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Edible (Front) Lawn in City Limits - Help Please!

 
Ray Johns
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Hi everyone, new member but long time lurker here. I'm in need of plant/shrub recommendations, but first:

Our situation is we're in zone 8A on a 1/4 acre city lot, older neighborhood in the downtown area, and we're starting a lasagna garden on our front lawn. Front lawn and not back for a few reasons: the back is largely shaded throughout the day, we drive through the back to access our garage, and our young kids play in the back since it's all fenced in. I'm including a video of our property (a little more info in the video's description that I forgot to record) and a (not quite to scale but complete with cardinal directions) hand drawing of our lawn. Excessive? Probably, but I did it for myself more than this forum, now the need to share has come up. Since taking the video, we've started prepping a garden space (as indicated on the drawing) lasagna style to be seeded with white dutch clover and transplanted directly into with herbs & veg in the spring. It's an ugly mess out there right now and I'm fearing one neighbor in particular might complain. Right now we're not in violation of city code I don't believe, but once we plant veggies and they get over 12" or "unsightly" we will be.

The code basically says if it's unsightly, over 12" and not ornamental, dry & fire hazard, or a breeding ground for rats/mice/mosquitoes, that's a no-no. I'm willing to take the risk and talk to the neighbors about it more. We want to do a swale/berm around that northeast corner of the garden and plant the berm with some shrubs or something that will hopefully be tall enough and leafy enough year round to block most the view from that neighbor's house. Not just because of the neighbor, but because that's the lower-most part of the property, the whole thing slopes gently from back to front and more subtly from southwest to northeast. Thinking we could hold a lot of water in the ground for our garden by doing the swale while also blocking most the view depending on what we use to plant the berm. Obviously, we'll either dig the swale more shallow over our gas line or dig with a hand spade around the line (suggestions?).

The tree in the middle of the garden is unidentified as yet, so we've lasagna'd around it for now until we learn what it is and whether we want/need to remove it (how to go about that if we do need to?). You might notice our sewer line isn't marked, that's cause the city hasn't come to do it yet but we're 99% sure from how things look in the crawl space that it runs straight along the concrete walk to our mailbox, on the south side of it.

So since that was all probably somewhat confusing, my questions are:

What to plant the berm with? Aside from obstructing view (but not too much sunlight, which I don't think will be an issue anyway due to path of sun over our property), bonus if it's native/produces something edible/would be ideal to plant strawberries or asparagus under/is cheap (after all we're needing to grow our own food ASAP out of necessity!).

How to do the swale where it crosses the gas line?

What is a safe way to remove a small tree from an area that will be used for growing food? Is girdling an option, or the only option? I'm not too opposed to drilling a small hole in the base and sticking a q-tip in with concentrated herbicide if we determine it needs to be removed, but not sure that's safe for the edible garden

If you see anything in else the video or can identify anything (I know I moved past things quickly though) or have any other suggestions I'd love to hear them. Particularly what to do with the (wild? has big thorns) orange tree (idk much about fruit trees yet) and the pecan (I'm sure neighbor would allow us to fertilize it at least).

Thanks!
Ray


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Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Good stuff, Ray.

There are ways of being sneaky and hiding your secrets right out in plain sight.

1.  Try to mix ornamental and edible plants together.  Long blooming ornamentals will give constant color and will attract the eye away from your edibles.  They'll also attract pollenators.

2.  Stay away from rows.  Plant things like lettuce is little "drifts" -- space filling, but not large areas.  From a permaculture perspective, you don't want monoculture-y rows where bad bugs just march down the row of broccoli and ravish it like submarine sailors on shore leave at a buffet restaurant --- you are trying to confuse the bad bugs by making it difficult to find all the tasty things all in one place.

3.  Obviously tall plants like corn, okra or tomatoes will stand out and be easily identified, but cabbage, beets, carrots, lettuce, etc. are easily tucked in and among the other plants.  So veggie selection is important.  I start my cabbages indoors in Feb., and them transplant them to pots in March.  They go into the garden when they are about 6" tall or so -- usually in April.  I tuck them in here and there --- but never two side by side.

4.  You mentioned herbs.  Herbs are nice.  In zone 8A, you should be able to grow thyme, low creeping rosemary, chives, oregano, savory . . . all plants that will remain relatively low -- under 6" or so . . . and in your zone, they'll grow year-round.  Mint is invasive as all hell.  Say no to mint --- a firm loud no.  Any good nursery will have a variety of herbs for a buck or two for a 2" pot.  Don't crowd them -- they'll want to spread out a bit, and if you use them regularly, you'll want to let them grow enough so you don't hurt the plant when you harvest.

5.  Peppers are a nice ornamental plant that give and give and give.  I grow serranos, jalapenos, and arbol as ornamental plants.  They can be clipped back to keep them lower (perhaps not 12", but I keep mine below 2 feet).  When the chilies are green, you don't notice them, but as they hang on the plant and turn red, they are a nice little dash of color against the dark green leaves of the plant.  I'm in zone 9b, and my chilis will regularly grow 2 years -- sometimes 3.  When they get too tall, off with their heads.  They'll bush out.

6.  Comfrey makes a nice ornamental plant.  Bocking 14.  Give it enough space, as they'll spread about 3 feet across.  Once it is established, you can regularly chop and drop it for fertilizer and mulch.  If you planted it on the front of your berm, it could be a visual barrier to hide other stuff behind.  Fennel might also fall into this category, although it gets very tall -- 4 feet or so.  Fennel self-seeds like crazy, so it can be a pain if you don't keep tabs on it.

7.  Large vining plants probably will not work for you (pumpkins, gourds), but less aggressive vines like cucumbers or even watermelon (slightly larger, but I really like the look of the leaves and vines) might be trained to go where you want them to go.  You could tug the vines around and tuck them around a corner or behind a visual barrier.

8.  Keep your spacing generous.  If the plants are spaced apart and don't look too crowded, they will not look messy.  One or three beets, spaced 10 inches from one cabbage, spaced a ways away from a marigold bush, which is 18 inches from your rosemary plant . . . it looks nice.  If stuff is crowded, it will compete for sunlight, causing it to grow up and get leggy.  The goal is to make it look like a flower bed, not a commercial production farm.

9.  A uniform mulch laid-down between plants will visually unify the space.  I love wood chips and use them all over, but finding a nice uniform looking batch of chips can be difficult. I've never payed for them (EVER).  You kind of have to take what you get when a tree trimmer agrees to dump a load of them on the driveway.  If you wished, you could order 2 or 3 (or 4) yards of a nice, uniformly sized wood chip mulch and lay those down between the plants.  It'll save water, keep weeds down, feed the soil, become a worm nursery, and all sorts of other wonderful things.  As chips sit in the sun, the fade to a lovely light brown color.   Don't use straw or anything else that looks messy.  You can use finished compost as a mulch.  Keep your pile in the back, and then cart it to the front yard and lay it down as needed.

10.  Not too much nitrogen.  While it will help your plants grow rapidly and turn dark green, N will also make them leggy and prone to flop over.  Too much N will give you long vines and branches, but no appreciable increase in harvest.  You might want to mulch with coffee grounds, evenly spreading them around throughout the growing season.  This will look good and will also provide all the N your plants need.

11.  Consider starting small.  A new 3' x 8' "flower bed" that is 60/40 flowers/veggies the first year will look nice and isn't threatening.  Then slightly expand it a foot or two in either direction next year, with a 50/50 mix of ornamentals to edibles.  By year 3, your neighbors will see you working in it and won't think twice about it, even though it may now be 35/65 flowers to veggies.  Cut some flowers for your neighbors.

12.  Promptly pull out anything that gets overgrown, is dying, or has passed beyond its peak.  Zucchini plants get big and floppy and powder mildew'y.  Stuff like that is a poor choice for a front yard garden.  Plant it in the back yard.   You mentioned asparagus -- not a good choice, as it only bears for a short time, and then you've got to let it grow out.  It's a messy plant that grows 4 feet tall or more, flops all over, and really doesn't give you much production for the space it requires.  It looks bad for 6 months before you finally get to hack it back for the winter.  If you don't let it grow like that (or clean it up too quickly) you won't get any reasonable production next season.

13.  Taking out a small tree -- like, how small?  Is the trunk less than 2 inches in diameter?  Just dig it out.  Stick a spade through the roots on one side, bend it over and yank it out.  Many trees will sucker off the roots left in the ground, so you'll be digging up those roots forever.  I'd stay away from using an herbicide (and be careful with that word around here --- there are anti-Round-Up forces waiting to pounce).  Herbicide can leach through the plant, down to the roots and are pumped out through the root exudates.  Seriously.  You'll render your soil toxic for a couple of years that way.  The half-life of Round-Up is far greater than anything they'll tell you on the side of a bottle.  Girdling it would kill the tree buy may not kill the roots, in which case it will just sucker from below the girdling (depending upon the tree).

If the tree is larger -- trunk 4" or more, you'll have a bit of work ahead of you to dig it out.  In our area, we've got day laborers standing on the corners who will work pretty hard for $8 an hour.  I'd hire 2 of them and give one a pick and the other a shovel. 

I hope some of that helps.
 
Ray Johns
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Marco Banks wrote:Long blooming ornamentals will give constant color and will attract the eye away from your edibles....Fennel might also fall into this category, although it gets very tall -- 4 feet or so....A uniform mulch laid-down between plants will visually unify the space....Not too much nitrogen....Taking out a small tree -- like, how small?....I hope some of that helps.


Yes, quite helpful, thank you! Just a few things...
Can anyone suggest a good site to help choose long blooming ornamentals by zone? We have roses across the roadfront but they've been poorly managed, I'd like to bring more color to the front to appease the neighbors (like a trade-off? they'll be getting any suprlus vegetables we have too).

I am not opposed to essentially creating a hedge on the berm in front of the garden space, 4ft high shrubs won't bother me. Wide open to recommendations there, will check into comfrey.

Rather than mulch we're going to try a living ground cover of white dutch clover (we want to overseed it into the grass pretty much all over our lawn eventually).

On adding N, like I said we'll have the clover, and we also vermicompost and are prepping the space where veggies will be concentrated (though well spaced and interspersed as you said, I'm familiar with companion planting) using lasagna composting. We haven't really added much of a nitrogen layer yet though, mostly dead leaves.

The small tree is shown in the video, it sort of has 2 trunks, each a couple inches that join right above the ground with about a 3" diameter. Not even sure I could girdle it the way it is. I can post pics of it if that would be helpful for removal recommendations/identification. I was going to make some time in the next couple days to try to ID it.

And I hear you loud and clear on the asparagus, my mother-in-law grows it so I realize what you mean, I hadn't thought of how "unsightly" it would look!

Thanks again!
 
John Polk
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Another good front yard plant is asparagus.  Asparagus fern is a very common landscaping plant.  Why not substitute it with the edible version?

 
Marco Banks
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John Polk wrote:Another good front yard plant is asparagus.  Asparagus fern is a very common landscaping plant.  Why not substitute it with the edible version?



May I disagree?  In order for asparagus to produce well in the spring, you pretty much have to let it grow all summer long (the previous summer).  As it grows out, it is long and leggy and ratty looking.  Unpicked spears quickly bolt and send up a 4 foot long lacy frond.  This will quickly go to seed --- little red berries.  Then they flop over and become a big tangled mess.  I suppose you could keep cutting those off, but the plant needs them to grow out and collect sunlight throughout the heart of the summer growing season.  If you don't do this, the crowns don't store the necessary energy to push up nice thick spears the following spring.  You'll get a few spindly microscopic spears but not enough to pick and make a meal of.  Asparagus is best planted out of the way somewhere, along a ditch or a hedgerow --- somewhere where it's unsightly tangle from June till October will not bother anyone.  (I tried to explain that in my rambling post above --- sorry if that wasn't clear).  If you don't have about 40 or 50 crowns, you'll never have enough for a meal --- and 50 crowns of asparagus would take the space of your whole front yard.

Asparagus fern is, in my experience, a nasty, prickly plant.  It can be a bit invasive.  Its scratchy and spreads all over the place.  I've never understood it's appeal.

Neither plant (edible asparagus or ornamental asparagus fern) would seem to fit the bill for the criteria discussed in the original post.

Ginger, on the other hand, might be a fantastic plant for your purposes --- particularly in a shady spot.  I plant it all over the place under the shade canopy of fruit trees or on the east and north sides of the house.  It stays green all through the summer and has a palm-like look to it.  It gets about 3 feet tall.  You can harvest it as needed --- or just leave it in the ground, where it will grow even stronger and larger new roots next year.  If you've never tasted ginger straight out of the garden, it's amazing.  It's so much better fresh like that than ginger that is even a week old.  We bought our first ginger roots (bulbs? fingers?  what's the proper term here?) at the grocery store and have just divided it and replanted it all over ever sense.

I've planted ginger within 8 inches of a trunk of a tree and it doesn't seem to mind at all -- the roots don't compete.  It's perfect for that little wasted space under the lowest branches of a plum, apricot, apple or whatever else you've got in your orchard.  Ginger and chives are a part of every fruit-tree guild in my garden.

 
Marco Banks
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Ray Johns wrote:
Can anyone suggest a good site to help choose long blooming ornamentals by zone? We have roses across the roadfront but they've been poorly managed, I'd like to bring more color to the front to appease the neighbors (like a trade-off? they'll be getting any suprlus vegetables we have too).



Do you have a good nursery in your area?  I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of Armstrongs.  They can certainly help you.



Ray Johns wrote:

Rather than mulch we're going to try a living ground cover of white dutch clover (we want to overseed it into the grass pretty much all over our lawn eventually).

On adding N, like I said we'll have the clover, and we also vermicompost and are prepping the space where veggies will be concentrated (though well spaced and interspersed as you said, I'm familiar with companion planting) using lasagna composting. We haven't really added much of a nitrogen layer yet though, mostly dead leaves.



Sounds like a good option.  Try it for a couple of years and see if that'll work well for you.  It will not give you too much N. 


Ray Johns wrote:

The small tree is shown in the video, it sort of has 2 trunks, each a couple inches that join right above the ground with about a 3" diameter. Not even sure I could girdle it the way it is. I can post pics of it if that would be helpful for removal recommendations/identification. I was going to make some time in the next couple days to try to ID it.



Well -- you could just chop it down/saw it off and see what happens.  If it suckers and comes up from the remaining roots, well . . . there you go.  You'll need to find another way to dig it up or grind it out.

Having tree roots from a dead tree under your garden bed isn't bad.  I would imagine that the tree has a fungal network attached to it, so by leaving those roots in the ground, you give the fungi something to remain associated with and feed off of.  As long as you don't till the soil, that network will remain in place and will be available to your other plants as they grow.  I cut down three big Queen Palms years ago, and I still find remainants of those roots in that area.  When it rains, I get hundreds of mushrooms popping up all over that area, which is exactly what you want to see.  It's some of my most productive soil in the whole garden.   
 
Glenn Herbert
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Interesting discussion about asparagus. I planted my asparagus bed along the front of my garden, shielding the rest from general view. This was the same pattern my parents made, with an ornamental split rail fence just in front of the bed. I find that the fronds that grow out are a lacy 4' to 5' tall mist that does not flop. (An ornamental fence in front might help control flopping tendencies if you find that to be an issue.)

I did dig my bed 2' deep, backfilled with rich soil, and planted the crowns at what is now a foot below the surface. I have a 2'+ x 10' bed with originally 20 crowns, and it gives enough for a meal every couple of days. It may depend on your climate as to how asparagus grows.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Your living clover mulch might be a bit more work than you think. It is a takeover plant if left unchecked.  White clover does great things in the garden, but I would think about allowing it in groves here and there, that can be tranplanted from, and slowly rotated through the garden.

I would just cut the tree down as close to the ground as possible.  Allow it to sucker, if it must, and sheet mulch heavily around it, planting runner beans to climb up the suckers as well as some stakes or pole frames that you place around the tree.  At some point part way through the season, thin the suckers to one (thus removing some of it's growth/power to charge it's roots).  At this point the plant will put all the rest of it's season's energy into the one remaining stem (which it will, or it might sucker again a bit).  In the spring cut the single stem and all remaining stems that may have additionally suckered.  By doing this, you will eventually rid yourself of the tree, while utilizing it's growth for bean poling, and it wont really be in the way in the mean time.  There is a possibility that the tree will sucker from other parts of it's roots, if you cut it's main stem.  This is possible, but not common with most trees.  If that is the case, you have some work cut out for you for a season or two, but if you prune every bit every time you weed, then it will eventually die.  It is more likely that the tree will sucker from the base of the old stump that you cut.  I suggest the runner bean method.  You could also do tomatoes or cukes there. 

It is also possible that the tree will simply die, if you cut it down... as many trees do.  Cross your fingers and hope. 
 
William Bronson
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If you really need the food, plant in the backyard,and plant to feed yourself.

Otherwise, let me suggest coming plants.
Fences,trellises,poles,draped in vines,can be visual features.
Grapes,hardy kiwi,air potatoes, whatever.
Many can be cutback hard in the fall and make full recovery.
Can't see your zone,but sweet potato vines are a delicious green,spread profusely and are actually trendy .

Multipurpose plants offer greens/fruit/roots. For example, forage radishes are now "native" to my yardens,having been allowed to go to seed. The leaves,roots and seedpods are all tasty. Larger,older roots are good biomass,animal fodder or pickles.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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If any of the neighbors are agreeable, the fence is a great resource. The neighbor would get the fruit on their side. Thornless trailing blackberries or kiwis might work. Grapes might be hard to prune.

It seems like you have a lot of room in the backyard for the kids and food. You could at least plant some small fruit trees and bushes. I don't know what grows in your zone except figs. They are neat plants but a challenge in MIssouri.

There seem to less rules about planting trees and shrubs than gardens here.

I've had complaints about my asparagus. It would look better near a fence or building though.

I'd sure try to ID things as much as possible before taking them out.  It looks to me like a gardener lived there a long time ago and might have left some food producers. You could start a new topic here for plant ID. I  heard there is a good plant ID group on Facebook.
 
Ray Johns
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Thanks for all the responses.

I like the idea of taking advantage of the suckers off the tree for climbing plants. Definitely not trying to get those roots out, but need them not to grow too big (gas line beneath, idk how whoever even planted the tree there).

As far as planting the back yard, we could tuck a few things here and there, but the soil is extremely compacted and poor, it would take a lot more work to get much workable space back there.

Again, I'm zone 8A, I know I haven't got it on my profile yet

I'll look for a good ID group on Facebook.
 
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