Have you ever heard of a honeyberry? If not, they’re definitely worth checking out! These members of the honeysuckle family produce really interesting, delicious fruits. They look like elongated blueberries and taste like… well, the jury is still out on that. Read on to learn more about this little-know, delicious fruit, and how to grow your own.
In eastern Russia, the honeyberry (or haskap) shrub grows wild. It’s hardy to at least -40 degrees (zone 3), making it an ideal fruit crop for northern growers. As our winters have gotten colder and longer, the honeyberry is looking more and more attractive, even for southern gardeners.
Some people say honeyberries taste like blueberries, others say ‘raspberries.’ Some even claim the fruit tastes a bit like sweet-tart candies. However they choose to describe them, everyone agrees that honeyberries are absolutely delicious.
I’ll be planting a few on my homestead this year, but before now, the honeyberry wasn’t even on my radar.
1. A Variety for Every Purpose
All honeyberries are hardy and sweet, but which variety is right for you?
Haskap, Kamchatka, or Fly Honeysuckle?
You might hear honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) referred to as haskap, kamchatka, or fly honeysuckle. Don’t be confused: these are all different names for the same plant.
There are a few great varieties that you should consider. It all depends on what your priorities may be. Do you prefer to eat fruit raw? Or do you enjoy making jams and jellies? Below are a few different varieties to check out, so you’re sure to get one that best suits your needs.
If you’re looking for an early harvest, the sweet-tart flavored Blue Moose variety is ideal. This shrub may fruit as early as April, and its flowers can withstand temperatures in the low twenties.
The sweeter Honey Delight is also an early ripener. So is the very tart Russian variety known as Bakczarskaja.
Sweeter varieties with higher Brix levels are best for winemaking. If you’re hoping to produce lovely bottles of homemade fruit wines with your honeyberries, look for sweeter fruits.
Giant’s Heart and Jugana are two varieties that mature into fine berry wines for you to enjoy all year long.
Jams and Jellies
If you’re planning to make preserves from most of your honeyberry harvest, the tarter varieties will be perfect for your orchard.
Tart berries have high pectin content and hold their flavor better through processing. Try Blue Belle and Jolanta for tart berries that jelly well.
Honeyberries are surprisingly hardy. They just want to grow anywhere and everywhere. That said, as willing as they are to put up with a variety of conditions, honeyberry does have its preferences.
In northern climates, this berry produces best in full sunlight. If you’re growing in the south, however, plant your honeyberry vine in partial shade to save it from overheating.
It grows well in wet, clay soils, but it would rather have a plot of soft, well-drained earth to grow in. Each plant can reach up to 7 feet tall, so give your honeyberries some leg room. Space your shrubs about 7 feet apart so overcrowding doesn’t limit your harvest.
It’s vitan to mix and match a couple varieties to ensure proper pollination. In addition, try to choose varieties that flower on a similar schedule for maximum berry production.
Starting Young Honeyberries
Purchase young honeyberry plants for the best start. You can start honeyberries from seed or cutting as well, but the plants can take a lot of time to establish. Small plants are easily available and transplant well.
Once you have a few established plants, it’s fun to try the more challenging propagation methods!
If you’re interested in growing honeyberry from seed, allow a few berries to ripen on the bush. Pull the seeds out of the berry and plant directly. Cover with a thin layer of loose potting soil.
They should sprout within 3-6 weeks. Give them at least 4 months of growth before transplanting outdoors. Honeyberry plants started from seed rarely produce fruit within the first 2 years.
Growing haskap from a cutting is easier than growing from seed. Simply place a neatly cut shoot in water. A good cluster of roots should develop within a few weeks. After the cutting develops healthy roots, you can plant it in loose, moist potting soil.
Keep your young honeyberry potted for a few months as its roots strengthen and grow. Then transplant outside.
3. Care and Feeding for Your Haskap
Your honeyberry plants love to be mulched with loose bark chips, leaves, compost or manure. This mulch will help keep to soil moist, which is perfect for producing plenty of berries.
Unless you have poor soil, honeyberries are fine without feedings. If you notice signs of undernourished plants, however, add a little compost teas or a balanced, organic fertilizer to the base of the shrub.
Spring is the best time to add nutrients. Before fruiting, so the berries get the full benefit of the feeding. Honeyberries really don’t need more care than this. It’s amazing how self-sufficient these tough bushes are.
Like all shrubs, honeyberries produce best with a bit of pruning. They don’t need much, though. Don’t prune at all during the first 5 years of the bush’s life. These new, young branches don’t need to be clipped. After 5 years of growth, prune away the older, spindly branches to make room for new growth.
The happiest honeyberry plants have 5 or 6 mature branches and a few younger ones growing up around them.
It’s best to prune your berries in late winter, as it blooms so early in the spring. Avoid later pruning that will be shocking to the plant. It’s better to miss a year of pruning than cut too late and risk damage.
4. Pests and Diseases
Honeyberry isn’t attractive to most pests, and it has no known diseases.
You may find occasional infestations of leafrollers. These destructive creatures can devour leaves and over winter in mummified berries. If you find them, spray the leafrollers and damaged plants with a neem oil solution.
Southern gardeners may find that honeyberries planted in full sun end up with a sunburn. If your honeyberries are toasting in the summer sunlight, give them a bit of shade.
During the hottest parts of the day, set up a sun shelter. Or, just move them to an area of dappled light. Transplant in the fall if you need to move honeyberry to a shadier spot.
5. Orchard Companions
Honeyberry bushes make fantastic border plants. Additionally, their hardiness and self sufficiency make them great companion plants for most other orchard crops. They don’t overtake an area the way raspberry and blackberry bushes do either. I’m planting my new honeyberries in amongst my pear and plum trees.
The early blooming flowers are ideal near hives as well. Hungry bees waking after a long winter will have early food on your honeyberry bush.
Because they’re such tall and wide shrubs, the bushes can overwhelm smaller plants. Make sure that whatever you plant alongside them will still have access to sunlight and fresh air when your haskap shrub is 7 feet tall.
6. Harvesting Honeyberries
Keep an eye on your honeyberries as they ripen. Berries will turn from green to light purplish-blue, and finally, ripen to a beautiful indigo.
Remember that the birds are also watching. Additionally, as your berries ripen, you may want to cover the shrubs with netting to keep your crop from raiders.
Once berries are fully ripe, you can either hand pick them or shake them off the bush. If you’ll be shaking them, spread a cloth under the honeyberry bush to catch the berries when they fall.
What to do with Your Honeyberry Harvest
Each mature bush produces anywhere between 1 and 5 pounds of berries. If you plant a few bushes, consider making a few bottles of honeyberry wine each year! Honeyberry wine is a delicious, sweet, flavourful wine with a tart edge that saves it from being too sweet on the palate. There’s really nothing quite like it, so definitely try it if you can.
Honeyberries are superb cooked or fresh. They work well in jams, pies, muffins, and smoothies. Think of them as big blueberries as you bake with them. Mix them into homemade ice cream for a special spring treat. Process a batch of sauce to pile on pancakes all year long.
These berries are also higher in antioxidants than blueberries. They’re high in vitamins C and K, manganese, and other trace nutrients. Many people also consider it a heart-healthy berry. In fact, it may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Throw a few bags of honeyberries into the freezer for health-boosting winter smoothies!
Hardy Berries for Hardy Gardeners
However you decide to use them, I know you’re going to love this tough, tolerant, delicious little fruit.
For those of us rethinking some of our garden options as the winters get colder and wilder, honeyberries are a reliable, exciting addition to the orchard.