Not only do fruiting bushes provide delicious food to eat, but many of them offer ornamental beauty as well when they’re laden with berries. Elderberries are beautiful when they’re in flower. Some types of blueberries have brilliant autumn foliage, and red canes throughout the winter. If possible, try to plant fruiting bushes where you can appreciate the show, as well as the harvest.
Bush plants will each yield between 5 and 20 pounds of fruit per year, depending on the cultivar and size of the bush. Some types or cultivars require cross-pollination, others are self-fertile. Plant more than one cultivar to ensure good fruit set and to extend the harvest season. Large berries are best for fresh eating; small fruits are best for baking into muffins or adding to pancakes.
Preparing the Site
Bush plants like blueberries, lingonberries and huckleberries need full sun, excellent drainage and highly-acidic soil with lots of organic matter. During the previous growing season, plant a green manure crop where you want to situate the berries, or keep it heavily mulched. Till it under at the end of the season and let it decompose. This will give you time to test the soil, and add whatever nutrients are lacking. Incorporate manure into the soil two weeks prior to spring planting. Add sulfur to the soil, if necessary, to adjust the soil pH level down to 4.0 to 5.0.
Spacing and Planting
Spacing will depend on the cultivar; highbush blueberry varieties need about 6 feet, lowbush cultivars will spread by underground rhizomes to fill in an area within 6 years if planted 2 feet apart. Follow the planting instructions for whatever types of fruiting bushes you select. Add acid peat moss to the planting holes, and cover with 6 to 12 inches of organic mulch. The blossoms should be removed for the first growing season to allow the plants to put their energy into growing strong roots and stems.
Covering the bushes with netting will prevent birds from stripping them clean. They’re ready to harvest when they fall into your hand when the branch is lightly shaken. The berries will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks at near-freezing temperatures.
Fall and Winter Care
In the fall, remove the mulch and clear away any fallen berries to ensure they don’t spread disease. Lay down a fresh layer of mulch. Pruning should be done in late winter, before growth resumes. For highbush blueberries, remove canes that are older than 4 years, drooping on the ground, crowding the center, or spindly. Lowbush plants need to be cut back to the ground every other year. Only cut half your plants at a time, because they will not bloom the year after being cut back. Lingonberries and bog cranberries don’t require pruning.