April 12, 2016

Variety is the spice of life. So, why not add lesser-known fruit to your garden? Listen to learn about these “berry good” options: American elder, Jostaberries, Juneberries, lingonberries, and mulberries.

This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.


Backyard berry growers usually direct their efforts to raising strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries but there are many less familiar berries that are packed with flavor and nutrients and are very easy to grow.  Many originated from native species and require little care other than occasional weeding and watering.

            Shad or Juneberry is an extremely hardy plant native to almost all of North America.  Its twenty-five or so species may take the form of multi-stemmed shrubs or small trees that occasionally reach 30’.

            Truly a four-season plant, shad makes a great landscape addition, especially in a wooded setting.  In early spring, flurries of small white flowers cover the branches followed by bluish to purple blueberry sized fruit.  Its blazing red, yellow, and orange fall foliage even rival the maples for attention; and it’s fissured gray bark becomes its dominant feature in winter.  The sweet juicy berries are delicious eaten out of hand or made in to pies and sauces.

            Mulberry is an often-overlooked tree that yields scrumptious inch long fruits that resemble blackberries and are used much the same way.  Be careful where you plant this medium sized tree, because the dark pigmented berries drop readily and will stain patios and outdoor furniture.

            For a low shrub or ground cover, you can’t beat Lingonberry for its beauty and flavor.  The 10” high evergreen produces masses of red berries that resemble and taste much like cranberries.  European cooks consider them indispensable for making jellies, jams, and sauces.

            If you like both currants and gooseberries for preserves, jellies, and pies, you might want to grow Jostaberries, a cross between the two.  Each plant can produce over ten pounds of mouth-watering fruits that are rich in vitamin C.  Jostaberries are quick to establish and are cold hardy to 40° below zero.

            Elderberries are an old fashioned favorite with many gardeners.  The attractive shrub has flat creamy white flowers and small deep purple berries that make a jelly as pretty as it is delicious.  The berries are a tasty addition to salads and deserts and can be brewed into a strong aromatic wine that will, indeed, give you cause to respect your elders.

            There are many other over-looked plants that will add unique colors and flavors to your berry basket.  A few to try are minty checkerberries, mountain cranberries, and tayberry, a delicious blackberry-raspberry cross.

            By planting some of these not so well known varieties, your back yard may become a berry unusual place indeed.

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