Landscape Your Home With Fruiting Edibles!

Landscape Your Home with Fruiting Edibles! Featured Image

Edible landscaping can be a kick – especially if you take full advantage of the dizzying diversity of fruiting trees and shrubs. While old-time (and often pest-prone) favorites, such as apples and pears, certainly have their place, so too do scores of lesser-known but equally rewarding fruit-bearing species, including those portrayed below. They’ll bring excitement and new flavors to your garden – as well as fewer pest problems than those ubiquitous old-timers. And many of them are beautiful to boot (which can’t be said of most apple and pear trees).

Carpeting Cranberries

Home-grown cranberries
Home-grown cranberries are rewarding and ecologically friendly.

Home-grown cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon, USDA Hardiness Zones 2-7) are so much more rewarding and ecologically friendly than market-bought ones. Even better, the plants that bear them are highly ornamental, their creeping stems weaving into dense ground-covering swaths of dainty glistening evergreen foliage. Give this North American native a moist humus-rich acidic soil and ample sun, and it will steadily spread into a 3-foot-wide, 6- to 8-inch-high hummock that covers itself in ornamental red berries in late summer.

Commercial cranberry varieties such as ‘Stevens’ produce especially heavy crops. Where space is limited, consider the dwarf cultivar ‘Hamilton’, which tops out at a foot wide and 4 inches high, but with normal-size berries. Plant two or more different varieties for maximum berry production. Native mostly to latitudes north of the Mason-Dixon Line, cranberry does best in areas with chilly winters and relatively unoppressive summers. Dig a couple of inches of Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix into the soil before planting, and your cranberries will be extra-happy.

Lingonberry is similar to cranberry in habit, foliage, preferred garden habitat, and culinary uses.

Also effective (and productive) as a small-scale ground cover is cranberry’s close cousin, lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea, zones 3-7). Similar to cranberry in habit, foliage, preferred garden habitat, and culinary uses, it bears clusters of pale-pink, urn-shaped flowers in late spring and summer that ripen to tomato-red pea-sized fruits in late summer and fall. Lingonberries going by the name of Koralle yield abundant fruits on spreading 8- to 12-inch-tall plants. The vigorous, large-fruited cultivar ‘Red Pearl’ grows a few inches taller and wider than Koralle.

Harvestable Hedges

Black chokecherries
Black chokecherry fruits are excellent for preserves, pies, and other kitchen uses.

A significant food crop in Europe, the eastern North American native Aronia melanocarpa (commonly known as black chokeberry) is surprisingly absent from American orchards and gardens. Yet this rugged deciduous shrub makes an outstanding ornamental and culinary plant for sunny niches throughout USDA Zones 3 to 8. Plants typically form suckering 3- to 5-foot-tall clumps clad with glossy-green oval leaves that turn brilliant sunset shades in fall. Abundant clusters of white flowers open toward the branch tips in mid-spring, followed by tart-flavored, quarter-inch-wide berries that ripen black-purple in late summer. The fruits are excellent for preserves, pies, and other kitchen uses. With its dense habit, black chokeberry works wonderfully as a low garden or boundary hedge.

Commercial cultivars such as ‘Viking’ (which may be a hybrid with mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia) produce the largest berries, on vigorously suckering stems. For residential gardens, ‘Autumn Magic’ and Iroquois Beauty™ are of relatively compact growth with somewhat smaller – but still toothsome – berries. Two newly introduced cultivars (Ground Hug™ and Low Scape Mound®) from the University of Connecticut’s breeding program are even more compact, maturing at 1 to 2 feet tall and producing modest crops of fruit. For maximum production, plant more than one cultivar of black chokeberry.

Beach plums
These fruits may small, but they’re unsurpassed for flavoring preserves, syrups, and vinegars.

The tart, grape-sized fruits of beach plum (Prunus maritima) may be small, but they’re unsurpassed for flavoring preserves, syrups, vinegar, and the like. Thousands of beach plum aficionados descend on Eastern Seaboard dunes in August and September to harvest the red-purple ripe fruits. Curiously, however, very few gardeners in beach plum’s Zone 3 to 8 hardiness range recognize its considerable merits as a culinary and ornamental plant.

Although a rather scraggly 3- to 5-foot thing in its native dune habitats, in average garden soil it forms a dense 6- to 12-foot clump well-suited for hedging. Blizzards of white flowers in mid-spring are followed by fruits if another beach plum is nearby for cross-pollination. Most plants bear irregularly from year to year, so look for selections – such as ‘Premier’ and ‘Jersey Beach Plum’ – that are more consistent producers. Cultivars ‘Nana’ and ‘Ecos’ bear reliable annual crops on more compact 3- to 5-foot-tall plants. You can further enhance beach plum’s productivity and habit by thinning out old, unproductive branches in early spring (this also works for the other shrubs described here).

Saskatoon berries
Saskatoon bears blueberry-like, early-summer fruits in easy reach.

From upper latitudes of western North America comes another first-rate hedging and fruiting shrub, Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’. A compact selection of one of several small native tree species variously known as serviceberry and shadblow, ‘Regent’ tops out at a bushy 6 feet tall, placing its blueberry-like, early-summer fruits in easy reach. Clusters of gossamer white flowers precede the fruits in the earliest spring. Commonly known as saskatoon, this extremely cold-hardy shrub thrives in full sun to light shade and most types of soil from Zones 2 to 7. Plant another variety of Amelanchier nearby to maximize fruiting.

Fleshy, tasty honeyberries have similar uses to those of blueberry and saskatoon.

Also producing blue fruit in early summer is honeyberry, Lonicera caerulea. Olive-shaped rather than rounded, the fleshy, tasty berries have similar uses to those of blueberry and saskatoon. They’re borne on attractive 3- to 4-foot plants clothed with dainty, downy, oval leaves that flush just before the pale yellow flowers open in early spring. You’ll need more than one variety for plants to produce fruit, so why not make a hedge of them? Several cultivars of this extremely hardy (Zones 2 to 7) Northeast Asian native are available, including Blue Moon™, Blue Velvet Palm, and Yezberry Sugar Pie®. All prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade.

Nanking cherries
Red, tart to sweet, cranberry-sized Nanking cherries appear in late spring or early summer.

East Asia is also the home of Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), another little-known and highly ornamental fruiting shrub. Its upright to arching stems carry pale pink flowers along nearly their entire length in early spring, before the toothed oval leaves expand. Red, tart to sweet, cranberry-sized “cherries” follow in late spring and early summer, ready for fresh-eating or for making into pies or preserves. Maturing at around 8 feet high and slightly wider, Nanking cherry nicely fills the bill as a large hedging plant for sunny sites in Zones 2 to 7. When available (which is all too rarely), it’s usually offered as unnamed seedlings. Multiple plants are needed for a good fruit-set.

Trend-Setting Fruit Trees

Pawpaw's fruit
The flavor of a pawpaw’s custardy fruits varies from tree to tree.

The standard suburban fruit tree is a rather homely, disease-riddled affair. A well-grown specimen of pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is anything but. In its native woodland haunts in the central and southeastern U.S., it grows as a gaunt, unprepossessing understory tree. It’s another thing entirely in a sunny or lightly shaded garden niche, where it typically forms a dense low-branched 15- to a 20-foot tree whose conical crown is densely furnished with large tropical-looking leaves. Curious fleshy liver-purple flowers in early spring give rise to large, potato-shaped fruits that ripen in late summer (two or more varieties are needed for fruiting to occur).

The flavor of the fruits’ custardy flesh varies from tree to tree, as does the number of seeds it contains, so look for varieties that have been selected for their fruiting characteristics. Young pawpaw trees suffer in harsh wind and blistering heat and should be sited or protected accordingly. The Zone 5 to 9 hardiness of this central and Southeast U.S. native belies its tropical appearance.

Chinese quince

Also bearing large tasty fruit on handsome small trees is Chinese quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis. Fragrant bright yellow quinces dangle from its rounded crown in late summer, not long before the leaves turn burgundy and orange. This East Asian native is also well worth growing for its pink sweet-scented mid-spring flowers and for its handsome bark that flakes into multi-colored patches. Plants are self-fruitful, so you only need one tree to get the tart fruits, which are delicious in preserves and baked goods. Chinese quince does well in Zones 5 to 9 in full sun and fertile loamy soil.

Female Chinese-peppercorn fruit
Spicily aromatic, reddish-brown, pepper-like fruit capsules mature in late summer on female Chinese-peppercorn trees.

If your taste buds have ever thrilled with the zingy flavor of Szechuan peppercorns, you should also be thrilled to know that the species that bears that Chinese-peppercorn fruit (Zanthoxylum simulans) makes a striking small tree for the culinary garden. Its spiny trunk and branches grow rather rapidly into an open 15- to 25-foot specimen that becomes characterfully gnarled with age. Pinnate leaves similar to those of mountain ash unfurl in early spring, a few weeks before the inconspicuous clusters of greenish flowers appear. Spicily aromatic, reddish-brown, pepper-like fruit capsules mature in late summer on female plants, which are usually somewhat self-fruitful. Plants offered for sale tend to be self-pollinated seedlings of such female plants, which do not need a male companion to produce peppercorns. Zanthoxylum simulans thrives in sun and well-drained soil from Zones 6 to 9. It functions as a large shrub in Zone 5, where it sometimes dies back in winter.

If you’re looking to literally add distinctive character to your edible landscape this spring, any of the above would be the perfect place to start. There’s always plenty of room to explore in the garden!

Growing Serviceberry for Fruit and Beauty

Growing Serviceberry for Fruit and Beauty Featured Image
The summer fruits of serviceberry are tart and sweet.

Well-loved plants tend to collect lots of descriptive common names.  Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) have amassed quite a few, including Juneberry, shadbush, shadblow, May cherry, servicetree, and sarvisberry.  No matter what you call them, trees and shrubs of the Amelanchier species deserve attention and appreciation from home gardeners. It is hard to beat them for hardiness, adaptability, four-season interest, and fruits, which are appreciated by both wildlife and people.

Serviceberry Species

Evening grosbeak eating serviceberries
An evening grosbeak messily eats ripe serviceberries.

One of the many useful and beautiful landscape plants in the vast rose family (Rosaceae), Amelanchier is a genus of 20 or so north-temperate species of trees and shrubs. In general, they offer showy white spring flowers, edible summer berries of purplish-red or black, festive fall leaves of red, yellow, and orange, and attractive bark and branches in winter.

Most serviceberries are native to North America, and some, like Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7) and Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, Zones 4-8) are unique to these specific geographic areas. Two species, downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea, Zones 4-9) and Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, Zones 3-7) are the most widely available commercially and quite a few cultivated varieties and hybrids have been bred. Both are native to the eastern United States and naturally interbreed. In fact, the hybrid apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora, Zones 4-9) is a natural cross between the two.

Downy serviceberry can be grown as a large, multistemmed shrub, but is normally available as a small to medium tree. At maturity it grows 15 to 25 feet tall, with an equally wide, rounded crown. Canadian serviceberry has a shrubbier natural habit than downy, and if allowed, it will spread by root suckers to form a thicket. Nurseries usually sell it in tree form, and it will top out at 25 to 30 feet tall, with a crown that spreads 15 to 25 feet. 

Spring Blooms

White spring flowers
The leaves of downy serviceberry emerge alongside its clusters of white spring flowers.

As American novelist and playwright Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”  The rose family resemblance is evident in the abundant flowers that appear in early to mid-spring on serviceberries. (The bloom time gave rise to nicknames like shadblow, because shad fish swim upstream to spawn at roughly the same time.)  Like single roses, each serviceberry flower has five petals, which are slightly more rounded on Canadian serviceberry than on the downy species. The blooms are white and borne in drooping racemes or flower clusters. To some noses, serviceberry flowers are lightly fragrant. To others, like that of woody plant guru, Michael Dirr, they are “weakly malodorous.” 

Sources may disagree on fragrance, but agree on beauty.  Like many spring-flowering trees and shrubs, the Amelanchier bloom period is relatively short—generally about a week, depending on the weather—but reliable.

Summer Berries

Summer Serviceberries
Serviceberries ripen from pinkish-red to purplish-blue on a branch in the garden.

Birds, small animals, and humans all relish the sweet taste of serviceberry fruits, which develop after the flowers have faded. The berries start out green, gradually redden, and eventually become purplish-black to reddish-black when ripe. Though they are not as popular as the blueberries that they resemble, serviceberries have long been made into jams and pies. Would-be pie makers generally have to move faster than the birds in the race for the ripe fruit.

Fall Leaves

Fall leaves of serviceberry
The fall leaves of serviceberry turn shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Amelanchier leaves are grayish-green, lightly toothed, and may be covered with fine, wooly hairs when they emerge in spring.  By the time summer arrives, the leaves are medium green and smooth. Fall provides serviceberry with the second season of glory when the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange, and red. Though the leaves drop earlier than those of some other trees, they make up for it with a brilliant show.

Winter Grace

A shadbush (Amelanchier laevis) covered with snow
A shadbush (Amelanchier laevis) looks elegant covered with snow in winter.

With leaves departed, serviceberry still retains its good looks through the winter. Its smooth gray bark is striped with reddish fissures or shallow vertical cracks that develop into ridges as the trees age. The striking bark, combined with the branches’ graceful habit, makes serviceberry stand out even in the dark months.

Superb Serviceberry Varieties

Serviceberry in different seasons
When choosing a serviceberry variety, consider its overall habit and fall color. Most fruit and flower well.

Plant breeders have long appreciated the virtues of various Amelanchier species, varieties and hybrids.  ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) is a widely available apple serviceberry noted for its dramatic red fall color. Another hybrid, ‘Rubescens’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Rubescens”), features dark pink flower buds and light pink blooms. Lovers of weeping forms can try to find the rare ‘Silver Fountain’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Silver Fountain’), and those who prefer a narrow, columnar specimen have the option of selecting Rainbow Pillar® (Amelanchier canadensis Rainbow Pillar®), which also has gold and red fall color.

Serviceberry Care

Serviceberry in spring
A serviceberry blooms in a spring landscape.

Serviceberries are adaptable but do best in open sunny sites with good drainage and moderate moisture. When you bring your new tree home from the nursery, give it a good start by amending the soil from the planting hole with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. (Click here for tree and shrub planting guidelines.) Once established, the trees can withstand pollution, moderate drought, and variations in weather.  If you want to maintain the erect, tree-like habit, remove all branches that sprout below the main trunk and remove emerging root suckers.

Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend pack

Serviceberries make excellent specimen trees and can blend nicely with mixed perennial and shrub borders. They also work well at the edges of woodland gardens, streams or water features.  Given their native plant status and tasty fruits, they are great for native plant landscapes and habitat gardens.

Wherever you put them, serviceberries bring joy to two-legged, four-legged, and winged garden visitors.  They are the ultimate multi-taskers.

Vertical Gardens for Space-Saving Vegetable Gardening

Vertical Gardens for Space-Saving Vegetable Growing Featured Image
Gronomics vertical, free-standing planters are constructed of long-lasting cedar and made in the USA.

More and more large, vertical planters are being designed for big harvests of vegetables and small fruits. Creative gardeners are even coming up with clever ways to create their own mega edible container gardens. Here are some of the better products and ideas, ranging from inexpensive make-your-own containers to state-of-the-art vertical gardens that perform well at a range of costs.

All planting systems are best suited to smaller vegetable crops, like lettuce, spinach, small kale, bush peas, baby carrots, beets, determinate (bush) tomatoes, bush beans, compact peppers, and bush cucumbers and squash. Everbearing strawberries and low-bush blueberries are the best choices for fruiting crops. (Click here to learn about growing blueberries. Click here to learn about growing strawberries. And, click here for a list of the cutest, tastiest miniature vegetables for small-space gardens like these.) Just be sure that you consider planting time for warm- and cool-season crops as well as rotation. (Click here to read more about crop planting times and rotation.)

Vertical Gardens For Purchase

To be able to accommodate lots of plants, vertical gardens must be spacious and hold a lot of mix for ample root support and growth. That’s why the best vertical gardens have plenty of space.

Gronomics® Vertical Garden

Gronomics system
The Gronomics system is very sturdy and well-made.

If you like attractive gardens made from natural materials, then this is the vertical planter for you. The Gronomics Vertical Garden (32x45x9) is made in the USA from 100% western cedar and has a footprint of just 2 square feet. Simply fill it with a quality potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix, and begin planting. The garden contains its own drip irrigation system for easy watering. Apply a continuous-release fertilizer formulated for vegetables at planting time.

The Gronomics Vertical Garden is best suited for growing greens, herbs, strawberries, and small root vegetables. The top planter is perfect for growing bush beans (as shown in the image).

Garden Tower®

Garden Tower
All manner of vegetables can be grown in the Garden Tower. (Image thanks to Garden Tower)

The Garden Tower® is a dual composter and soil-based vegetable garden tower that can accommodate up to 50 plants in just a 4-square-foot growing space. The system is watered from the top down and features a nutrient-tea drawer at the base, which catches fertile water for redistribution in the system. The Garden Tower has lots of room for root growth, which allows deep-rooting plants, like bush tomatoes, to grow well. Fill it with Fafard N&O. Gardeners growing greens should consider also mixing in some Fafard Garden Manure Blend, which is naturally high in nitrogen. It is made in the USA of high-purity HDPE plastic and has a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Greenstalk® Stackable Vertical Planter

Greenstalk plants
Here’s a thriving Greenstalk planter community garden. (Image thanks to Greenstalk)

Just fill it with soil and plant! It is as easy as that. The modular Greenstalk® Stackable planter allows gardeners to raise it to various heights with its stackable segments. The planter is made in the USA and constructed from thick, UV-resistant polypropylene plastic (BPA, BPS & PVC-free), so it is long-lasting. One nice feature is the trickle-down watering well at the top that allows for easy irrigation and fertilization with a water-soluble fertilizer.

DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical wooden crate garden
Vertical wooden crate or pallet gardens are popular, but beware. Some are made of pressure-treated wood, which contains dangerous heavy metals that leach into soils and are taken up by vegetables.

Creative gardeners have come up with economical DIY methods for vertical vegetable gardening. One popular method is creating pallet gardens, which are safe and inexpensive as long as they are constructed from untreated wood. Simply place the pallets upright, or affix them to a wall, fill them with growing media, and plant. Just find out whether the wood is pressure-treated before creating these gardens because treated wood contains heavy metals, which can leach into the soil and be taken up by vegetables. (Click here for a guide for identifying pressure-treated wood.)

Deck baskets hanging from a trellis
Here, deck baskets have been hung from a strong trellis to create a make-shift vertical vegetable garden.

Other gardeners transform everything from traditional baskets to hanging baskets and plastic tubs into makeshift vertical gardens. As long as you can provide the with planter good support, it drains well, and it holds enough soil for strong root growth, your vertical garden scheme should work.

Large wicker baskets with lettuce and cabbages
Large wicker baskets lined with burlap and supported by strong wire cages create a garden wall for lettuce and cabbages.

So many other materials can be used. Something as simple as a strong, tall tomato cage lined with mulch cloth (or burlap liner) and filled with quality potting mix and compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend, can create an outstanding structure for growing vegetables. To learn how to make one, watch this Black Gold video!

This sweet potato tower could be used to grow all kinds of vegetables. Get creative!

Pruning Apple Trees in Spring

Well-pruned apple trees
Well-pruned apple trees look better and produce fruit more reliably in fall.

An unpruned apple tree is a snarly-branched, puny-fruited thing.  One of the best ways to keep that from happening to your apple trees is to give them an annual late-winter pruning.

Fortunately, backyard apple trees don’t need the complicated pruning regimens followed by commercial orchards.  A couple of hours of pruning per year can keep your trees looking good and producing reliably – even if some of their fruits are not as big or blemish-free as the ones at the supermarket.

Your task will be especially easy if your apple tree has received some pruning in the past, and has a balanced “framework” of several main, spreading branches.

Pruning Apple Trees

Man pruning older branches
Selective pruning of older or crowded side-branches in late winter will keep trees productive.

Apple trees bear their fruits on stubby shoots (called spurs).  These are produced most heavily on relatively young, vigorous, unshaded side-branches.  Selective pruning of older or crowded side-branches in late winter will leave your trees with a relatively large proportion of fruit-bearing wood, which is a good thing if you want a bumper crop of apples.  Late-winter pruning also exposes your apple trees to relatively few pests and diseases, compared to pruning done in summer.

Start your tree’s winter pruning tune-up by removing dead, diseased, and broken branches.  Cut well below any wood that is cankered, oozing, or otherwise showing signs of disease.  Remove all cuttings from the area to prevent disease transmission.

Pruning vertical water sprouts
Prune vertical water sprouts – the vigorous shoots that often originate near old pruning cuts.

In most cases, prune the entire side-branch, cutting just above the collar that surrounds its base.

Next, prune out water sprouts – the vigorous, vertical shoots that often originate near old pruning cuts or at the base of the trunk.  Unlike “normal” growth, these can be pruned flush with their parent branch, as close as possible without damaging the bark.  (If possible, check again in late spring for new water sprouts, and pluck them out by hand while they’re still young, small, and supple.)

Pruned large branch
Prune large branches just above the collar that surround the base.

Continue by pruning out crowded growth.  Choose between competing branches by comparing their positioning and potential fruitfulness.  For example, branches that grow horizontally (rather than at an angle), that balance well with their neighboring branches, or that have numerous fruiting spurs should remain, if possible.  Wayward growth – such as branches that impinge on paths – is also fair game for removal.
Finally, look for any remaining side-branches that have little or no spur growth, indicating low productivity.  These can go, as long as their removal does not mar the look or balance of the tree.

Renewal Pruning Older Apple Trees

Path of well-pruned apple trees
Well-pruned apple trees look tidy and are better able to set good fruit.

Apple trees that have returned to their natural, snarly state require more extensive pruning, which may include the main framework as well as side branches.  Start as above, by removing dead, diseased, and broken side-branches, congested growth, and water sprouts.  Then prune larger branches as necessary to balance the tree’s framework and reduce its size (if desired).  This extensive pruning will Fafard Premium Topsoil packtrigger a major outbreak of water sprouts, which should be removed in late spring (by the hand-pulling method) or summer.

Whatever the amount of renovation required, try not to remove more than a third of the tree’s growth at a time.  Especially snarly trees may require a multi-year restoration effort.
To help your freshly pruned apple tree’s growing season get off to a good start, mulch around its base with an inch of Fafard@ Premium Topsoil in spring, after the surface of the soil has warmed.  Fertilizer is not necessary, particularly for heavily pruned trees, which will respond to their feeding by producing an even greater abundance of water sprouts.

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!