Now is the best time to add berry plants to your garden or patio, as the selection is optimal at spring shipping time. Choosing which one to plant can be a difficult decision, particularly if you have limited growing space or room for containers on your deck. So, I thought I would give you a quick A-Z tour of available berries, with an eye towards the more unusual.
Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are the most popular, with ‘Duke’ (best flavour), ‘Bluecrop’ (high yields), ‘Razz’ (raspberry overtones), and ‘Chandler’ (massive berries) being the most popular. The hybrid ‘Pink Lemonade’ produces eye-catching pink berries with a distinct blueberry-lemon flavour, but expect lower yields and some leaf spotting. Compact Bushel & Berry cultivars such as ‘Blueberry Glaze’ grow well in containers and produce very flavourful black berries.
Despite its lacklustre common name, Aronia melanocarpa produces purplish-black berries with higher antioxidants than blueberries, tolerates wet soils, and provides attractive burgundy-red fall foliage. The fruit is best used in smoothies and the shrub is hardy to USDA zone 3.
Vaccinium macrocarpon actually makes a nice groundcover and is an important pollination plant for bumblebees. ‘Stevens’ produces large red berries and the foliage will shift to a bronzy-purple in the colder weather.
While Black Currant (Ribes nigrum) is the most popular, red (R. rubrum), pink (‘Pink Champagne’), and white-berried (‘White Imperial’) cultivars are also available and make excellent jellies. The lesser-known Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum) can also be found occasionally with its spicy black berries and bright yellow blooms. All are self-fertile but produce better with cross-pollination.
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is enjoying a bit of a renaissance right now and not just for its tasty black berries (used for wine and jellies) but also for the flowers which are infused to make a refreshing summer cordial that some describe as "spring in a glass." Expect large shrubs growing 8-12’ tall.
Vaccinium ovatum is a very underutilized fruit with absolutely delicious musky near-black berries (when fully ripened). Add to that its aesthetic values as an evergreen with coppery-red new growth and the fact that it can thrive in sun or shade, but expect taller plants in lower light. Along with Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), these are two of our tastiest native plants, although the latter is deciduous.
The unusual flavour (tomato, cranberry, and sour cherry) of this Chinese native (Lycium barbarum) has yet to take hold with average gardeners, but it makes a great addition to hot pepper jellies. However, it is one of the healthiest berries you can eat as it is packed with antioxidants, reduces inflammation, and boosts immunity.
These thorny berries have been with us from pioneer days and whether you choose European (Ribes uva-crispa) or American varieties (Ribes hirtellum) such as ‘Oregon Champion’, delicious jam is in your future. Berries vary from red (‘Hinnonmaki Red’) to yellow, or even green and black (‘Black Velvet’).
Also known as Haskap, Lonicera caerulea produces dark-blue rod-shaped berries with a blueberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant flavour, but with a sharp aftertaste. That said, they are extremely cold-hardy (USDA zone 2) and are high in antioxidants. With the exception of ‘Solo’, all require cross-pollination.
This hybrid of Black Currant and Gooseberry is thornless and produces abundant black berries with flavours reminiscent of its parents, but with blueberry undertones. Ribes x nidigrolaria is also resistant to white pine blister rust, which can affect other currants.
If you have ever wondered where IKEA’s lingonberry jam comes from, then look no further than Vaccinium vitis-idaea. These handsome compact evergreen shrubs bear beautiful white heather bells followed by translucent red berries tasting of cranberry.
I’ll be the first to admit that Mulberries are extremely hard to find, but the white to red and black berries (Morus nigra) are absolutely delicious and a favourite of birds. Weeping forms (Morus alba ‘Pendula’) are also available, as well as self-fertile hybrids such as ‘Illinois Everbearing’.
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are nothing new, and before you ask, my favourite is ‘Tulameen’, followed very closely by ‘Fall Gold’, which are main crop and everbearing varieties, respectively. For those of you growing on patios, try ‘Raspberry Shortcake’, a dwarf thornless cultivar suitable for large containers.
I grew up with Amelanchier alnifolia on the Saskatchewan prairie, where it took me about a half-hour to pick a pail’s-worth for my mother’s pie, which was better tasting than any blueberry pie I have ever eaten. Expect attractive white star magnolia-like flowers, followed by juicy deep-blue berries and fiery autumn foliage.
Also known as Chilean Guava, Ugni molinae is self-fertile, very easy to grow, and produces tangy red berries with a distinct strawberry-guava flavour. At USDA zone 8, it is a little tender so I grow it in a container and pop it into the garage when the weather drops below freezing for extended periods.
Fragaria vesca is the best-kept secret in edible berries, as the strawberry-bubblegum flavoured fruits are kid favourites. The red or yellow berries are equally tasty and the plant produces berries all summer long, as they are everbearing.