Berries like serviceberry, lingonberry, mulberries, chokecherry, goji berry, currant, and honey berry are all flavorful and easy to grow, harvest, and use!
The Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arbor) is a deciduous self-pollinating tree in the rose family. It is hardy in USDA zones 4-9, meaning it can thrive in many different climate conditions. The tree grows between 10 and 25 feet, growing around 10 feet every 7 years.
The best part about serviceberries besides the beautifully ornamental sprays of white rose-like flowers in early April are the sweet blue-black berries that cover the tree in mid-June (which explains the serviceberry's other common name, the june berry). The berries are reminiscent of small blueberries, with a firm skin and a pop of sweet flavor in the middle. Mature trees produce prolifically, and attract all kinds of native birds. Berries start light pink, but quickly ripen to a dark juicy purple. Use them in muffins, tarts, pies, or even salads just as you would blueberries.
Serviceberry trees can thrive in either full or partial sun, but will produce more fruit in very sunny conditions. They prefer a well-draining moist soil, but are also tolerant of clay or sandy soils. Newly planted saplings need watering once a week, but established trees are drought-tolerant as well. Serviceberry trees require little to no pruning, making them much less fussy than cane berries such as raspberries or blackberries. Fall foliage is a bright burnt orange that aches of autumn. The serviceberry tree is a great addition to any yard because it offers four seasons of beauty, and one season of flavor!
The Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is an evergreen shrub that is famous in Scandinavia for its sweet-tart fruit and cold tolerance. It thrives in USDA zones 2-8, a massive range! It can take the cold all the way down to -10 degrees F and actually produces more berries in years with snowy winters. The lingonberry is one of the few fruits that can thrive in colder climates. This low-growing bush only grows to 2 feet, (.60 meters) making it an excellent ground cover or addition to a container or window-box garden. Related to both blueberries and cranberries, the shrub is native to the forests of north Europe, north America, and Canada. New growth is glossy and reddish, making the plant beautiful enough to grow for its foliage alone.
One of the distinct advantages of the lingonberry is that it will produce two crops of berries each year, the first in July and August and the second in September and October (which is typically larger). Two crops also means two flushes of adorable pinkish-white clusters of flowers that cover one-year-old growth. Only mature plants (2-3 years old) will produce fruit. Berries start out a lime green and mature to a dark red. Harvest and refrigerate right away; the berries will keep for three weeks or can be frozen for use later in the season. The berries could also be eaten fresh from the bush, but are tart. Traditionally, they are used for jams and sauces that pair well with meat. They can be used interchangeably with cranberries for tarts, pies, and crumbles.
Lingonberry shrubs prefer an acidic soil and full sun, a great companion plant with with azaleas, holly, or rhododendrons. Lingonberries thrive in soil with a pH of 5 so test your soil using a home soil kit and add sulfur to lower the pH or lime to raise it, as needed. Follow label instructions for proper application. The bushes are self-pollinating, though having more than one can increase berry size and flavor. Keep new saplings moist by watering them once a week for the first year, once every two weeks in the winter. Apply an acidic fertilizer once a year in the early spring. Lingonberry shrubs require little to no pruning.
The American or red mulberry (Morus rubra) grows in a huge variety of climates and produces pounds of sour-sweet berries each year. The tree is very hardy and can grow almost anywhere, in any type of soil. Dark brown knobby bark and glossy dark green leaves make this deciduous tree beautiful in any season. It thrives in USDA zones 4-10.
In the early spring, mature mulberry trees will produce an abundance of interesting clusters of white flowers. In May, small berries will cover the tree. They start out white and gradually darken to a light pink, then a deep red. Berries are ripe when they are plump, dark, and fall from the tree when disturbed. Many harvest berries by placing bed sheets underneath the tree and shaking lower limbs, slowly and gently. Upper limbs can be reached with the use of a ladder. Mulberries can be used to make pies, crumbles, sauces, and even wines. They can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for later use.
Mulberry trees will reach a height of 75 feet (22.86 meters) and have extensive root systems, so be mindful to plant them at least 20 feet from your home or roadways. As mentioned before, the fruit is plentiful and will liter areas near walkways or playgrounds. The mulberry will produce the most fruit in very sunny conditions, but also grows well in partial shade. New saplings should be watered weekly in the first year, and pruned once in the fall. After that, no further pruning is necessary. Mulberries are very disease resistant, making them one of the easiest of all of the berry trees to grow.
The black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is an extremely vigorous shrub that grows reliably in USDA hardiness zones 3-8. Its shiny green summer foliage darkens to a flaming red during the autumn and is highly attractive as a hedge bush as well as in single plantings.
Chokeberry is self-pollinating so you will only need one for large flavorful fruit. In late spring Aronia bushes are covered in large clusters of creamy white flowers that attract butterflies and bees. In the second summer, berries emerge light green and darken slowly to a black-purple in early autumn, contrasting beautifully with the blazing fall foliage. The berries are pungently flavored, but are used commonly for wine, juice, and jam. They are popular because they contain a punch of antioxidants, one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any berry. To harvest, simply cut off berry clusters with sharp garden shears. 'Viking' and 'Nero' are two excellent cultivators. Mature plantings produce heavily, averaging about 22 lbs of fruit per bush.
Aronia are fast growers, petering out at around 8 feet (2.4 meters) in the first 10 years. Bushes will put out suckers from their root stock, and spread, which is what makes them a great choice for a hedge. If you plant them 3 feet (1 meter) apart, the suckers will slowly close in the distance and create a full, thick hedgerow. Thinning of the older canes is recommended every few years, but no other pruning is necessary. Although Aronia is insect and disease resistant, they will not tolerate drought and should be watered in summer weeks with less than 2 inches of rain, especially if planted in the full sun. Fertilize each spring with an acidic fertilizer.
The goji berry (Lycium barbarum) has become hugely popular in recent years due to its robust growth and the incredible healthfulness of the fruit. Native to Tibet and the Himalayan mountains, this exotic deciduous shrub thrives in USDA zones 3-10 and is remarkably heat and cold tolerant as well as being very tolerant of many soil types. Mature trees can reach 10-12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) in the ground, but also make excellent container plants and will grow to fit the pot they're in and then stop.
In spring of its second season your goji shrub will be covered in gorgeous purple and white flowers. By late summer the sweet red-orange fruit will be plump and ripe. The goji berry is used extensively as a remedy for many ailments in Tibet, and is said to increase longevity. The berries contain 13 percent protein, more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, more beta-carotene than carrots, and are unbelievably high in antioxidants. Ripe fruit is sweet-tart and can be eaten right off the bush, refrigerated for 2 weeks, or frozen for later use. Goji berries are also very popular in juice, tea, smoothies, and muffins. Dried goji berries are very flavorful and are a healthy ingredient to add to trail mix, cereal, or oatmeal. To dry, place clean berries on a baking sheet, turn your oven onto 'warm' (150-200 degrees), place berries on the top rack, leave the oven door open, and allow them to bake for 4-12 hours or until fruit is leathery.
The goji can take the full sun, but would appreciate some afternoon shade in climates that reach summer temperatures of above 100 degrees F. Plants in containers will dry out quickly and should be watered once a week, whereas plants in the ground need only be watered in weeks with less than one inch of rain. Applying two inches of mulch to shrubs, either in containers or the ground, will help greatly with moisture retention in the summer and cold protection in the winter. After harvest, a light pruning will help to maintain overall shape; the goji can become unruly without it. It can take a heavy pruning, so don't be shy if its shape needs work. Because of their somewhat rangy shape, the goji berry tree may not fit into a formal garden and looks best on its own or as a hedge planting. This superfood is one of the easiest most healthy fruit you can grow!
The black currant (Ribes nigrum) is a huge crowd-pleaser in the gardening community because of its attractive growth and cold-tolerance. This small shrub only grows to 3-5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) tall and is perfect for container gardening as well as landscaping. It flourishes in USDA zones 3-8 and can take it all the way down to zone 2 with some additional winter protection. The pale green leaves resemble maples that turn a burnt orange in the fall before dropping.
In the early spring the black currant will produce clusters of diminutive white, yellow, or green flowers. Small black berries will ripen slowly throughout the summer until they are ready for harvest in mid-August. The fruit is tart and rich in vitamin C. They can be used for delicious pies, crumbles, tarts, and cobblers, as well as for jams and even cordials. One mature bush should yield about 10 pounds of fruit each season. You can pick the berries individually by hand or snip off ripened clusters of berries with sharp shears. Eat fresh berries within a few days of picking or freeze. 'Ben Sarek' and 'Ben Lomond' are both heavy-yield hardy cultivators.
Currants are very drought tolerant and mature plants need only be watered during fruiting season. They grow best in neutral to acidic soil with low levels of sand. Currant bushes grow in a round full clump and are one of the only berry shrubs that can be trained into an attractive topiary. Old growth should be pruned once every two years. Foliage is prone to sun burn, so protection from late afternoon sun is essential. Feed with a balanced fertilizer or organic compost once a year in the late winter. Prune during dormancy in the late autumn or early winter by clipping off old growth or weak shoots and leaving strong new shoots untouched.
The honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is closely related to the honeysuckle bush, and they share many traits such as hardiness and pest and disease resistance. Unlike their cousins though, the honeyberry displays long blueberry-like berries in the early spring. Hardy in USDA zones 3-8, the honeyberry can take it all the way down to -40 degrees F. The attractive foliage is silver-green, brightening to a lemon yellow in the fall.
One of the best features of the honeyberry is the early fruiting season, with ripe fruit ready to eat roughly two weeks before strawberries (mid-May). Hardly any other fruit is ready this early in the year, so with the right staggering of other fruiting plants, you will have a long season of produce. Wait for the berry to turn a dark blue before harvesting. The berries taste like blueberries and taste great fresh, or in pies, muffins, yogurt, or jams and jellies. As well as being sweet and juicy, these berries are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Your honeyberry will produce fruit for about three weeks.
Honeyberry shrubs will grow 5-7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters) tall and wide. They prefer part sun and are one of the only berries that can produce fruit in the shade. The honeyberry is the only berry shrub featured here that is not self-pollenating, so you will need to plant at least two honeyberry bushes within 20 feet (7 meters) of each other for them to fruit. Water weekly during the first year of growth, once every two weeks in the winter. The honeyberry requires little to no pruning and makes an excellent hedge bush. Fertilize in the early spring with organic compost. Most varieties are pest and disease resistant. 'Berry Blue', Blue Forest (dwarf, 3 feet, 1 meter), and 'Blue Belle' are all excellent cultivators.
Cane berries such as raspberries and blackberries are widely popular, but can be fussy to grow and very invasive. Besides, you can get those at the grocery store! Next time you are expanding your edible garden, consider one of these unique berries. Having your own berry tree can be highly rewarding, and very easy with any of these hardy choices. Life is sweet.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles and Bob Bors