Berried Treasures-Planting the Best Berried Shrubs for Your Fall Garden

Beauty of Winterthur viburnum berries; enjoy them before the birds get them!
Beauty of Winterthur viburnum berries; Enjoy them before the birds get them!
As fall days get cooler, Winterthur Viburnum’s berries turn blue and the foliage turns a glorious shade of orange
Viburnum nudum ‘Pink Beauty’

Viburnums are Stellar

When selecting shrubs and trees to plant in your garden, consider not only the beauty of it’s flowers and foliage, but also the bonus of fruit or berries. Berries add another dimension to the attractiveness of the landscape which can last until late winter. Birds and other wildlife benefit from the berries as an important source of food when most other sources have disappeared. Even birds that primarily feast on insects will switch their diets in the winter to berries in order to survive the long lean winter months.

Viburnums are the king of berry production for me in my garden. For a great article on Viburnums, go to Viburnum for American Gardens by Michael Dirr.

These berries have been stripped of all berries by birds
These berries have been stripped of all berries by birds; notice the burgundy fall foliage of ‘Winterthur’

The list of berry producing shrubs and trees includes service berry, viburnums, roses, beauty berries, hollies, sumacs, persimmons, bayberries, nandinas, and pyracanthas. I have highlighted a few that are easy to grow, last into winter and are particularly showy.

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’ is a nicely rounded deciduous shrub that will grow 6 to 8 feet tall. It likes sun or partial sun and carries an incredible display of abundant, glossy red fruit in the fall that persists into winter. It is blanketed with creamy white flowers in the spring and forms an attractive well branched shrub that fits in well with any landscape.  It will cover a steep bank very effectively.

Cardinal Candy Viburnum covering a slope
Cardinal Candy Viburnum covering a slope
Cardinal Candy Viburnum
Cardinal Candy Viburnum

‘Michael Dodge’ has a different berry which sets it apart from most other Viburnums – yellow! Yellow berries are a rarity in the plant world and I treasure this one.

Michael Dodge Viburnum berries
Michael Dodge Viburnum berries

Erie Viburnum has the same red berries as Cardinal Candy, but I particularly like the fireworks display of berries.

Erie Viburnum
Erie Viburnum

Doublefile Viburnums, Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’, are as beautiful in flower as in fruit and does well in shade. Deer tend to steer away from this also which is a big plus. Making a beautiful screen, this deciduous shrub gets as wide as tall and resembles a layered wedding cake.

Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’
Viburnum ‘Mariesii’ in flower

American Beauty-Berry

Purple beauty berries
Purple beauty berries

The American Beauty-Berry (Callicarpa americana ) grows 3 to 5 feet in height and width with long arching branches.  It has yellow-green fall foliage and clusters of striking shiny purple berries held close to the branches.  The berries also come in white.  It is easy to grow in sun or part shade. I cut branches of this shrub and plunge them into vase of water to enjoy the beautiful berries and field a lot of questions about this unusual shrub.

Callicarpa can become a large shrub; Cut back in the spring to keep it small
White Callicarpa
Purple Beauty-Berry

Winterberry Hollies

The very name tells it all. Berries lasting through a good part of winter, this shrub shines in the landscape. An unremarkable bush before the berries emerge and change color, once the leaves shed, this is my favorite berried shrub. Winterberry Ilex verticilatta, come in several sizes and colors.

A perfect Winterberry in the landscape; This is ‘Sparkleberry’

Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata) are deciduous plants. Leaves are mid-green and quite unlike the prickly, shiny leaves of evergreen Hollies, and drop off when frost hits.

Winterberry Holly grows in full sun, partial shade, and even quite dense shade but don’t expect as many berries. Commonly found in wet soil, it also grows well in average soil and tolerates a fair measure of drought once established. It does require an acidic soil. Prune in late winter or after bloom, but be aware that pruning reduces fruit production.

Range of colors of Winterberry
The berries set while the leaves are still present

 

Great use of Winterberry against a wall
Use cut stems for decorating for the Holidays
Orange berries in arrangement

Blueberry Bonanza

The Invasion of the Blues

I have been growing blueberries for years and this has been a banner year for picking them.  We have had plenty of rain and the weather has been perfect for growing.  I have only 5 shrubs but that is enough to keep us in berries, as well as providing the birds all they want to eat. I used to cover them with nets, but they are so prolific, I let the birds have at them.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing

Blueberries are so unbelievably easy to grow, I am surprised that not everyone has at least one of these shrubs planted on their property.  They don’t get very large and have beautiful scarlet fall foliage that makes them worthwhile to grow just for that feature alone.

Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium) in autumn foliage t...

I have several varieties to extend my picking season and there are more than 100 varieties to pick from.  There are even dwarf ones suitable for container growing.

My blueberry bushes

Acid Soil

Blueberries require an acidic soil, 4.5 – 5.5 pH, much like rhododendrons and azaleas.  If you can grow rhodies and azaleas successfully, then you are golden.  But my soil tends to be more like 6.5 to 7 on the pH scale, so I add plenty of peat moss when planting. I continue to add it every year around the plants.  I also mulch with pine needles and add an acidifier in liquid form periodically to keep the soil on the acid side.  If you are unsure of your pH, you can always get a soil test done at a local garden center or the agricultural extension service.  Add some cottonseed meal or blood meal as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer twice in the spring.  Coffee grounds rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium are an inexpensive organic fertilizer to add some further nutrients to the soil.

pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds
pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

Pests are never a problem except for the birds, and aren’t an issue if you have prolific bearers.

My blueberries are in partial shade and do fine with that light.  They will also perform well in full sun.

Pollination

There is really no secret to pollination other than planting several varieties close to each other.  For healthier, more productive blueberries, regardless of type or variety, you should plant different varieties so that bees can travel and cross-pollinate the plants. My bees are all over the shrubs when they are blooming.

Watering

Consistent watering of blueberries is important because they have a shallow, fibrous root system.  But I rarely water my shrubs as they are pretty distant from the hose reach. To avoid watering I layer on tons of mulch around the whole area. Once in a while when we have had some long periods of drought, I run the hose out to the plants for a good soak.

Picking the Harvest

The only thing that I don’t enjoy about growing blueberries is I hate to pick them! They are small and tedious to pick and take up time. The berries ripen over a couple of weeks, so you need to pick the ripe ones every couple of days. I have tried different methods, like placing a sheet underneath and shaking and pulling off the ripe ones, but I have gone back to my normal picking one by one into a Tupperware container.  The shaking method pulls off too many immature berries and wastes them.  I enlist help and ask people who want some berries to pick them and leave me some too.

Pruning

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pruning the shrubs to make them more compact, and to get rid of older branches that bear less fruit, is a matter of a few minutes in the late winter.  This annual pruning forces the shrub to produce new wood that will bear larger, more abundant berries.

Simple Seasonal Care 

Winter – prune

Early spring – fertilize

Late spring – fertilize again

Summer –  harvest fruit and enjoy!

Fall – mulch

Healthy Eating

Blueberries are the perfect health food. They are nutritious, have anti-oxidants, and require little preparation. Freezing easily and going well with so many foods and desserts are among their many attributes.

Blueberry Temptation
Blueberry Temptation (Photo credit: kitsunebabe)

Everyone has recipes for muffins, pies, and cakes using blueberries so I wanted to pass along a great recipe that I use for meat! This is a great sauce and you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries.

Savory Blueberry Steak Sauce

3 T unsalted butter

2 small shallots, finely chopped

2 T flour

1/4 C sherry vinegar

1/4 C ketchup

3 T dijon mustard

1/4 C orange juice

1/4 C molasses

1/2 Tsp dried thyme

1/4 Tsp dried sage

2 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet and saute shallots for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, blending and stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Add vinegar, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, molasses, thyme, and sage, and stir until combined.  Add blueberries and raise heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cool, stirring often for about 15 minutes until the mixture is thickened and glossy.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm over steak.

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic ...
English: A pack of blueberries from a organic farm co-op program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)