Posted by Janet Harriett on Jun.28, 2010
Moving up from strawberries and bramble berries, fruiting shrubs are a bit more of a commitment and require some planning, since they take 3-5 years before the labor invested in them pays off with fruit. Fruiting shrubs can last up to 20 years and after the first few years, get to be too bit to move easily if you decide you want them somewhere else so planning is essential.
Birds like these berries, so, space permitting, plant more than you think you’ll need. Products like bird netting keep the birds out of the fruits, but I cannot recommend them, having had to cut a dead bird out of an entanglement with a pest deterrent. Since I don’t have space limitations, I just consider feeding the birds and other assorted wildlife part of fruit gardening.
These bush fruits are well worth growing for their nutritional value, though. Blueberries consistently get high marks on analyses of superfoods for their high levels of anthocyanins. Elderberries make a delicious jam and are a traditional herbal medicinal for relief of the common cold. All currants are high in vitamin C, and black currants contain proanthocyanidin, a powerful antioxidant.
Black currant plants are hard to come by at nurseries, since they’re an alternate host for an infectious disease of pine trees and have been banned in many states. A few disease-resistant varieties have been approved for sale in the U.S., but may be hard to procure at local nurseries. Red currants are more common, though white and pink currants are also available. Currants have attractive leaves that look a bit like ruffled maple leaves, and make pretty hedges to define the edges of a fruit garden.
An established currant plant can produce 10-15 pounds of currants per year. Unlike many fruits, currants will hold on the plants for several weeks once they’re ripe, without dropping or going bad. Whether the birds will let you leave them on the bush is another matter entirely. Currants can be made into jam or dried and used like raisins.
Blueberry plants are notorious for having tempermental soil requirements, including a more acidic pH than most other garden plants. Their soil requirements are similar to azaleas and rhododendrons, so if you have a spot where those plants grow well, blueberries will do nicely. My own blueberries are establishing themselves well enough in the fruit garden, with nothing more special than a little bit of peat mixed into their planting zone and mulch of pine needles rather than the lawn clippings that most of my plant beds get.
Blueberry plants come in three varieties: highbush, lowbush and rabbiteye. Highbush blueberries grow better in the northern U.S., while rabbiteye blueberries are better adapted to southern growing zones. Both are taller shrubs. Lowbush blueberries are a low growing plant that can be used as an edible groundcover in a fruit garden. Blueberry plants turn bright orange or red in the fall, making them showy as well as delicious.
Count on about 10-20 pounds of blueberries per bush once it is well established. The easiest way to preserve the harvest is to freeze them on a tray, unwashed. Rinse the berries off when you thaw them. Frozen blueberries can be used like fresh in smoothies, pancakes and other recipes.
Elderberries are larger shrubs than currants or blueberries, and can be a focal point in an ornamental fruit garden. They also provide nesting habitat for several types of birds. Yields on elderberry plants vary widely by cultivar and growing location. Elderberries make delicious pie, jam and wine, though the berries should be cooked before eating. You can also make fritters out of the flowers and dehydrate the berries for use in herbal tea. As with most dark purple berries, elderberries are full of several healthy antioxidants. Elderberries in particular are known for supporting immune system health.
Other than keeping the ground under them weeded and the old stems pruned out, elderberries don’t require a lot of care. They like moist but not soggy soil, and can spread through suckers if not kept under control.
Goji berries are a trendy supefruit now. Although goji berries are reputed to be able to be gown in home fruit gardens in USDA zones 4-9, I’ve found them a bit finicky when I’ve tried incorporating them in my zone 5 fruit garden. Both goji plants purchased from a nursery and plants started from seed have died on me over the winters, so I’ve put gojis down toward the bottom of the list of fruits I’d like to expand into cultivating.
Finding a good source of goji berry plants is difficult, since they’re still a niche nursery offering. Nurseries sometimes carry them as wolfberries, though other edible-berried plants are also sold as wolfberries. If you soak dried goji berries and squeeze the seeds out, then plant them, they will sprout, and very possibly grow into fully producing goji berry shrubs. I’ve never had one grow more than a foot high, though. Supposedly the plants get to be about 6 feet high and wide.
Article By: Janet Harriett
Profile: Janet Harriett, Green Diva Mom's fomer editor, has been a writer and editor for print and online media, specializing in education and environmental issues since 1999. She lives on 2 acres in central Ohio with her husband, a 275-square-foot backyard garden and a home orchard growing 25 varieties of fruit. Janet holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
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