curr About Honeyberry Shrub and Fruit
 
Honeyberry Fruit
 

About the Honeyberry Shrub and Fruit

 

The flavor of honeyberries is very hard to describe, so it may be best to just say it's a "mystery berry" flavor, reminding some people of blackberry, cherry and even grape or kiwi. With a very thin skin, the zesty berries melt in your mouth! These healthy berries can be eaten fresh off the bush, or used fresh or frozen in your favorite blueberry recipe.

Honeyberry bushes sold commercially typically grow from 3 – 8 feet tall, with oblong berries ½ – 1 inch or more in length, depending on the cultivar. A member of the honeysuckle family, the honeyberry shrub (Lonicera caerulea) grows circumpolar in the northern hemisphere. They are known as zhimolost in Russia, haskap in Japan, and honeyberry in the USA! Some people refer to the Japanese varieties as haskap and to the Russian varieties as honeyberry. Edible Blue Honeysuckle is an accurate way to refer to the species in general! 

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Interesting Features

*    Cold hardy to -55 F, blossoms withstand 20 F

*    First fruit of spring (early blooming cultivars bear prior to strawberries, late blooming selections bear a few weeks later)

*    Higher level of antioxidants than blueberries

*    Grows in most soils including clay and sand, and in wide range of pH levels (4.5 - 8.5)

*    USDA zone 2. Fruiting depends on availability of pollinators when plants are blooming. Late blooming varieties may be more suitable for warmer climates. Testing of U of S bred cultivars currently taking place in zone 8.

*    Some varieties produce 10+ lbs of berries after 5 years, others produce 1-2 lbs

*    50+ year lifespan

*    Honeyberries do not sucker

*    Grows in sunny or shady locations. Bears best in sun in the North, needs some protection from sun in the South.

*    Disease and pest resistant, great for organic gardening

*    Requires proximity to another unrelated honeyberry plant for pollinization by bees and other insects.

Canadian-bred Honeyberries

The University of Saskatchewan began breeding honeyberries(haskap) in 2002. Using lines from Russia, Japan and the Kuril Islands north of Japan, this program is producing fruit that is sweeter and superior in taste to many other honeyberry varieties on the market, as well as being larger and more easily detachable from the plant. Royalty fees support ongoing research. Plants may be purchased from HoneyberryUSA.

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Harvesting Canadian-bred haskap (honeyberries) at the University of Saskatchewan

Harvesting

Some selections of honeyberries can be harvested by placing an umbrella or child's plastic pool or other sheeting material on the ground and wacking the shrub with a stick - a plastic bat works great - until the berries drop! A leaf blower can then be used to blow away the leaf debris. Make sure berries are a dark blue color all the way through before picking for sweetest taste.

Planting

Spacing: 4.5 - 6 ft (1.3 - 2 m) within rows, 8 - 10 ft (2.5 - 3m) between rows
Depth: May be planted a couple inches deeper than original depth to compensate for possible frost heaving or to establish a deeper root system.
Pollination: Proximity to an unrelated variety (within same yard is fine). A different variety (P for pollenizer) is recommended per 2-4 smaller plants (X) to ensure the best fruit set. Example:
                    X P X
                    P X P
                    X P X    
Note: Some sources claim that one companion variety per 8 or more other plants is sufficient for pollination.
Fertilizer: Most soils are adequate to sustain honeyberry plants. Composted manure may be applied in the spring.
Watering: Heavy watering a few times the first few years recommended to promote deep root growth. Do not overwater potted plants. Let dry out in between watering.
Mulching: Leave a couple inches away from stem free of mulch. Do not overwater mulched plants. Do not use cardboard mulch over winter as mice are attrached to cardboard. While mulch is not required, weed control is essential. Keep grass and weeds 24" away from plants. Honeyberries planted into sod do not thrive, and young transplants may get crowded out.
Pruning: Prune older branches when bush gets too dense, never more than 25% of a bush at a time. Recommended pruning time is late winter or early spring.

Cautions

  • Birds love these honeyberries. Best to net the bushes with 1/2" crosswires to prevent birds from getting tangled in the netting.
  • Deer and rabbits may also nibble on young shrubs
  • Weeds should be kept away from young plants until the shrubs are well established.
  • Strong winds and heavy rain may dislodge ripe berries, which normally stay attached for an extended time. 
  • Birds may deposit seeds in areas where seedlings are unwanted.  

FAQ

1. My honeyberry leaves look like they are afflicted by blight in mid-summer.
- Most likely it's sun/wind scald, and many cultivars of honeyberries, especially the early blooming ones, naturally experience browning and dropping of leaves. Honeyberries benefit from shade from the hot afternoon sun.
2. Are honeyberries self-pollinating? Honeyberries, like apples, need a different honeyberry plant for pollination. Both plants must bloom at the same time.
3. How are honeyberries pollinated? Insects, especially bumble bees.
3. When will the plants produce fruit? Honeyberries produce fruit on year-old wood, so it is possible to see a couple berries the year following propagation, but the plants need 3-4 years in the ground to grow to sufficient size to produce any significant amount of fruit, and reach maturity at 5-7 years. Some varieties grow faster and produce fruit earlier than others.