Consider berry bushes this spring
No need to choose between planting either an ornamental or a fruiting bush in your yard. Plant both with a single plant! Many berry bushes are pretty enough to be grown as landscape plants.
Let’s foray out into the yard to see which bushes are best at offering these dual pleasures.
Blueberries are an attractive and tasty place to begin this berry sampler. They are truly year-round ornamentals. Spring brings clusters of blossoms dangling from stems like dainty, white bells. Summer brings soft, slightly bluish, greenery which, come fall, ignites into a fiery red. Even in winter, the stems turn red to offer a bright contrast to a snowy backdrop.
In some gardens, birds try to monopolize every blueberry. If birds threaten, drape bird netting over the bushes while the fruits are ripening, or construct a decorative, walk-in, bird-tight cage, either permanent or temporary. Alternatively, do nothing and take your chances.
Blueberries require a soil that is moist, very acidic and rich in humus. Provide these conditions by testing the acidity of your soil and adjusting it to the requisite pH of 4 to 5.5, and by mixing a generous bucketful of peat moss into each planting hole. After planting, spread a few inches of leaves, wood chips, sawdust or some other weed-free organic mulch over the ground, to be replenished every year.
Blueberries like the same soil as rhododendrons, mountain laurels and azaleas, so why not mingle them with these other beautiful shrubs?
A blueberry relative that’s also ideal for “luscious landscaping” is lingonberry. This one’s a spreading groundcover less than 6 inches high and decked out year-round in dark, lustrous green leaves. The red berries, tart but tasty fresh or in sauces and jams, decorate the stems all winter long. Lingonberry enjoys the same soil conditions as its blueberry kin.
More cosmopolitan in its soil likes and dislikes is juneberry. It exists in both tree and bush forms, and all sport cheery white or pink flowers in early spring, blazing orange and purple foliage in fall, and neat growth habits all year. Juneberry plants are better known for their beauty than for their fruits, but the berries — which look like blueberries — provide their own unique gustatory experience: They’re sweet and juicy, with the richness of sweet cherry and a hint of almond.
Nanking cherry is another bush more often planted as an ornamental than for its fruit. It has just one season of flamboyance, but what flamboyance that is! In early spring, the whole bush bursts into a dense cloud of pinkish white blossoms.
Plant two Nanking cherries for cross-pollination and just about all those flowers will go on to become fruits. The cherries are small, pink or red, and refreshingly semi-sweet. Birds may or may not eat some fruits, but no matter. Production is so profuse that you won’t notice the loss.
Much of the beauty of red currant bushes lies in the berries themselves, dangling from the branches like strings of jewels. The delicate spheres are so translucent that you can see the seeds floating within when the berries are backlit by sunlight.
Currants also are among the few fruits that bear well even in partial shade.
Red currants are the most common ones, but don’t overlook equally beautiful white currants, essentially the same fruit except for their color.
A bush to please all your senses
Perhaps the star performer among bushes for edible landscaping is a relatively unknown currant called the clove currant. It was a common dooryard plant in Victorian times. The name hints at why it was planted near the house: In spring, the flowers pour out a spicy, clove-like fragrance. The tart fruit is very aromatic, good for jam or just popped into your mouth as you walk around your yard.
As if fragrance and fruit were not enough, clove currant’s abundant flowers also put on an-eye catching show. Each blossom is a long yellow trumpet, with a spot of red in its center.
Native to the upper Midwest, the clove currant is also tough, able to laugh off drought, heat, cold, insects, diseases, even deer.