In late fall and winter, you may start to notice a lack of anything looking alive in your landscape. The trees lose their leaves and there’s nothing left behind but a skeleton of plantings. That is when you know you need more “evergreen structure” – something to give life to your garden year round.
Here is a plant that may just solve multiple problems for you in your landscape: Strawberry Tree. In short, it’s evergreen, produces edible fruits, fruits off-season when not much else is producing and is drought-tolerant.
Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, is native to the Mediterranean, but becoming more common as an ornamental in the US. Look a little closer and you will see odd-looking red, edible fruits hanging off the branches. I see this unusual edible all over town and have been enjoying it as a snack to and from class. The better tasting fruit has a hint of strawberry-like flavor.
It is a broad-leafed evergreen, meaning it has wider leaves and not needles, with red bark. Use it to cover up an unsightly view, like a utility box, plant it as an evergreen hedge to make a divided, or plant it a place where you can enjoy the greenery year round. The one on our homestead is planted outside the bathroom, giving us a little more privacy.
Strawberry Tree typically produces small, white, urn-shaped flowers in mid-fall (Sept-Oct) and fruits around late-fall (Nov-Dec). As shown above, often it will fruit and flower at the same time over several months. The plant will grow to about 8-10 feet over the course of ten years or so. It is relatively slow-growing, so it could grow up to 15-20 but that would take about 20+ years. It is a drought-tolerant plant once established, another great feature of this shrub. It can also tolerate a range of soil types and will do best in zones 7-9.
My advice is to buy Strawberry Tree from a nursery that specializes in edibles. They are most likely selecting for better tasting fruit. I have snacked on some that taste like nothing and others that have that great strawberry-like flavor. Our shrub at home is growing in relatively poor soil, in full sun, and has been doing great. I’m planning to get more this winter actually to tuck into bare spots along the fence where we need more evergreen structure.