Growing food

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you know that the residents of Boulder County have been getting increasingly involved in local food issues lately. While this has meant bigger crowds at farmers markets, it has also meant that more people are growing food in their yards.

There are just about as many ways to grow food in your yard as there are gardeners, but one thing that many gardeners have in common is that they focus on vegetables. Of course, there is nothing wrong with growing veggies, but what about fruits? Fruits are delicious, and the plants they grow on are often very attractive. While planting annual vegetables requires a dedicated “vegetable garden” space that can be tilled and fertilized each year, fruits are generally produced by perennial shrubs, trees and vines.

This perennial attribute comes with a couple of advantages for the home food grower. Significantly, you only need to do the heavy work of preparing the soil once, rather than every year. Another benefit, often overlooked, is the ability to integrate these perennial fruiting plants into a broader ornamental landscape. This practice is part of what is often referred to as “edible landscaping”.

The following is a list of my favorite perennial fruiting plants for the Front Range region:

• Grapes: Many people think that grapes don’t do well here, but that is not the case. You just need to know what the right varieties are. European wine grapes (Vitis vinifera) do not perform well here, so avoid varieties you recognize from wine labels, such as merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, etc.

The varieties that do very well here are hybrids whose parentage is dominated by a North American native species (Vitis labrusca), but may also include V.vinifera and a variety of other North American species. Seedless table grapes that do well here include ‘Himrod’, ‘Reliance’, ‘St. Theresa’, and ‘Canadice’. The varieties ‘Concord’ and ‘Niagara’ are very productive, seeded juice grapes.

If you prefer to make wine, you may want to try “Swenson Red”, “Valiant” or “St. Croix”. All of these grapes require trellising and annual pruning to perform best. Fortunately, these practices also keep them looking great. A well-managed grape trellis is a classy addition to any yard.

• Raspberries: Probably the easiest fruit to have success with in our region, raspberries are sure to please. While many people allow their raspberries to grow into a thorny tangle, they are easy to keep neat if you use a very simple wire trellis. Not only will your raspberry plants be more productive and pest-resistant if trellised, but they also will form a delightful “wall of fruit” that is tidy enough for even the most formal garden. For big crops during July, I suggest the varieties “Nova”, “Boyne” and “Killarney”. For big crops in late August and September, try “Autumn Britten” or “Caroline”. For a special treat, try the golden variety known as “Anne”.

• Red Currants: Very popular in Europe, these ruby-colored fruits, borne in dangling clusters known as “strigs”, are underappreciated in the United States. Luckily for us, they grow very well in our climate and have very few problems as far as pests or diseases. They even perform well up to elevations of about 8,500 feet.

Requiring no trellising or other support, red currants take the form of a compact shrub, becoming 4-feet-by-4-feet at maturity.

Because of the dense, attractive foliage and tasty fruit, this plant is a great choice for a mixed perennial border or even a short, informal hedge. The variety “Red Lake” is particularly good and easy to find. You might also try “White Imperial” and “Pink Champagne” (naturally occurring mutations with different colored fruits) for a bit of variety.

• Serviceberry: Becoming more popular every year, this North American native is a relative of apples and roses, but produces berries that resemble blueberries. Grown as either a large shrub or a small tree, serviceberries are covered with big white blossoms in April, followed by glossy foliage in May and June and then reddish-purple fruits later in the summer. Commonly grown just for its ornamental value, don’t forget to eat the fruit, which are also known as saskatoons.

If any of this sounds intriguing but also a little intimidating, do not fear. The Colorado State University Extension office in Boulder County has a wealth of information to help you. In addition, we have a fruit demonstration garden that is open for guided public visits on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, at 10 a.m., from June through September.

Joel A. Reich is a horticulture agent for Colorado State University Extension for Boulder County. He can be reached at 303-678-6238 or via email at


Start a discussion in the form below.

To participate in commenting, you must enable JavaScript.