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  • Writer's pictureMaria

it's the berries!

illustration of purple berry on a green stalk

Berry bushes and fruiting shrubs are an easy way to add edible plants to your landscaping. Most berries are perennial and quick to establish themselves and grow. They're less fussy than fruit trees—much less susceptible to insect or fungal pestsso you don't need to spray.

Many grow quickly and some spread and increase each year—a huge benefit. Plus, delicious, in-season berries have amazing health benefits with lots of vitamins and antioxidants. Once you get going and are harvesting extra fruit, turn your bounty fun easily to year-round enjoyment by making jam, drying, or freezing them.

The consummate blueberry

There are plenty of types of berries to choose from, too. A favorite is blueberry form the genus Vaccinium which includes cranberries, bilberries, huckleberries and Madeira blueberries. Farmers plant bushes in groups of mixed species, primarily to cross-pollination and extend the picking season. Blueberries ripen July through August. Be they high-bush or low-bush varieties, all are handsome plants whose leaves turn a beautiful shade of red in the fall. Blueberry's biggest shortcoming? Birds. (more on that below).

The bramble bunch

The Rubus genus includes blackberries, raspberries, wineberries, blackcaps and their kin. They're not beautiful plants, but form an impenetrable hedge if you want a delicious but firm boundary from a neighbor. These "bushes" spread like wild and need only to be pruned of old growth each spring. Countless varieties fruit summer through fall - it's certainly luxurious to have all the raspberries you can eat!

Pretty and unusual

Autumn olive is a woody bush with silvery leaves that resemble its namesake. Originally from Asia, autumn olives were cultivated in the 1950s to control erosion. They adapted so well that they're now considered invasive, so don't add them to your garden - the ones growing wild are easy to spot. The fruit, which ripens in October, is a beautiful, small, red, tart berry that's delicious on its own, and also can be used to make a nice variation on cranberry sauce for your holiday table.

The outlaw fruit

My very favorite shrub, currant, comes in three colors: red, white, black. The bushes are pretty and grow quickly. Red currants taste very tart with a tropical fruit flavor. They take lots of sweetener to be eaten but are great used with other, sweeter berries in desserts and pies. White currants I've never tasted. But black currants—wow! sweet and complex, winey and a little piney. Crème de cassis liqueur is made from black currants. The tangy currrant is nearly forgotten in most recipes. In the early 1900s, it was believed that currants carried a pine fungus threatening the logging industry - so they were outlawed! New York lifted its ban in 2003 and the bandit fruit is slowly making a comeback. Black currants contain an amazingly high vitamin C content, as well as a host of other vitamins and good-for-you phytochemicals. Black currant's nutrition factors inhibit heart disease, cancer, infections...even Alzheimer's disease. And, to top it off, black currant leaves are scented and make delicious tea.

A berry in flight

From the same genus Ribis, gooseberries are the monster-size, tart uncle of currants, beloved in England. The bush is smaller and thorny, but the berries are bigger. Sour and sweet, they boast a flavor all their own. Find them wild, as they transplant well. but beware of the prickly stems.

Start a berry patch

When you plant most berry bushes, follow the specific directions you get with the plant. But in general, a few easy steps set you out on Peter Rabbit-worthy berry patch:

  • Make a hole at least twice as big as the root ball

  • Pour in lots of peat moss or compost

  • Wet hole contents well

  • Place transplant into hole and fluff out any roots that you see on the outside of the root ball

  • Fill with soil and lightly pack so that all the roots have contact with your soil mixture

  • Water again, and be sure to water regularly the first year, for a good start.

Pesky pests

The main pests your berry plants might face are birds, birds who also love berries. If you need to, protect your bushes several ways:

  • Cover bushes with netting

  • Host the new, inflatable scarecrows that look like Tibetan eyes—they're meant to mimic the eyes of birds of prey

  • Play solar-powered recordings of adversarial bird-calls (those angry calls are a bit annoying to humans, too).

  • I've heard that, back in the day, people planted mulberry trees to entice the birds away from the other fruit plants, so if you're lucky to have an old one in your garden, keep it (it works for us!).

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