible garden. All parts of the chives are edible, and the lavender flowers are lovely in salads and omelets. The benefits of chives extend beyond the visible (and edible) to aromatic properties that repel or confuse potential six-legged predators and protect surrounding plants.
Tip: This plant benefits from being cut down to a couple inches from the ground in early summer when the leaves begin to look less crisp. It spreads quickly, but this can be abated, if desired, by cutting off the flowers when they have faded and before they go to seed.
Like chives, sage blooms shortly after the tulips but has the added benefit of being a broadleaf evergreen. I adore the smell, and so I plant it where I will brush by it from time to time. Sage also comes in purple, golden and white variegated varieties.
Tip: Whack it back right after it blooms to keep it from going to seed and to give it time to develop a strong, dense structure to support the snow load and to bloom the following spring.
This leafy plant appears about the time the tulips bloom and will spread over time to form a large cluster. In addition to the early greenery, this herb is a mineral accumulator, sending roots down more than 15 feet and bringing up minerals from this depth. These minerals become available to surrounding plants as horseradish leaves drop and decompose.
Tip: Plant it near a new tree to help nourish the tree.
Daylilies are typically grown as ornamentals, and that is the way I grow them. However, most sources agree that every part of the daylily is edible and apparently quite delicious (do not confuse with the deadly lily!). Stella-de-Oro daylilies also provide lovely grassy foliage early in the season and bloom from late spring until frost.
Tip: If you want a lot of daylilies, you can save money by ordering bundles of fifty or a hundred. Plant them in clusters of three so they fill in faster. Clusters can be arranged in groupings of three or five for a visually pleasing display.
I endeavor to make every season beautiful in my front-yard edible landscape, and I delight in the change that comes with the turning. However, I always feel a certain urgency as spring arrives, and I look forward with much anticipation to this cast of characters. What is your favorite edible to appear in early spring?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.