If you have space for one tree in your landscape and are thinking about including edibles, nut trees are an easy win. It’s edible landscaping for the laid-back – the food output is there if you want it, but it’s no big deal if you don’t have the inclination or energy to harvest a year’s crop as you don’t have the splat factor of, say, a pear.
Are you in love with oak trees? Their nice shade, shape, leaves? Consider choosing a Bur Oak (zone 2) or a Schuette’s Oak (zone 4) – they produce acorns that need a minimum of processing if any to be edible. If you’re going to have an oak dropping acorns on your lawn anyway, choose one whose acorns are useful – if you don’t choose to use them the critters will, and you’ve put in no more extra effort than with the nonedible species. Oikos Tree Crops has done a lot of work breeding fast-maturing sweet oaks, as they refer to them, and have a very drool-worthy catalog.
|Peace Garden Acorns|
Want to go the evergreen route? Considering a pine, especially a white pine? How about a Korean Stone Pine (zone 2), instead? You’ll have pine cones on your lawn either way, but with a pinenut pine you’ve got that optional extra food output there as a bonus. Korean Stone Pines are actually the ones most commonly used for commercial pine nut production, so you’d be growing the Real Thing.
If you want shrubs or a hedge instead, how about a hazelnut? I’ve just ordered two disease-resistant, thin-shelled Precocious Hazelnuts from Oikos, and am getting very impatient for their arrival. They’re still “early” in the breeding work, so size of this variety can vary from 6-12′ (shorter of course in my cold climate), but as they tolerate a bit of shade they’ll fit nicely in my backyard bare spot left by a dying pine. You definitely won’t have to worry about this crop leaving a mess in your garden if you don’t get to the harvest in time – you’ll most likely be fighting the squirrels for them. (That is one good point in the backyard/frontyard argument – it is much easier to be mean and net the plants around harvest time in the back yard…)