Festive Garden Fruits and Berries of Fall

Beautyberries offer one of the most brilliant and memorable shows of fall and there are many species from which to choose.

Depending on where you live, October can be a time when the last of the late summer and early fall color is fading from the garden.  The asters are almost finished, the goldenrod is going, and most of the color comes from potted mums and Halloween pumpkins.

But your landscape does not have to succumb to drabness. There is an answer to the color dilemma—shrubs and trees with eye-catching fruits or berries.  Taking center stage with gem-like red, black, purple, or yellow fruit, these plants multi-task by beautifying the garden while providing food for birds and small animals.   The following species and varieties are among the best investments for the four-season landscape.

Passionate Purple Beautyberry

Beautyberries will remain on the shrubs after the leaves fall until they get snapped up by birds.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa ssp.) more than lives up to its name, with clusters of vivid purple berries hugging the stems, which also bear ovoid, slightly toothed green leaves.   A member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, deciduous beautyberry boasts bronze spring foliage, small pink summer flowers, and fall berries–all on graceful, arching stems.   There are several species of beautyberry available commercially.  Among the most popular is ‘Profusion’; a variety of Bodinier’s beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri), which is celebrated for its heavy crops of fall berries.  Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8,  ‘Profusions’ grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, perfect for use as a specimen plant, an anchor in a large garden bed, or en masse to form a noteworthy hedge. Other available species include native American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana),  which is slightly more heat-tolerant than other species and hardy in zones 6 through 10; the slightly smaller purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), hardy in zones 5 through 8; and  Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica), hardy in the same USDA Hardiness Zones.  All will thrive in full sun to light shade and can withstand clay soil.  They should be pruned back in late winter for health and appearance’s sake.

A Non-Traditional American Cranberry

American cranberries simply glow against their red and purple changing foliage.

The universe of beautiful viburnums is large, but highbush cranberry, also known as cranberry viburnum or American cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum), is one of the loveliest in autumn.  It is not a true cranberry but bears edible fall fruit in a brilliant shade of red.  As the name suggests, highbush cranberry is native to North America and grows large—8 to 12 feet tall and wide—but delivers a lot in return for that significant investment of garden space.  In spring the shrubs sport flat-topped flower clusters reminiscent of Queen Anne’s lace, followed by dark green leaves, with three lobes apiece and an appearance akin to maple foliage.  The leaves sometimes color up in fall before disappearing, but the crimson berries tend to outshine them. 

Highbush cranberry is hardy in zones 2 through 7,  performs well in full sun to light shade, and can survive cold winters.  The flowers are beloved by butterflies and the fruits are attractive to birds.  Humans can use them in much the same way as true cranberries—in jams, jellies, and confections.

Golden Crabapples

Golden Harvest crabapples literally glow on the branches after the leaves fall and birds love them.

All flowering crabapple trees (Malus spp.) are beautiful, and, at anywhere from 6 to 20 feet tall, depending on variety, compact enough for many home landscapes.  They flower in spring in a frothy burst of pink buds that open to pink or white blossoms, with single or double rows of petals.  Some never fruit, but many crown the fall season with small round apples in shades of pink to rosy red.  The much-loved Sargeant crabapple (Malus sargentii),  is a dwarf variety that can be grown as a large shrub or standardized as a small tree, is one of the red-fruited varieties. It is hardy in zones 4 through 7. 

Red is heartening, but yellow or gold-fruited crabapples are especially dramatic.  Cultivars like the rosy gold fruits of ‘Golden Harvest’, clear golden yellow fruits of ‘Golden Raindrops‘, and the larger, edible, golden crabapples of ‘Golden Hornet’, which is also a Royal Horticultural Society award winner. All are hardy to zones 4 through 8  and produce abundant, showy fruits that are beloved of birds and humans.

Crabapple fruits are not as persistent as some fall berries but are beautiful while they last.  Many varieties also feature leaves that color up in the fall, prolonging the brilliant show.

Flowering crabs are tolerant trees, able to flourish in clay soil and withstand drought, once established in sunny locations.  Prune to shape in late winter.

Brilliant Chokeberry

Brillant chokeberry has colorful fruits and its leaves turn from green to red in fall. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Chokeberry is an unattractive name for a very attractive, deciduous flowering and fruiting shrub.  Aronia melanocarpa, known as black chokeberry, is the most common chokeberry in commerce.  A member of the rose or Rosaceae family, black chokeberry is native to the eastern half of North America and is hardy in zones 3 through 8. 

In the spring, the shrub starts with small clusters of five-petaled white flowers, which lure bees and other pollinators.  These give way to glossy black fruits in the fall.  If the birds do not get them all, the fruits may persist after frost.  Though edible, they are sour but can be cooked and sweetened to make jellies, relishes, and other dishes.  Chokeberry fruits share the spotlight with the leaves, which turn red-purple in fall before dropping from the plants.  Black chokeberry is the smallest of the Aronia species at three to six feet tall and wide. 

Black chokeberry has edible fruits and brilliant orange-red fall leaf color.

Chokeberry lovers who crave red fruits can invest in Aronia arbutifolia or red chokeberry, which grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide and is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9.  A slightly more cold-hardy black chokeberry/red chokeberry hybrid, Aronia x prunifolia produces dark purple fruits on shrubs that grow 8 to twelve feet tall and 6 to 9 feet wide. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7.

Chokeberries are suckering shrubs that can form thickets if left untended.  They crave consistent moisture and are happy in moist or even swampy spots, including pond or stream edges.

Giving Fruiting Trees and Shrubs a Good Start

Beautyberry, highbush cranberry, crabapple, and chokeberry are relatively unfussy plants but benefit from a good start.  Site in sunny locations and amend the soil at planting time with nutritious Fafard Garden Manure Blend.  Water regularly to establish root systems, and keep chokeberries irrigated during dry spells. (Click here for a full guide to properly siting and planting shrubs and trees.)

The Ten Most Beautiful Edibles

Ornamental vegetables look pretty when planted in tidy, geometric arrangements.

The traditional French potager, or kitchen garden, combined both edible and ornamental elements to create beds that were both beautiful and productive. Given the array of fruit, vegetable, and herb varieties available now, just about anyone can do the same thing. 

Grow The Edibles That You Love

Where should you start?  As always, grow what you love, starting with edible varieties that you most want to eat.  There is no point in raising a beautiful zucchini if you hate that vegetable.  Once you know what you want to grow, search through garden centers, online, and catalog vendors to find the most beautiful varieties.  Remember that some plants have lovely leaves, others sprout gorgeous flowers, and still, others boast flashy stems.  A few combine all of those things.

Next, decide whether you want to grow from seed or buy as small starter plants. Starter plants get larger sooner, but the selection of varieties may be smaller. Growing from seed requires more patience, but the choices are larger.  Your potager can be beautiful either way.

The Ten Most Beautiful Edible Crops

Bushy Blueberries

Jelly Bean® is beautiful and produces lots of delicious berries. (Image by Bushel and Berry®)

Blueberries are three-season stunners, sporting bell-shaped pinkish-white flowers in spring, glaucous blue fruits in early summer, and bright red fall leaves.  The most widely grown and hybridized type is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), including the popular large-fruited ‘Chandler’, but these tend to be leggier and less bushy. For tidy, attractive landscape shrubs with loads of berries, the better option is lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) types, like ‘Top Hat’, which is compact, bushy, and has nice, dense, foliage.  Container and small-space gardeners may prefer designer varieties, like the boxwood-like Jelly Bean®, which grows only 12 to 24 inches tall and wide, bears lots of small berries, and has flame-red fall color.  All crave fast-draining, acid soil, and full sun.

Personnel at your local garden center can help you choose species and varieties suitable to your region and space situation.

Feathery Fennel

Bulb fennel is delicious and its feathery foliage and white bulbs look striking in a garden or container.

Anise-flavored fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a member of the carrot family, is a beautiful garden plant in either its green or purple-leafed (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) forms.  Leaf fennel is grown for its decorative, feathery, sweet-tasting leaves. Bulb fennel, like the ‘Orazio’ variety, is grown for its swollen bulbs.  In both types, all parts of the plant are edible.  The flowers will remind you of fennel’s carrot-family relative, Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot, and will eventually provide fennel seeds for culinary use.  Swallowtail butterflies also use the fennel as a host plant, making the kitchen garden even more beautiful.

Striking Swiss Chard

The highly ornamental Swiss chard comes in shades of yellow, orange, red, pink, and white.

Spinach-like Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) leaves can be harvested when young or mature and eaten raw or cooked.  In the garden, the showy stems of ‘Ruby Red’ or ‘Bright Yellow’ or Bright Lights Mix light up the landscape.  These relatives of common beets grow best in sunny spots where the soil is somewhat alkaline. Swiss chard tastes sweeter as fall temperatures drop and will continue to ornament your garden and provide culinary ingredients well into late fall. Plants may even overwinter in mild- to warm-winter climates.

Colorful Winter Squash

Striped ‘Delicata’ squash are beautiful as are the deepest orange kabocha squash (far left).

The cucurbit family of plants includes all kinds of squashes, melons, and cucumbers. Most are edible, though a few, like ornamental gourds, are grown mostly for decorative value. All start with large, funnel-shaped blooms, and some yield fruits pretty enough to ornament even the most lavish potager. Among the showier cucurbits is delicata squash (Cucurbito pepo ‘Delicata’), a winter squash that features cylindrical fruits striped in cream, yellow, and green. The skin is thin and the flesh is sweet and especially good baked. Another winter squash for bright color in the garden and on a harvest table are Japanese kabocha squashes. The deepest red ‘Red Kuri’ (C. maxima ‘Red Kuri’) has very sweet flesh and is an excellent winter keeper.

Plant squash in hills—8- to 10-inch tall soil mounds—provide plenty of water, and make sure the plants have enough sunny space, as they tend to sprawl.  The vines can also be trained to grow up sturdy supporting structures like trellises or fences.

Flashy Cabbage

Purple cabbages can be very striking in fall gardens! This is also when they taste best.

Some gardeners grow ornamental cabbages and kales purely for fall decorations.  But edible cabbage varieties (Brassica oleracea Capitata Group) can be just as lovely.  One beauty is ‘Deadon’, a Savoy-type cabbage with brilliant magenta-purple leaves.  Another is ‘Red Express’, an early-yielding variety with purple and grey-green leaves.  In both varieties, the color deepens as fall weather cools off.

Cabbages like rich soil, full sun, and regular moisture, and benefit from soil amended with a product like Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost.

Colorful Okra

If you don’t grow okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) for its tasty pods, you might be tempted to grow it for the flowers alone or the attractive dried winter pods. The blooms and leaves betray okra’s membership in the mallow family (Malvaceae), which is also home to hibiscus and hollyhocks.  The main stalks grow somewhat slowly, but the flowers–pale yellow trumpets accented by maroon centers—are worth the wait.  Eventually, the edible pods appear. The red pods of ‘Bowling Red‘ are especially pretty. The bold plants reach a whopping 7-8 feet tall.

Okra loves warmth, so plant it when day and nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  While not as thirsty as some other edible plants, they appreciate at least one inch of water per week, along with enriched soil.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Scarlet runner beans are delicious, pretty, and great for kids’ gardens.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and humans are all drawn to the brilliant red flowers of scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus).  The flowers are edible, but leaving them on the fast-growing vines yields tender beans after about 45 days. Picking the beans triggers more blooms and fruits, so harvest often. Trained up teepees, trellises, or other supports located in sunny spots, scarlet runner beans make great focal points for the vegetable garden.

Purple Cauliflower

Purple cauliflower can be so bright it does not even look real.

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group) is showing up everywhere these days, from pizza crusts to cauliflower “rice”.  Those who really prize the cruciferous vegetable, like it best straight from the garden.  That garden can be much more beautiful when adorned with a purple cauliflower variety, like ‘Grafitti’ or ‘Purple of Sicily‘.

Cauliflower is a cool-season species that should be planted in early spring or early fall and receive consistent moisture.  Harvest when the heads are 6 to 8 inches wide.

Pink-Flowered Strawberries

Berried Treasure Pink has double-pink flowers and delicious red berries. (Image by Proven Winners)

Strawberry flowers are normally white and winsome, but for a little more color in containers or at the edges of beds, try one of the pink-flowered varieties, like ‘Toscana’, with its deepest magenta flowers, or the double-pale-pink flowered Berred Treasure Pink. Both plants produce pink flowers followed by juicy, red berries.  For best results, plant in a sunny spot with well-drained soil and water regularly. Strawberries are also right at home in pots filled with Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Like many strawberries, the plants reproduce by means of runners.

Variegated Lemon Thyme

Variegated lemon thyme is absolutely beautiful and has explosive lemon and thyme flavor!

Delectable and beautiful, variegated lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Variegata Aurea’) is another plant that works equally well as an edger, or a rock garden or container subject. The tiny fragrant leaves are green edged in creamy yellow and lemon-scented. Clusters of purple tubular flowers appear in July and beckon pollinators.  Harvest sprigs of leaves regularly to keep stems from becoming woody.  Like other thymes, the variegated variety prefers full sun and well-drained soil.

A Bucket of Blueberries

Grow a Bucket of Blueberries Featured Image

Whoever claimed that life is just a bowl of cherries was seriously misinformed. Life, at least a good life, should be more like a bucket of blueberries—sweet, plentiful and full of good things.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers look like small bells and bloom in spring. (Photo by Kurt Stüber)

The list of blueberry virtues goes on and on. Given acid soil, reasonable moisture, and sunshine, blueberries can grow about anywhere, as long as you chose a variety congenial to your climate. The pale pinkish spring flowers are extremely pretty in the garden and the fine foliage turns bright red before leaving the scene in the fall. If you—or the birds—don’t eat them all, the waxy berries are highly decorative. In one public garden, a double row of highbush blueberries frames a wide grass allée, an old-world design idea worked out with a native New World shrub

Blueberries have never really gone out of fashion, but they are even more modish now because of their nutritional benefits—lots of antioxidants, plus helpful fiber and useful amounts of vitamins A and C. They also taste a lot better than vitamin pills.

Blueberry Types

Low-bush blueberries
Low-bush blueberry

To know blueberry types is to love them even more. Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) are the wild blueberries native to eastern Canada and New England. Small and intensely flavorful, lowbush varieties are borne on low, spreading shrubs. They are sometimes harvested commercially and frequently harvested by eager berry pickers. Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are the titans of commercial production, but can also grow well in home gardens. The shrubs can be large, topping out at six to twelve feet tall and nearly as wide. These are hardy from USDA Hardiness Zone 3 through Zone 7, depending on variety, and produce big, blue fruits from July through August. Their relatives, southern highbush blueberries, have been bred for warmer climates and include varieties like ‘Avonblue’ and ‘Southland’.

Blueberries in pack

Another good blueberry species for southern climates is the whimsically named rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). While their namesake animals may be relatively small, rabbiteye bushes can grow up to eight or ten feet tall. Home growers can choose from many available cultivars.
And those home growers can harvest buckets of blueberries no matter whether the available space is a standard garden bed, raised growing area or even a large container. In recent years, with more consumers crying for small-space and container varieties, breeders have come up with dwarf blueberries, like the bushy Blueberry Glaze™, which grows only two to three feet tall, with a neat, mounding habit. Container growing is also useful for blueberry lovers with alkaline soil.

Planting Blueberries

Ripening blueberries
Beautiful blueberries ripening on the shrub. (photo by PhreddieH3)

To get growing, read plant tags carefully to ensure that you have sufficient space for mature height and width of the variety you choose. If you live south of USDA Zone 7, make sure that your blueberry will receive enough “chill hours” to fruit successfully in your garden. Your local cooperative extension agent should be able to help with that, but chances are, if the blueberry variety is on sale in a nursery near you, it will probably survive in your area. If you are ordering from a catalog or online vendor, call and ask about climate-suitable blueberry choices.

If you are planning to plant your blueberry bush in a container or raised bed, fill with a quality medium like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed. The sphagnum peat moss content in the mix provides the acidity that blueberries crave.

Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed and RESILIENCE pack

Before you plant anywhere, make sure that your chosen site receives five or six hours of daily sunlight. Sink the root ball so that its top is level with the top of the planting hole. Water in the young blueberry, and once it is planted, mulch with two inches of organic material, arranged doughnut-style, so it does not touch the blueberry canes. Water regularly while the plant establishes itself.

Blueberry Care

Experts advise pruning off the flowers of your blueberry in the first year, so the plant puts all its energy into growth. This may not be as necessary with dwarf varieties. Water during dry spells, especially with container-grown bushes. Since birds and sometimes small mammals love blueberries as much as humans, cover the shrub with netting as soon as the green berries start to take on a blue cast. Harvest your berries when they are deep blue and come off easily, checking the plant every couple of days for additional ripe berries. If you can resist eating the blueberries out of hand, use them within a few days or freeze for later.

Highbush blueberries
Highbush blueberries

In the fall, fertilize the shrubs according to manufacturer’s directions with a product designed for acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. Highbush types should be pruned in late winter to eliminate dead branches and thin out old wood. Cutting back one old cane (stem) for every new one keeps the blueberry healthy and helps ensure a good harvest each year.

Author Jacquelyn Mitchard said, “You’ll never regret eating blueberries or working up a sweat.” You can argue about the sweating part, but just about everyone can agree on the berries.

Growing Raspberries and Blackberries

Wild blackberries
Freshly picked wild blackberries. (Image by Loadmaster)

Few summer treats can compare to a bowl of sweet fresh-picked raspberries or blackberries. Borne on the brambly stems (or “canes”) of shrubs in the genus Rubus, these toothsome morsels are about as delectable as hardy fruits get. And thanks to the efforts of modern breeders, growing raspberries and blackberries is easier than ever. There’s a brambly berry for just about every culinary garden!

Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis)
Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) ready for the picking. (image care of USDA, ARS)

What are Brambles?

Botanically speaking, each raspberry or blackberry is in fact a cluster (or “aggregate”) of fused, fleshy seed capsules, individually known as drupelets. The drupelets develop on the domed centers of the white, often inconspicuous, bee-pollinated flowers.

Bramble berries come in several colors including red, orange, yellow, purple, and black, with numerous hybrids between the variously colored types. Most brambles are hardy into colder regions of the United States (USDA Hardiness Zone 5 or so), but some are best suited for milder climes.

Fortunately, perhaps the hardiest of the lot are the red raspberries, widely regarded as the cream of the bramble crop. All derive from Rubus idaeus, a prickly, suckering shrub native to much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Hundreds of selections and hybrids of the species are in cultivation, each selected for the flavor, abundance, and timing of its fruits.

Standard forms of red raspberry flower and fruit on the growth of the previous year, ripening their fruits in early summer. So-called everbearing varieties go them one crop better by also producing blooms and berries in late summer on the current season’s growth (known as “primocanes”). Everbearing raspberries can be tip-pruned in early spring for two crops, or sheared close to the ground for a single large late-season harvest.

Colorful Rubus berries
A colorful mix of Rubus berries. (image care of USDA, ARS)

Growing Red Raspberries

Red raspberry plants thrive in sun and fertile humus-rich soil (amend or mulch lean or heavy soil with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost). Plant the canes in widely spaced rows (10 feet or so apart), removing suckers that wander more than a couple feet from the rows’ centers.

Recommended summer-fruiting varieties include ‘Killarney’, ‘Nova’ (which fruits a bit later than ‘Killarney’), and ‘Encore’ (which ripens later still). Everbearing red raspberries include ’Autumn Bliss’ and ‘Heritage’ (the latter bearing its fall crop too late for areas with short growing seasons). Yellow-fruited cultivars of Rubus idaeus include ‘Anne’ and ‘Fallgold’ (both everbearing).

Growing Black Raspberries

The eastern U.S. native Rubus occidentalis – commonly known as black raspberry – has sired several cultivars that make excellent choices for cold-climate gardens. The aromatic, dome-shaped berries mature to purple-black in late spring or early summer, depending on the variety. Look for the large-fruited, midseason-bearing ‘Jewel’, and the relatively early-fruiting ‘Haut’.

Black raspberries have similar soil and sun requirements to those of their red kin. Plant them (as well as blackberries and purple raspberries) at 4-foot intervals in rows spaced 8 to 12 feet apart. Prune the tips of black raspberry (and blackberry) primocanes in spring as soon as they reach full height, and remove all second-year canes after they fruit.

Red raspberries
Sweet, red raspberries are a real summer treat!

Growing Blackberries

Least hardy of the brambles are the group known as blackberries, a complex swarm of cultivars deriving from a hodgepodge of species. Their large, relatively elongated fruits ripen as the black raspberry season comes to a close. Relatively few blackberry cultivars are reliably hardy north of USDA Zone 6, and many hit their stride only in mild-winter areas such as the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. Among the best of the hardiest cultivars are ‘Darrow’ and ‘Illini Hardy’, which succeed into USDA Zone 5.

Gardeners in warmer districts can choose from a broad array of blackberries, including numerous thornless, semi-erect cultivars developed by the University of Arkansas and other breeding programs.

Crosses between red raspberries and black raspberries have yielded yet another tribe of brambles: purple raspberries. Intermediate in color, size, and hardiness between the two parent types, this group is best known by the cultivar ‘Brandywine’, whose large, flavorful, tart fruits come later than those of most other raspberries. Other notable cultivars include ‘Royalty’ and ‘Success’.

The various colors and seasons of bloom of modern raspberry and blackberry varieties offer a spectrum of delicious possibilities for bramble fanciers. Continuous spring-to fall harvest of berries is there for the growing, in a rainbow of colors. It’s a great time to be a bramblephile.

Thornless blackberries are easier to harvest!

Growing Summer Fruits in the Garden

Fresh strawberries
Nothing tastes like fresh strawberries straight from the summer garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

For centuries, traditional cottage gardeners have included an array of summer fruits in their beds and borders. Today’s gardeners—even those with very limited space—can do the same. Fruiting plants are a gardener’s best friends because they do double or even triple duty: beautifying the garden with lovely spring flowers, producing edible fruit and even sometimes brightening the fall landscape with colorful leaves.

Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil pack
Strawberry pots or large containers of berries perform well in Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil.

The only real requirements for seasonal fruit growing are a desire to produce fresh food, a bit of sunny space and good soil—even if that soil is in a container filled with a quality medium like Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix. If poor garden soil is a problem, boost quality with an ample helping of nutrients, like those in Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend.

Start your fruit growing adventure with a favorite fruit, or, choose types like raspberries or peaches that are not well suited to being shipped long distances from growers to retailers.
The following summer fruit categories are among the most popular with home gardeners.


Colourful raspberries
Raspberries come in many colors.

Raspberries and blackberries are the best-known brambles, but the genus Rubus is also home to popular hybrids including loganberries, boysenberries, marionberries, and tayberries. Summer-bearing (as opposed to fall-bearing) brambles are among the easiest fruits to grow, producing large, sweet berries borne on often-prickly canes. Traditional raspberry and blackberry varieties bear fruit on second-year stems and are often trained on wires for ease of harvesting. Older bramble varieties require substantial growing space, but some newer dwarf types produce equally impressive fruit when grown in large containers. Whether the plants are cultivated in-ground or in containers, the ripening fruit is attractive to birds and small animals and should be protected with netting. Prune fruiting canes to the ground after the harvest.


Whether grown in dedicated beds, large containers or special, multi-pocketed jars, low-growing strawberries (Frageria spp.) are longtime home gardening favorites. Commercially available strawberry varieties are either June-bearing, producing a single large crop in June; or ever-bearing, producing fruit throughout the growing season. For best fruit set, grow two separate ever-bearing or June-bearing varieties in close proximity to each other. In-ground strawberry beds should be mulched with straw to protect the berries from botrytis or gray mold. Strawberry beds should also be rotated every few years to prevent nutrient depletion and disease proliferation. The soil in containers used to grow strawberries should be changed every year or two.


Clusters of blueberries
Clusters of pink or white bell-shaped blueberry flowers give way to clusters of ripe summer fruits.

Blueberries are members of the Vaccinium genus, related to heaths and heathers. The shrubs are decorative enough for mixed borders, supplying pink spring flowers, blue summer fruit, and red autumn leaves. All blueberry types need some amount of winter chilling time, with lowbush and northern highbush types requiring the most chilling, while southern highbush and rabbiteye types require the least. Consult local vendors or extension agents to determine which types work best in your area. Blueberries also need acid soil, in the 4 to 5.5 pH range. If soil tests show that your soil is too alkaline, acidify by mixing in amendments such as sulfur or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost.

Fruit trees provide both ornamental and edible value. (photo by USDA, ARS)
Fruit trees provide both ornamental and edible value. (photo by USDA, ARS)

Stone Fruits

Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries are members of the Prunus genus. Commonly known as “stone fruits,” because of their hard central seeds or pits, the trees feature billowing clusters of five-petaled flowers in shades of white or pink. When selecting a tree for a home garden or orchard, make sure to pick a variety that is reliably hardy in your USDA hardiness zone. If space is limited or the tree will be grown in a large container, choose a dwarf variety, which will reach a mature height of only 8 to 10 feet tall and wide.

Many stone fruit trees are self-fertile, requiring only a single specimen for pollination and fruit set, but others, especially sweet cherries, may require two different varieties. Check with the vendor to be sure. All stone fruits prefer loamy, well-drained soil. Though members of the Prunus tribe have been grown successfully for centuries, they can be problematic because of susceptibility to climate conditions, pests, and diseases. Consult an experienced grower, local extension agent or a reference source for tips on best cultural practices.


Ripening at summer’s end, melons generally require ample space and a bit of patience, but they are worth the wait. Cantaloupe, watermelons and other favorite melon varieties are members of the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family, most of which grow from large, flattened seeds. Melons need rich soil and a minimum of several months of warm weather to grow fat and sweet. Gardeners without abundant square footage should choose bush varieties, like ‘Bush Sugar Baby’ watermelon, or train melon plants up a sturdy trellis or other support. Heavy ripening fruits will require additional bracing to prevent stems from breaking too soon.

Growing Cranberries (for Nantucket Cranberry Pie)


Growing Cranberries (For Nantucket Cranberry Pie) Featured Image

Despite its association with bogs, both in commercial cultivation and in nature, cranberry requires no such sogginess in home gardens, prospering in highly acidic, humus-rich soil that doesn’t dry out. The wiry, carpeting, slender-leaved stems are perfect for covering small slopes, walls, and hollows, and are particularly effective near paths and patios, where the fine-textured foliage, small pinkish early-summer bell-flowers, and showy red berries can receive the adulation (and harvesting) they deserve. Individual plants typically mature at 6- to 8-inches tall and 2- to 4-feet wide.

Cranberry Varieties

cranberry USDA
A cranberry in full fruit (Image care of USDA, ARS)

Most cultivated cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) varieties come courtesy of the cranberry industry, which has selected them for fruitfulness rather than for ornamental characteristics. A notable exception is ‘Hamilton’, a dwarf cultivar that slowly evolves into a dense, lustrous, foot-wide hummock, adorned in fall with normal-sized berries that loom large amid the tiny, congested leaves. This beauty merits the company of other small, special ornamental plants, the sort that dwell in rock gardens or troughs. It also works well as a solo container plant. Give it a good potting mix amended with peat moss, Fafard Premium Organic Compost, and a dollop of garden soil.

Although most commercial cranberry cultivars (such as ‘Stevens’) offer nothing exceptional in the way of habit and leafage, they are well worth a place in ornamental plantings, functioning as small-scale ground covers and offering a bumper crop of berries as a bonus. Where happy, they produce as much as a quarter-pound of fruit per square foot (expect some losses from insects and fungal disease). Add peat-rich Fafard Premium Organic Compost to the soil to boost soil organic content, if necessary, and elemental sulfur to increase acidity.

Cranberry Relatives

Lingonberry has glossy evergreen leaves.

Widely planted in Europe for food and for ornament, lingonberries (
Vaccinium vitis-idaea) have yet to establish a substantial beachhead in North American gardens. Perhaps this is because the most vigorous and easily grown forms occur in northern Eurasia, where they have long been cultivated for their cranberry-like fruits. Most European lingonberries spread relatively rapidly into dense, bushy, 8- to 12-inch-tall clumps. Clusters of pale pink, urn-shaped flowers open in late spring and summer, ripening to tomato-red fruits in late summer and fall. Cultivars abound, including the popular Koralle Group, which flower and fruit copiously on compact, 4- to 6-inch tussocks, and ‘Red Pearl’, whose large, quarter-inch- to half-inch-wide berries are borne on vigorous, wide-spreading plants with upright, 12-inch-tall branches.

Somewhat more adaptable than cranberry, European lingonberry takes readily to acidic, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full to partial sun, where it excels as a refined groundcover. Plant more than one variety for heaviest fruiting. Compact forms, such as the Koralle Group, make good subjects for containers (give them a highly organic potting mix amended with peat and garden soil).

The North American edition of lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus) inhabits bog margins and mountaintops from the northernmost United States to the Arctic Circle. Smaller, less fruitful, balkier, but more elegant than its European kin, it’s an ideal subject for rock gardens and large troughs in regions where summer temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees F.

In cooking, lingonberries play the same roles as cranberries, adding color and zest to preserves, sauces, and baked goods. They also freeze well, emerging from the fridge to bring a taste of fall to the midwinter table. Offering year-round beauty in the garden and fall-to-spring flavor in the kitchen, both of these little Vaccinium keep bringing joy long after the holiday cheer has ended.

Recipe: Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Nantucket Cranberry Pie
Nantucket cranberry pie is an easy and delicious fall pie.

A fast, easy pie of New England fame, the Nantucket cranberry pie has many variations, and all are delicious. The bottomless pie is covered with a nutty crumb topping and baked to perfection. Almond extract gives it a needed aromatic boost.

  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar (1/2 cup  for tart pie)
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 pat butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly grease a pie pan with a butter pat. Place the cranberries at the bottom of the pan then sprinkle with the walnuts and 2/3 cup sugar.

In a bowl, gently stir together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract and salt in a mixing bowl. Evenly pour the batter over the cranberries and walnuts. Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes.

Allow it to slightly cool before cutting. Serve the cooled pie with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream spiked with ginger. Top it with chopped candied ginger, if you like.