What could be more enjoyable than eating fresh-picked berries as you walk through your garden? This pleasure can be yours, if you plan now to plant berry bushes this fall.
All plants flower and set fruit, but only a few produce edible fruit and are attractive enough to add interest to your landscape design. These are currants, gooseberries, elderberries and blueberries.
Currants, gooseberries and elderberries make ideal border plants for both privacy and barriers when planted away from the house and along property lines. All three need full sunlight to fruit well. They grow best in moist, well-drained soil with moderate levels of fertility. Elderberries, however, do tolerate less than optimum soils and sites.
Currants and gooseberries develop into shrubby, multistemmed plants about 4 to 6 feet high and get quite dense if left unpruned. Set plants 4 or 5 feet apart. A closer setting may be more attractive, but the fruit quality will not be as good.
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Elderberries grow larger, almost becoming a small tree of 12 feet or more. They develop many stems that spread outward from the main clump, forming a coarse, round-topped plant. Because of their size and texture, they are best used as background plants. If you plant elderberries, be sure to leave enough room around them to harvest the fruit. Elderberries make excellent wine.
In addition to being tasty in pies, jellies and preserves, the fruit on each of these plants is attractive. Currants are round, bright red or black berries, about 1/4 to 1/3 inch in diameter and ripen in late July. Gooseberries are red, yellow or green depending on the variety with berries less than 1 inch in diameter. They ripen in early July. Elderberries ripen later, in early August, and grow in flat-topped clusters, 6 to 8 inches across, composed of deep purple to black berries that grow on the top of the plants.
Blueberries are among the best edible shrubs we have. They can be used in much the same way as you would rhododendron and azaleas, where you might like to have 6- to 8-foot plants. They have dark green shiny leaves with attractive white to pink flowers. The tasty, bluish fruit — about 1/4 inch in diameter — ripens in late July to August.
To grow well, blueberries must be planted in acidic soil, which is moist, well-drained and well-supplied with organic matter. They need protection from strong winter winds and a good layer of mulch to prevent summer moisture stress. Blueberries also need to be fertilized and pruned regularly.
If you would like additional information on fruit production for the home gardener, you can purchase the “Fruit Production for the Home Gardener” AGRS-99 from the Penn State Publications Distribution Center, 865-6713.
Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at email@example.com.