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