Berries might be the most successful perennial you can grow in our area. There are so many to choose from, and it seems like there is a new ‘superberry’ in the news daily. I think it is safe to say berries, regardless of type, are good for you. Here is the list of berries planted at the Timber Garden.
Raspberries just love it here! We planted 30 feet of red raspberries starts in a raised bed along the back of the garden in spring 2015. We thought the 12″ high bed would prevent the raspberries from escaping, but they still pop up nearby! We added yellow raspberries to the bed in the fall, and they are delicious, with a sweet, mild flavor and beautiful sunset coloring. They aren’t quite as prolific as the red raspberries, so they may need their own bed in the future. We ordered 3 black raspberries in 2016, and they are overwintering in pots. Black or purple raspberries are not as hardy as red and yellow raspberries, and should be planted in a different area to avoid disease spread.
Your raspberries will produce best with ample sunlight and water, but they tolerate nutrient-poor soils. I know many people in the area who have raspberries in partial shade that still produce well. Overall, the raspberry is an excellent choice for beginning gardeners, and they will reward you with plenty of delicious berries for jam, pies, fresh eating, anything you can dream up!
Honeyberries are a fascinating plant! When we planted them in spring 2015 they were not a common garden plant. We had never tasted one, but they are hardy to zone 2, tolerate shade and acidic clay soil…perfect. Their blossoms are frost-resistant and they fruit even earlier than strawberries! We bought a pollinating pair in Nampa and then two more through mail order. We thought one had died, so the nursery replaced it. I can’t throw anything away, so we planted the stick outside the garden fence and by the middle of summer it seemed to have some life.
The honeyberries did TERRIBLE the first year. The five sad little plants were planted directly in the ground at the west end of the garden, where they received over 6 hours of sun during the day. We amended the soil, but they still struggled. The next year they sprang to life in the frosty early spring, and that is the time they put on most of their new growth. We got to taste a few honeyberries the second year (fruit grows on 1 year old wood) and they were delicious! Very similar flavor to a huckleberry, and 2-3 times the size. Since we purchased our honeyberries there has been a boom in the cultivars available. I highly recommend this berry for high elevation gardens, and I’m excited to see how the plants do this spring. See a full post on honeyberries here.
Blueberries need full sun to produce well, and very acidic soil. They range in hardiness depending on the type, but it is easy to find blueberries that are hardy to zone 3. We planted 7 blueberries in a raised bed in spring 2016. They are all different varieties, including one pink blueberry! Blueberries range in size from low shrubs to 60″ tall, so make sure you are buying the right size for your garden space. See the full list and all the stats here.
I don’t need to tell anyone what a blueberry tastes like! The ones we sampled from three bushes were delicious and pest-free. Highly recommend bird-netting over the bushes to protect your crop.
Gooseberries seem like such an old-timey berry, something you’ve only heard about from your grandmother’s generation. There is a good reason for that…gooseberries and currants are an alternate host for white pine blister rust, and some states passed laws barring their sale by nurseries. Check your local laws before purchasing. The most susceptible ribes is the black currant. Idaho does not currently have legislation against gooseberries or currants, and in the McCall area several types of currant grow wild. I have a few red currants in my ‘yard’.
There are European gooseberries and American gooseberries, and both have their strengths. European gooseberries are larger and considered to have a superior taste. American gooseberries are more resistant to disease, such as powdery mildew. We have Poorman, Pixwell, and Black Velvet varieties, and the University of Idaho has a recommended list here.
Gooseberries do well in our climate and soil, and ours have grown at an astonishing rate. They will reach a size of about 5′ high and wide, but in their second year they were already about 3′ high and producing berries on their extremely thorny branches. There is some pest pressure on gooseberries, so be watchful.
Gooseberries take a long time to ripen after turning color, so don’t be discouraged by an extra tart berry! We let the fruit hang on the branch for about a month, and the berries took on a tart plum flavor that was delicious!
Lignonberries are a cold-hardy, low-growing shrub. Beyond that, I can’t offer much of a description…our Koralle lignonberry has stayed a tiny, sad plant in the back of the garden. They soil there is rich, and it gets regular water. Hopefully 2017 is the year of the lignonberry.
My parents travelled to Alaska and raved about salmonberries, so when a local nursery had just tossed one because they thought it was dead, I happily took it home. It has been through one winter already with flying colors, and has grown into a small bush outside the garden next to a big rock (yes, it’s protected from deer by a wire cage). The single plant has not produced fruit yet, but since it came back from the brink of death we’ll give it a few years. Salmonberries are not really zone hardy, being listed as Zone 5, but in a protected microclimate, next a big, heat-retaining rock, they may thrive!
Our strawberries have been through tough times and survived. Their first fall they survived hard frosts with no protection. Their first winter they were completely mowed by voles under cover of snow, and they grew back lushly from the roots and gave us a strawberry crop. We now have two beds, filled with Honeoye, Ogallala, Laramie, Sparkle, and Alpine strawberries. The forest is carpeted with wild strawberries, so this is a berry that will naturally do well here with little help. The most pest pressure you are likely to see is from slugs. Choose several varieties to get a continuous crop, such as a junebearing variety and an everbearing variety. Alpine strawberries can be grown from seed and my seedlings produced fruit the first year.
Our single silver buffaloberry plant was purchased from a local nursery, and while it was not marked as male or female, I believe this plant needs a ‘mate’. We are waiting to see if it is a girl or a boy before we buy it a friend. The silver buffaloberry is planted near the main road, unprotected, in semi-shade. It is supposed to be incredibly hardy and a favorite of birds. It does not get the same care as our other berry plants, but we water it every once in a while!
There are several cold-hardy kiwis that can survive even in zone 3. These vines take several years to reach maturity but then may yield an enormous amount of small, fuzz-free fruits. Most varieties need a male plant to fertilize the female plants. We have a male and female of the hardiest variety, Actinidia kolomikta, and 2 females and a male of Actinidia arguta, which is hardy to zone 4. Hardy kiwis can be frost sensitive and may not ripen in our short growing season, so your planting site needs to be carefully considered. Read more about cold-hardy kiwis and their trellis system here.
Blackberries grow rampantly about 50 miles from McCall, in Riggins, ID. If you are willing to fight to thorns you can pick gallons of them in late summer. In the interest of science, we planted 2 free transplanted blackberries of unknown type and a purchased zone 4 blackberry (Natchez). They are outside the garden at far ends of the property. They are now protected from deer after they were snacked on in the spring. It will be interesting to see if this heat-loving berry can survive in a shady meadow, or if any of the 3 plants will survive the winter.
Seaberries (Sea Buckthorn)
Seaberries are another berry with male and female plants. We planted one of each tiny plant in spring 2015. They can eventually grow to about 10 feet tall. The first year they did poorly, right along with the neighboring honeyberries. The second year they took off, turning into beautiful silvery-leafed bushes over 2′ high. In spring we will need to transplant them out of the garden and in to their permanent location.
Seaberries are another uncommon fruit, incredibly high in vitamin C, and producing small orange fruit right along the branches. They are hardy to zone 3, and can survive in poor soils since they are a nitrogen-fixing plant. We are excited to try them!
The passionfruit vine is pretty far from zone hardy in McCall, but it produces gorgeous flowers! Technically it will produce a fruit, and my vine did have a small green fruit its first year, but our season is too short for them to ripen. It’s too bad…passionfruit, or lilikoi, was my favorite pie flavor when I lived in Hawai’i! The vines reached about 6′ long and could have used a better trellis system. This plant lived in a large pot against the greenhouse, and was protected from the cold by tall corn stalks. It was outside without protection down to 22 degrees in fall, still producing its tropical flowers. The entire pot and plant are currently overwintering in the garage, along with a zone 5 fig.
Serviceberries (Saskatoons, Juneberries)
When we first moved in my friend Jane said we should look for serviceberries on our property. I sent her a photo of the distinctive white flowers and the dark blue berries that developed. It turns out they grow all over our ‘forest’, mostly in the form of stringy bushes that don’t get a lot of light. I feel like they need to be pruned. They produce a reliable, tiny crop of seedy berries each year, but I have to do a lot of walking to get about a cup, and the flavor isn’t really that great. I tried putting some in a liqueur to extract a little more flavor out…still didn’t really taste like a whole lot. I hope the squirrels like them.
2017 is a new growing season and our berry plants will be one year older. This will be the first year of fruiting for some of them, and we’ll keep you updated on how they are doing. What unusual fruits have you grown successfully in high elevation or short seasons? What is your favorite berry?
*Rhubarb is technically a vegetable.