Written by Kara M.
Somehow, over the course of the pandemic, plants became all the rage. Whether it was because people had more downtime, needed a new hobby, or were just curious about the growth process, households across the country began their own indoor and outdoor gardens. Thanks to our warm local climate that encourages growth year-round, we have an added bonus when it comes to gardening here in Southern California. We can grow edible plants.
Call us crazy, but somehow, homegrown fruits, vegetables, and herbs just seem to taste better. There’s just something special about eating something you’ve grown with your own two hands. Plus, growing your own food helps out the environment and promotes sustainability.
And while California is famous for growing a variety of well-known fruits such as oranges, lemons, and avocados, we’d like to take a look at some of the unsung heroes of an edible home garden.
We’ve focused mostly on plants that thrive in our warm climate, are relatively easy to cultivate, and of course, taste amazing. From small, creeping plants to enormous trees, we’ve got something for every garden in this Southern California edible home garden rundown.
A favorite among health enthusiasts, kale is celebrated for its impressive nutritional content. The leafy green vegetable contains ample amounts of various vitamins, including A, B6, C, and K, along with calcium, potassium, and other important minerals. It is often eaten raw in salads or other side dishes, cooked (try it sauteed with garlic and some olive oil – yum!), baked or fried into crispy chips, or used as a source of nutrients in smoothies or juices.
There are many varieties of kale, but one of our favorites is dinosaur kale, because it pulls double duty as a delicious food source and an attractive focal point in outdoor gardens. An heirloom variety, dinosaur kale has notable deep green leaves with white spines and signature crinkles. It can grow to as tall as 24 inches and can spread the same distance.
Dinosaur kale needs to be grown in full sunlight, so be sure to find a sunny part of your yard where it can thrive. It can’t tolerate standing water, so be sure not to overwater it. However, pay close attention to it during droughts, and in the heat of summer – it may need some extra watering to offset the blistering heat of the sun. On the upside, it tolerates pollution fairly well, making it a good choice for rural and urban living alike.
Kale in general is pretty adaptable to a variety of soil conditions but will grow better in richer soil. Luckily, dinosaur kale also grows well in outdoor pots, so it might be best to try it in a container garden at first, where it’s easier to control the soil conditions.
We recognize that onions are a bit of a polarizing food – you either love them, or you can’t stand them. But, if you’re like us, you’re solidly on the side of “love them.” In addition to being totally versatile – they can spice up a salad or sandwich in their raw form as well as they can add sweetness and depth to entrees or side dishes when sauteed, baked, or grilled – they’re also super healthy. Onions contain tons of antioxidants, that are important in reducing inflammation and keep the immune system functioning. In some studies, they’ve even been shown to potentially improve heart health, or reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer, though more research is needed in these areas. Plus, did we mention they’re delicious?
Red onions in particular seem well suited for our warm climate. They enjoy full sunlight, don’t require any specific type of soil, and are extremely tolerant of urban pollution, which means they can thrive even when planted in the middle of the city. It can be grown in the ground, or in an outdoor pot.
The plants, at maturity, are generally about 18 inches tall, and about 6 inches wide. They are annuals, which means they’ll die at the end of the season, but that’s the fun in it – if you like them, you can repeat the whole process again next year!
We’ve talked about the savory. Now let’s talk about the sweet. Specifically, one of my all-time favorite fruits: the strawberry. Did you know that more than 80% of America’s strawberries are grown in Southern California? That’s because our climate is ideal for growing these hardy, delectable treats.
There are several varieties of strawberries, but we’re partial to the everbearing strawberry. This extremely hardy plant is easy to grow, even for beginners, and produces lots of sweet, juicy fruit that can be picked from late spring through the summer. The unique thing about an everbearing strawberry plant is that it continually produces fruit throughout the harvesting season.
This variety stays close to the ground, with a maximum height of only 6 inches. However, it’s known to spread somewhat wildly. A single plant can spread as much as 18 inches, so be sure to prune it if it starts to get out of control. While not necessarily difficult to grow, everbearing strawberries can be a bit high maintenance, requiring fairly regular care.
These plants can grow in a variety of light conditions, from full sun to partial shade, and is fairly resistant to urban pollution. However, it does prefer rich, alkaline soil. It also grows well in pots and hanging baskets. Finally, the everbearing strawberry is a perennial, which means as long as it’s well cared for, it will continue producing fruit for years to come.
It’s drought tolerant, not sensitive to urban pollution, and doesn’t require a certain kind of soil. It loves sunlight and grows vigorously. Simply put, cantaloupe is a star in the Southern California growing climate.
Not much says summer like a fresh, juicy, sweet melon, and cantaloupe is no exception. Its somewhat unattractive exterior belies the bright, flavorful treat hidden inside. Cantaloupe is a perfect summer treat when enjoyed fresh, frozen, or being blended into a juice or smoothie.
To successfully grow cantaloupe here, plants should be spaced about 24 inches apart, to give each plant room to grow. It requires full sunlight and regular watering but does not like standing water. During the growing season, it may be a good idea to cover the root zone with some mulch to prevent the soil from drying out too much. Otherwise, this is a fairly straightforward plant to cultivate.
While it may not be the most attractive plant in the garden, we think it may easily be one of the tastiest.
California Black Walnut
We’re throwing this one in for the ambitious gardeners out there. Walnuts grow well in the California heat, and walnut trees can produce large quantities of delicious nuts once they’ve reached maturity.
However, we’re not going to beat around the bush… or, in this case, tree; if you choose to plant a Black Walnut tree, you’d better be in it for the long haul. They can live for more than 120 years. Think of this as an investment for your family for generations to come.
This tree can also become absolutely gigantic. In fact, you’ll often see them offering shade in public parks. They can grow to over 70 feet tall, with up to a 60-foot spread. If you’re planning to plant one of these, be sure you have a large enough yard, and avoid planting it near any powerlines.
In addition to offering tasty nuts that can be eaten raw, or (our personal favorite) used to add some crunch and earthiness to baked goods and desserts, the tree itself is attractive and inviting. As it matures, it can be a comfortable source of shade, and will surely be the centerpiece to any yard. It demands full sunlight but is otherwise not too picky about soil or other growing conditions. It’s also highly tolerant of urban pollution, making it a great choice for city environments… assuming you have the space.
Whether you’re a first-time gardener, or experienced with growing your own food, we hope you’ll find some edible plants that you love to grow (and eat!) From herbs to vegetables to fruits and nuts, there are tons of plants that grow well in Southern California, and we’ve only just scratched the tip of the iceberg. Whatever you plant, we’d love to see how it’s going – whether on the vine, or on your plate. Happy growing, Green Thumbs!
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