If you’re into garden landscaping, why not have an edible landscape? Honeyberry, or haskap berry, is the right answer to your culinary and design schemes. Notorious for having a taste that defies descriptions, the honeyberry is a hardy shrub that grows well in the northern parts of the United States. Its popularity is growing steadily especially with the introduction of different cultivars and varieties from all over the world.
A healthy fruit, the honeyberry is packed with more antioxidants than blueberries. You can use it in frozen yogurt or desserts to replace blueberries. And unlike blueberries, they don’t require special soil to grow. So if you’re looking for a new addition to your garden this year, why not give the honeyberry a try? Read on to find out more about this mysterious shrub and how to grow and care for it in your garden.
Honeyberry at a Glance
A lot has been written about the taste of honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea). But nobody managed to pinpoint the exact taste of this mystery berry. Suffice it to say that it’s a wild combination of blackberry, kiwi, cherry, and grape all rolled into one. To complicate things further, each different variety and cultivar also has its own unique flavor and taste. So rather than attempt to describe the zesty taste, let’s turn our attention to the shrub itself.
As a member of the honeysuckle family, honeyberry shrubs grow to about 8 feet tall. Some cultivars will only reach 3 feet making them ideal for indoor planting. It goes by many other names around the world where it’s known as haskap in Japan while the Russians simply call it zhimolost.
A hardy shrub that can tolerate very low temperatures, the honeyberry has a USDA hardiness zone of 2. Even in the frigid temperatures of Montana, honeyberries thrive and blossom unbothered by the harsh weather conditions. The shrubs can withstand temperatures as low as -55 F. while the blossoms will bloom and pollinate in weather as cold as 20 degrees F.
The average shrub has a lifespan of 50 years and will start producing berries in the first year of its life. The berries are dark blue and have thin skin. When you breach the skin, the fleshy berries tend to melt in your mouth.
With a hardy shrub that produces mystery berries that put your tongue in a tizzy like the honeyberry, you can expect to have plenty of cultivars to choose from. And once again the haskap berry doesn’t disappoint. Whether you prefer the Japanese varieties or the Russian flavors, or the American cultivars, there’s enough to go around and satisfy every taste.
- Happy Giant: This variety comes from Russia with love. The berries are larger than average and have a tarty taste in the mouth. The shrub reaches 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide with dense foliage and fast growth rates. Once the tree matures in its fifth year, you can expect to get 12 pounds of berries every year.
- Giant’s Heart: This giant is Japanese in origins. The oval-shaped berry reaches about one inch in length and has a sweet flavor. The mature shrub grows to 5 feet tall and the same in width. It has hardiness zones between 2 to 9 and produces about 10 pounds of berries from the fourth year onwards.
- Blue Bear: A member of the Blue Treasure Family, this Japanese cultivar has juicy berries that melt in the mouth. Like all other honeyberry varieties, it needs to be pollinated by a different cultivar. It also reaches 5 feet tall at maturity and starts producing berries in the first year.
- Blue Storm: A member of the Happy Dream family, this shrub grows to 6 feet tall and flowers in April. It tolerates different types of soil and has hardiness zones between 2 to 7 in the East coast and 5 to 9 in the West coast. The best times to plant it are in the fall well before the first frost.
- Blue Q: A Russian cultivar that belongs to the Blue Q family. It only reaches 5 feet tall which is short by Russian standards. It grows upright with dense foliage and a dome-like canopy. The berries are usually smaller than an inch in size and you can expect a decent crop of between 6 to 8 pounds from the fourth year of the tree’s life onwards.
How to Grow Honeyberry
Since we’re talking about a shrub whose lifespan averages 50 years, fast growth is not one of the honeyberry’s top qualities. Of course, you can grow it from seeds, but you’ll need to have a lot of patience to get it to germinate. Moreover, shrubs grown from seeds usually take up to 3 years to bear fruit, unlike honeyberries started from a cutting. So it’s best to get a sapling from a nursery to save yourself a lot of time. Here we cover starting the honeyberry from a cutting in easy steps.
- Choose a mature tree that’s at least 5 years old and pick a healthy branch to cut.
- Use a clean blade or pruning shears to cut about six inches of the branch. Make sure the branch doesn’t have cuts.
- Place the cutting in a jar full of water and keep it in a sunny spot.
- Change the water every few days since the cutting could rot in stagnating water.
- After about 4 weeks the first roots will shoot out of the cutting submerged in the water.
- Fill a small container with a regular potting mix and water it to make it moist.
- Dig a hole in the soil about three inches deep and plant the cutting in the hole.
- Fill the hole with soil and pack it to push out air pockets.
- Don’t let the soil go dry. Keep it moist regularly for the next couple of months.
- Take the plant outside for a few hours every day to harden it.
- When leaves show at the top of the sapling, you know that the root system is well established and you’re ready to move it to its permanent place outdoors.
- Pick a spot in the garden that gets either full sun or partial sun.
- Dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the rootball of the sapling.
- Ease the sapling out of the container with a clump of soil around the root system.
- Place the sapling in the hole so that the old soil mark on the stem lines with the top of the hole.
- Fill the hole with soil and pack it to keep the sapling standing upright on its own.
- Water the sapling to help the soil settle.
While it takes time and patience to get the honeyberry started, this hardy shrub is easy to care for. It hardly requires pruning in the first few years and can tolerate just about any soil and weather conditions. It’s an ideal shrub to grow in your garden even if you have harsh weather conditions in the winter.
You don’t have to prepare the soil before planting the honeyberry. It can grow in moist as well as dry soil. Either rich or poor soil is good enough to start this hardy tree. However, for the best interests of a high yielding crop, you want to make sure the soil is well-drained. You’re not just planting a tree to test its endurance. You’d expect to eat some delicious berries from the shrub by the end of the first year. So the less stress the tree goes through, soil-wise, the better. Also, make sure the pH levels are hovering around 6.0 or 6.5.
It’s not often that we talk about mulching as an essential part of a tree’s care. But in the case of the honeyberry, the right mulching results in good crop yields and tastier berries. By right mulching, we mean using rotting leaves of shredded oak bark that decomposes in the soil and releases its precious nutrients slowly. A thick layer of mulch in the late fall helps the young shrub withstand the sharp drop in temperature and keeps the shallow roots from freezing. By the next spring, you can remove the mulching to protect the roots against overheating and reduce the likelihood of having waterlogged soil.
If you decided to go ahead and plant your honeyberry in poor soil or one that you didn’t bother to check, then fertilization becomes vital for the shrub’s care. Most likely the tree will let you know that it’s not getting enough nutrients from the soil. The leaves will look discolored and the foliage lacks its usual density and vigor. During the first 4 to 5 years of the tree’s life, you need to fertilize it three times a year. The first in the early spring with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. The second application in May with a balanced fertilizer. Finally, finish the year off with one last application in October. For organic fertilization, you can use aged manure once every couple of years.
Frequent watering is important for the survival of the young honeyberry. Since its roots float near the surface of the soil, it will get most of its water from irrigation or rainfall. Keep the soil moist as best you can, providing the tree with about one to two inches of water every week. In the fall, you’ll need to cut back on irrigation until the next spring.
Even though bumblebees will shoulder the burden of pollinating your honeyberries, you still need to have between three to five different cultivars growing in close proximity. That’s because both the male and female flowers develop at different times and each variety needs to be pollinated by pollen from a different cultivar.
If waiting for the cutting to develop roots tested your patience, you won’t have to wait for long to taste the first berries from your very own honeyberry shrub. By the end of the first year, you’ll have ripe berries beckoning you to pick them and eat them fresh off the tree.
To test the berries for ripeness, give them a tug, if they come off the tree easily, then it’s time to harvest them. Pick all your berries at once and store them in the freezer. They tend to perish quickly in the fridge.