Whether you’re using shrubs as foundation plantings or privacy hedges, one thing is for sure, not all shrubs would get the job done. Some shrubs fall short on the privacy part, while others don’t just fit right within your landscaping designs. That’s where salal berries come in.
The salal shrub is a versatile plant that suits many of your gardening purposes. Even as a specimen plant, the salal shrub with its pink flowers and dark purple berries adds style to your garden whether alone or in combination with other plants. So how do you plant and take care of this popular shrub?
What is Salal?
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is an evergreen shrub with robust and wholesome foliage. The leaves have a leathery feel about them and look dark green all year round. Both the leaves and the flowers are often used for ornamentation as floral arrangements. The flowers are bell-shaped and sit atop of a 6-inch stalk. The young leaves maintain their fresh look for many days.
A native of the west coast, salal shrubs grow in the wild everywhere between California and British Columbia. In gardens and lawns, they are usually grown along with other native plants such as ferns, rhododendrons, and azaleas to create eye-catching designs.
The bloom season for salal is during the spring while the clusters of fruit appear in the fall and winter. The berries are small and round with a dark purple tint. They’re favored by both humans and birds as a source of food. They make great jelly.
The shrubs don’t grow to great heights. They average between 2 and 8 feet. Some salal plants reach 16 feet in the wild but they’re rare. You might come across the shrub covering the floors of coniferous forests as well as coastal areas. The hardy salal has a high tolerance for salty conditions and being close to the sea doesn’t impact its growth.
Benefits and Uses of Salal
As a multi-purpose shrub, salal is a focal point in many gardens and landscapes. Its benefits and uses are just as varied. Both in domesticated environments and wildlife, salal has a lot to offer. Here are some of the most common uses of this shrub.
- The purple fruits are eaten fresh by birds. If you fancy jelly, the berries have a nice flavor.
- Dried fruits serve as stuffing for pies and cakes.
- The flowers and foliage make attractive floral arrangements.
- As a superfood, salal berries are rich in antioxidants and tannin which cleanse the blood and prevent cardiovascular diseases.
- Young offshoots give the soup a distinct and desirable flavor.
- During the winter months when food is scarce, wildlife such as deer and elk subsist on the evergreen foliage.
- In gardens and lawns, salal is used mainly for its landscaping qualities. It grows fast and spreads quickly to cover large areas in the right conditions.
- When used in screening and privacy hedges, the shrub provides protection all year round.
- Salal is a pest-free shrub. It doesn’t succumb to diseases and doesn’t attract bugs.
- The shrub is great for stabilizing hillsides and slopes with shifting topsoil.
- Salal grows well with other native plants and shrubs and can coexist along with other shrubs. That said, you might need to curb the spread of the shrub with concrete barriers or keeping the surrounding soil very dry.
How to Grow the Salal Plant?
With all these benefits, it’s no wonder that salal is finding a place in many gardens. So how would you go about introducing this evergreen shrub into your lawn or garden? Here’s what you need to pay attention to.
You need to choose the area or spot for planting salal carefully. It prefers the shade over sunlight and it needs to be moist often. As an evergreen plant, salal needs water and nourishment all year round. You can plant it near ditches, water streams, and drip pipes to ensure it gets enough moisture.
The perfect soil for salal is one that is slightly acidic. If your soil is on the alkaline side, you might need to add neutralizing organic matter. A thick layer of sawdust, peat moss, and sulfur works wonders in helping the shrub take root and establish. Make sure the area is clear of vegetation such as grass and weeds since the salal seedlings need plenty of nutrition to grow and don’t like competition.
In addition to the organic matter, you add to change the chemical structure of the soil, you’ll also need to add a generous dose of compost. If you have manure and can tolerate the smell, that too gives the shrub plenty of nutrition and speeds its development. Mix the fertilizer well with the topsoil as deep as 12 inches. Water the area thoroughly after you add the compost or manure so that the nutrition spreads and feeds the roots of the plant.
For a hardy shrub, salal is a little finicky when it comes to potting and transplanting. It is usually recommended that you plant the seeds directly in the permanent location you chose for the plant. But if you need to pot them first, then you need to be cautious when transplanting the frail seedlings. Prepare a hole in the ground for each plant and make sure it’s deeper and wider than the pot the seed germinated in.
Make sure each salal seedling has enough space around it to grow and spread out. Space the plants about 4 feet apart to prevent competition. In many cases, the shrub can grow out of control. So constant care and maintenance are required.
Salal Berries Care
While the growth rates of salal are impressive, sometimes an overgrown shrub with bushy patterns is not exactly what you want. This is especially true when planting the shrub for its landscaping qualities. In general, salal care boils down to two important processes.
You’ll be spending some time trimming and pruning salal offshoots and keeping the unruly twigs under control. The best time to prune it is in the spring right before the growth cycle. Clear out any dead twigs and branches to maintain its healthy look. To prevent excess growth, remove the suckers at the base. This will keep the shrub in check and slow down its wild growth.
Another way to balance the soil and give it the acidity level that suits the shrub is to add pine needles and wood chips. Cover the area around the plants with a 3-inch thick layer of mulch to preserve the moisture in the soil. Mulch helps with water retention and prevents the growth of weeds and grass under the shrubs.
Harvesting and Propagation
Since both the leaves and fruits have their uses in your kitchen, harvesting both should be top of your priorities. You can get new offshoots as well as adult leaves to add flavor to your home-cooked meals all year round.
As for berries, they become ripe in the late summer, end of July and early August. Collect them quickly as soon as they’re ready before birds pick them up one by one. However, if you can wait, it’s better to let frost improve the taste and flavor. Fresh berries are used to make jam, jelly, and preserves.
To propagate salal, you can either use seeds, division, or cuttings. For seeds, it’s better to plant them in the fall as we discussed above. If you prefer to cut twigs from the shrubs, then you need to plant them early. Mid-summer is usually the right time as it gives the new plants enough time to establish before the chilly winter months.
Another way to propagate salal is through division. Here, you’ll need to remove the suckers and plant them in their permanent places. Maintain the spacing requirements we mentioned earlier of at least 5 feet between each plant. You can plant the sucker growths either during the spring or fall months.