It is not easy coming up with an idea to write about week after week. I refuse to repeat an actual column and often struggle to answer repeat questions in a different way. So, of course I love it when someone lobs one that introduces a new subject.
A great example came this week when a reader, new to Alaska, wanted to know why the two blueberry bushes in her yard produced oblong berries last year. The berries didn’t taste like those she has had anywhere else, either. “My plants, by the way, are enormous (6 feet or so), but why are the berries shaped like blue Good and Plenty candies?”
The answer is simple: those oblong “blueberries” are actually “honeyberries,” borne on a plant that is a member of the honeysuckle family, Lonicera caerulea, better known as haskaps. Hers had been planted by the previous homeowner.
Our lone honeyberry — yes, one word — shrub is about 8 feet tall and least 8 feet in diameter. We planted it before I adopted my rule about non-native plants. Fortunately, in the past 10 years I have not seen any spread. It does not replicate from underground suckers, nor are they any new plants from seed.
Haskap berries are, indeed, irregularly shaped, often oblong, but do look like blueberries, with the same skin color and patina. It is easy see how the reader was confused. The taste, incidentally, has been described as a cross between a currant, raspberry and strawberry. They are quite good. They can be a bit tart, but in a good way.
Haskap fruits form under the shrub’s canopy, so you have to hunt a bit for them when picking. So do birds, and this may be why — so far — ours seem to leave them alone. The pale flowers do attract pollinators, however. (I carry my epi pen when I work near them!)
Haskap plants are stone hardy and actually don’t do well where it gets warm. Here, they do best in full sun, however. Relatively new to the U.S., there are Russian and Japanese varieties and both will do just fine. Some form smaller plants if you don’t have a lot of room. With a big shrub like ours, you can expect 5 pounds to 10 pounds of fruit, but it takes three years or so for them to really start producing.
Are these honeyberry berries any good? Most of ours don’t make it into the house. These fruits can be used to make pies, jams and jellies. Freeze the berries and just pop them into your mouth when you want a candy that melts in your mouth. Put them on ice cream or juice them up. I am told you can even make wine from them.
Experts say it is a good idea to judiciously prune haskaps to encourage new growth. Cut off dead wood any time and older growth during late winter. The idea is to get some light into the canopy so you get new producing branches. Honestly, I have never taken the pruners to ours, but I will start now to see if there is a difference.
Honeyberry plants are available from catalogs, but local nurseries carry them, too, as they are gaining in popularity. My research suggests Lonicera caerulea plants need cross-pollination; two plants are needed. (Yet, we have only one and it produces quite well. Hmmm. Either a neighbor has some plants or that author was wrong.)
Still, you might be best off by using at least two haskap plants. I know the fruits they bear make that a doubly good idea. Make sure to get the same two cultivars so you can ensure cross-pollination.
You will want to grow even more honeyberries when you realize haskaps taste great and expand the range of fruits an Alaska yardener can grow without introducing a plant that escapes the yard.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: Have you checked out the bird sculptures? The Garden looks great. Now is a great time to visit.
Harvest: Radishes, lettuces, first cuts of broccoli. What are you waiting for?
Slugs: They are small still, but growing. Put yeast and beer traps out at the side of the gardens, not in them.
Delphiniums, holyhocks and other tall plants: Stake them right now if you have not already done so in order to help them stand up to the weight of August rains.