Archived Story

Berry shrubs offer more than cover

Published 4:13am Monday, July 29, 2013 Updated 6:18am Monday, July 29, 2013

It seems everybody wants to grow blueberries. Sorry, they need an acid soil that we don’t have here in Otter Tail County. There are, however, other berries that we can grow.

Our native elderberry is a bit ugly, gangly, and 10 to 12 feet wide and tall. It has beautiful white blooms in the spring followed by dark purple berries.

If you can beat the birds to them, cook them for pie, jam or wine. If you don’t have room for that large a shrub, cut it back. It blooms on both old and new wood.

It will grow in either full sun or part shade. Look for Adams, or Nova to plant with York for cross pollination.

If you would rather have an accent shrub, Black Lace has pink flowers and dark foliage.

Another native is the small Juneberry tree. It is also called Saskatoon berry. It’s not even a berry, being a cousin of the apple. Plant her on a slope with good drainage and air circulation to prevent frosted blooms. She blooms with white flowers that look like popcorn on her stems.

The berries are similar to blueberries. You may need to cover the tree to get berries as the birds love them.

This small, upright tree will do quite well on the edge of a tree line as she likes part shade. She also likes to sucker so is a nice tall hedge tree. Look for ‘Northline”.

Gooseberry is also a native. If you want to outwit deer, plant it, for has lots of thorns making picking the fruit quite a challenge. The natives are quite sour so go for a modern hybrid, Hinnomaki.

It’s red and can be eaten raw. Pixwell is nearly thornless, short and ripens to purple.

The University of Saskatchewan has been working with a Siberian honeyberry.

It has oblong fruit with twice the level of antioxidants of blueberries and doesn’t need acid soil. They recommend ‘Borealis’ for taste and large fruit and either Tundra, Aurora or Honeybee for pollinators. They are long lived, up to 50 years, will grow in most any type of soil, can tolerate part shade but like full sun.

They do better with up to four inches of mulch, just keep it away from the trunk.

Chokeberry is a pretty, self fertile shrub. The blooms are white, fruit is black. In the fall her leaves turn bright red. Best of all she is easy to grow, undemanding about soil, tolerating damp feet, and mostly free of insect pests.

The berries are bitter and astringent similar to chokecherries but cooked and sweetened are delicious. Viking and Nero are recommended varieties

Black currants have not been available for 40 years due to being an alternate host to white pine blister, a fungal disease.

There have been more resistant cultivars developed since then. Consort, Crusader and Titanic are available in some states.

However there are both red and white varieties available that aren’t hosts. Currents are a bit fussy, wanting a north facing or winter sheltered slope so the early blooms don’t get frozen.

They need quite a bit of nitrogen to do well. Jostaberries are a hybrid cross between currants and gooseberries. They are also resistant to the white pine disease and have larger fruits.

So what if we can’t grow blueberries without a lot of fuss. We have many neat alternatives. Try one. You may like it.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener for Otter Tail County.

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