Haskap Berry Info – How To Grow Honeyberries In The Garden
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Honeyberries are a treat that really shouldn’t be missed. For centuries, farmers in Asia and Eastern Europe knew how to grow honeyberries. The plants are native to Russia and have a remarkable cold tolerance, surviving temperatures of -55 degrees Fahrenheit (-48 C.). Also called haskap berry (from the Japanese name for the plant), honeyberries are early season producers and may be the first fruits harvested in spring.
What are Honeyberries?
Fresh spring fruits are something for which we wait all winter. The first honeyberries taste like a cross between raspberries and blueberries. They are excellent eaten fresh or used in desserts, ice cream and preserves. Related to the blueberry and huckleberry, haskap berry is a heavy producing plant that requires little special care.
Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) are in the same family as blooming honeysuckle, but they produce an edible fruit. Birds and other wildlife love the berries and the attractive shrubs grow without much encouragement in temperate and cool zones to a height of 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 m.). The term haskap refers to the Japanese varieties, while edible honeysuckle refers to the Siberian hybrids.
The plant produces a 1-inch (2.5 cm.), oblong, blue berry with a flavor that fails to be classified by most eaters. It is said to taste like raspberry, blueberry, kiwi, cherry or grapes, depending upon the taster. The sweet, juicy berries are experiencing new popularity among European and North American gardeners.
Honeyberries require two plants to produce fruit. The plants need to have a shrub that is unrelated nearby to pollinate successfully.
The plant roots easily from dormant stem cuttings and fruits in two to three years. Cuttings will result in plants that are true to the parent strain. Cuttings can root in water or in the ground, preferably a soilless mixture until a good cluster of roots have developed. Then, transplant them to a prepared bed where drainage is good. Soil may be sandy, clay or almost any pH level, but the plants prefer moderately moist, pH 6.5 and organically amended mixtures.
Seeds require no special treatment, such as scarification or stratification. Propagating honeyberry from seed will result in variable species and the plants take longer to fruit than stem cutting plants.
How to Grow Honeyberries
Space plants 4 to 6 feet (1.5 to 2 m.) apart in a sunny location and plant them at the depth they were originally planted or deeper in amended garden beds. Ensure that an unrelated variety of honeyberry is nearby for cross pollination.
Water regularly the first year but allow the top surface of the soil to dry out in between irrigation periods. Mulch 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm.) deep around the plant’s root zone with leaf litter, grass clippings or any other organic mulch. This will also help keep competitive weeds away too.
Apply compost or manure in spring to add nutrients. Fertilize according to a soil test.
Pests are usually not a problem, but protection from birds is an important part of honeyberry care if you want to preserve the fruit. Use a framework of bird netting over the plants to keep your feathered friends from enjoying all your efforts.
Additional honeyberry care is minimal but may involve some pruning and watering.
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Planting Honeyberry Plants
Few things are as versatile and flavorful as homegrown honeyberries, and the success of your harvest begins right with the planting site and method. For maximum growth and yields later on, give your honeyberry plants the best foundation possible, starting with the planting site.
NOTE: This is part 4 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow honeyberry plants , we recommend starting from the beginning.
Before Planting Honeyberry Plants
Honeyberry plants thrive in fertile soil, so, before you plant, test the soil where your honeyberries will be planted – including a test of the soil pH. Refer back to the section on Soil Preparation for tips on soil testing.
If the soil pH where you plan to plant your honeyberries is between 5.5 and 7.5, that’s where you want it to be – this is an ideal range for honeyberry plants. Observe the established trees and plants around the site. Check to see that they look healthy and are growing well. This will help give you an idea of the success of new plantings in the area. If nearby trees are unhealthy or pest-ridden, their issues may eventually affect your new plants. It’s best to be aware of the surroundings so you can be equipped with as much information as possible should any issues arise. And remember to avoid planting in soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.
When to Plant Honeyberry Plants
Honeyberry plants may be planted even when if you’re experiencing cooler temperatures in your area. If you are planting potted honeyberry plants that may arrive awake and even leafed-out, and your weather is expected to be cool, or if a hard frost is expected, it is advisable to delay planting for a while until temperatures become more suitable for planting. Before planting potted honeyberry plants, you may need to gradually transition or acclimate them to their new environment. When you do plant, do not expose the root system to temperatures that are freezing or below for any longer than it takes to move the plant from its protective packaging and planted in the protection of the soil. It’s beneficial to have the planting holes pre-dug and prepared for plants.
Generally, as long as your soil is workable and not flooded or frozen, it is fine to plant.
How to Plant Honeyberry Plants
- If your plant is potted, plant them at the same depth they were in the pot.
- Honeyberry plants have shallow root systems – similar to blueberry plants. It is important to water thoroughly especially while fruiting and growing during summer.
- Do not soak potted honeyberry plants prior to planting. Instead, ensure that the soil around the potted honeyberry plants’ roots does not dry out.
- Prior to placing the potted honeyberry plant in the planting hole, carefully remove the root system from the pot.
- Gently loosen and spread the circling roots to encourage them to grow outward as they establish in the ground during the growing season.
- The planting hole should be deep and wide enough to accommodate the current root system without being restricted. (When digging the planting hole, make sure it is deep and wide enough so each honeyberry plant’s root system has plenty of room to easily expand. Keep the more-nutritious topsoil in a pile so you can put it in the bottom of the hole, where it’ll do the most good.)
- Place each honeyberry plant in the center of the planting hole with its roots down and spread out. Holding onto the stems to keep them vertical, backfill the hole, putting the topsoil back in first. You can avoid creating air pockets by working the soil carefully around the roots and tamping down firmly with your hands as you refill the planting hole around your honeyberry plants.
- Spread soil evenly around the plants and finish with a layer of mulch to prevent damage from water pooling and injury from freezing around the plants in fall going into winter.
Thoroughly water your newly planted honeyberry plants. A deep, slow soaking is best. If you previously determined you need to fertilize your honeyberry plants, this can be done in spring, even at planting time however, as with any packaged product, follow the printed package label for specific instructions. If planting in the fall, wait until spring instead to make any fertilizer applications. After watering, if soil appears to settle or sink into the planting hole, just add more soil – enough to bring the hole to ground level again.
Apply a layer of organic material like wood mulch (rather than inorganic material like rocks), about 2 to 3 inches thick, around the root zone of your honeyberry plants. Mulching helps discourage weeds while also keeping water from quickly evaporating away from the root zone. In the fall, increase the mulch layer or add a layer of straw for winter protection.
Note: Rodents and other small gnawing critters may take advantage of mulch that is applied too thickly, and they may chew honeyberry plants for sustenance. If these animal pests are problematic in your area, consider applying repellents within the mulch layer to keep them out.
* Cold hardy to -55 F, blossoms withstand 20 F
Harvesting Canadian-bred haskap (honeyberries) at The Honeyberry Farm in northern Minnesota (4 year old Indigo Gem).
Early blooming honeyberries typically need to turn a dark blue color all the way through, about 3 weeks after the outside turns blue, for sweetest taste. Mid and late blooming selections may not turn blue inside, and vary as to how long they need to ripen. Let taste be your guide!
Some selections of honeyberries can be harvested by placing a child's plastic pool (cut in two and notched in the center) or large tote lid or other sheeting material on the ground and wacking the shrub with a slapping motion until the berries drop! Upright bushes can be wacked with a stick (broom handle, plasic bat, etc.)
Or Shake, Rake & Drop with a cardboard catcher.
A leaf blower works great to blow away the leaf debris prior to washing. Use a tall sided container (like a plastic tote) so the berries don't blow away! Or build yourself a Chute & Go system Prototype, Version 1.0, Version 2.0 and 3.1 Can also suction the debris.
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. While theoretically the best example is:
X P X
P X P
X P X
It is advantageous for harvesting to have each variety in its own row:
X P X
X P X
X P X
Fertilizer: Most soils are adequate to sustain honeyberry plants. Composted manure/compost tea 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: Honeyberries appreciate being mulched as it helps retain moisture and reduces competition from grass and weeds. 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 attracted to cardboard. While mulch is not required, weed control is essential. Keep grass and weeds at least 24" away from plants. Honeyberries planted into sod do not thrive, and young transplants may get crowded out and die or be severly stunted.
Different honeyberries may blossom at different times. Check out more info at our Blossom Page.
Many insects, even humming birds pollinate honeyberry blossoms. Bumble bees are great pollinators. Honey bees are smaller and fly at warmer temperatures than bumble bees, but having a hive in the neighborhood can be an asset to pollination. Watch Wild Bees as Crop Pollinators: a Case-Study in Haskap webinar on pollination. Also, see the Xerces Society's "Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farm article.
Post from Honeyberry / Haskap Growing & Info. Facebook Group 5/12/20: doing research on that question at MSU-Western Agricultural Research Center. We found they can store at least 2 weeks if not more when harvested and stored correctly
If don't have a produce-specific cooler we had some promising results with Freshworks containers (but I'd still open them periodically so they can air out) with other kinds of berries
HoneyberryUSA notes: storage life is much less in normal fridge and dependent upon variety
Honeyberries store frozen very well but their thin skins bursts and release their juice upon thawing. Winemakers love this feature!
- Birds love these honeyberries. We like Plantra's netting that is easier to work with than some other 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.
- Regular watering is advised for at least the first couple of years. Somewhat drought tolerant when older but will drop their leaves early in dry years.
- Several sites have reported to us problems growing honeyberries in the vicinity of black walnut treesnbsp
- What are the chill hours needed for honeyberries?
Later blooming plants with Japanese genetics require as low as 400-500 (per reports from northern New Zealand) but early blooming plants require more.
- What are the nutritional needs of honeyberries?
While the results of Case-Studies-on-Haskap-Nutrition-Feb-2019.pdf are somewhat inconclusive, plants do not typically do as well on the tops of hills where they may not get as much moisture or at the bottom of hills in heavy, higher alkaline soil with less drainage. Weeds also greatly stunt the growth. High pH (8.5) with low K (potash) resulted in leaf curl with brown edges.
- 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.
- Are honeyberries self-pollinating? Most honeyberries, like apples, need a different honeyberry plant for pollination. Both plants must bloom at the same time. Some will not produce any fruit without a companion, others will produce some fruit alone, but will benefit from a companion.
- How are honeyberries pollinated?Insects, especially bumble bees.
- 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.
- SWD (Spotted wing drosophila fly) issues? We have not had problems in northern Minnesota with our harvest running June 20 - July 10, while raspberries and cherries which ripen second week of July can run into major problems.
- How bad are the birds in terms of loss? 100% if you only have a few bushes, and could be major should a flock of cedar waxwings find your orchard. We net.
- What's u average plant yield at 5-6 years?Depends on the variety. See variety descriptions at Honeyberry Plants page.
- Where are my berries? Look underneath the branches close to the older stem. Leaves may be hiding them.
- Are honeyberries compatible with black walnut and other Juglandaceae trees? NO. A grower in New York initially reported, "I sure have a thriving wild (invasive) L. tatarica population in my yard under about 40 black walnuts. My baby L. caerulea "Aurora" showed NO signs of damage, growing in close proximity to walnuts." But several years later reported the honeyberry plants were dying off. In southern Minnesota, two sites with L. caerulea planted just beyond black walnut failed to thrive from 2011-2014, and we have heard of similar cases in other parts of the country, even after the trees had been removed from the field. The Fall 2000 Restoration and Reclamation Review explains that juglone is "an allelopathic compound, which inhibits stem elongation and lower germination rates." Note that this article refers to the invasive Lonicera maaki, not edible blue honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea L., and also states that Lonicera has been found to grow under black walnuts, but while they may grow, they may not thrive.
- Are honeyberries invasive? Edible blue honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea L. is distinctly non-invasive as compared to Lonicera maaki (Amur Honeysuckle), Lonicera morrowii (Morrow's honeysuckle), Lonicera tatarica (Tartarian honeysuckle), Lonicera japonica, (Japanese honeysuckle) and (Bell's honeysuckle/showy fly honeysuckle). However, ISHS 2018 proposes some considerations.
- How are honeyberries used? - food & drink, https://haskapdye.com/">dye
- Do honeyberries grow in the wild? - Minnesota Wildflowers
- More general info on the Caprifoliaceae family, genus Lonicera.
Canadian-bred Honeyberries (Japanese/Russian/Kuril genetics)
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.
American-bred Haskap (pure Japanese genetics)
Visit Dr. Maxine Thompson's plot in Corvallis, OR, with the folk from St. Fiacre's Farm (Artisian Loose Leaf Teas)
Honeyberries, shrubs with fruit resembling elongated blueberries, are gaining in popularity in northern climates. As the name suggests, they can be quite delicious! We have a couple of commercial growers of these plants in South Dakota, and even in Miles City, Montana, which has harsh weather both winter and summer.
Care & Maintenance
Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) are closely related to honeysuckle vines and shrubs and are very hardy - they are said to withstand 20 degrees F at full bloom and still produce a crop of fruit! One of the honeyberry bushes I planted last year bloomed at Easter this year when we had temperatures in the low 20’s, and I still had a few fruit. Honeyberries tend to grow in wet areas in their native habitats, so they tolerate poorly drained soils better than most fruit plants, although they thrive in good soils. They require little yearly maintenance some studies suggest that they should not be pruned for the first few years, and then only during dormant season to thin overly dense growth.
Despite the fruit’s appearance, these small shrubs are not at all related to blueberries, which require very acidic soil. Honeyberries can apparently tolerate our alkaline soils, so they can stand in as a substitute for blueberries in our area. They are native to the very northern arctic forests worldwide. There are a number of subspecies or varieties that can vary in quality but fruit breeders have developed cultivars with good fruit size and flavor. The fruit ripen early, so the dreaded spotted wing fruit fly should not be a problem – that new pest usually appears later in the summer.
Russian-type cultivars tend to bloom very early. Since bees may not be active that early in the year, pollination is a concern some years. The most recent Canadian-bred, Russian-type cultivars, ‘Borealis’, ‘Tundra’, and ‘Aurora’ may have better powdery mildew resistance than some of the earlier selections. Some report ‘Borealis’ to be quite tart, but others have preferred it it may depend on where it is growing as well as the level of ripeness when picked (the skin turns color before the fruit is fully ripe). ‘Aurora’ is a more recent release with larger fruit, and is a good pollinizer. In North Dakota trials, ‘Indigo Gem’ was judged to have the best flavor.
Japanese-types, also known as Haskaps, bloom (and ripen) about two weeks later than Russian types, so they may be less likely to come out of dormancy during one of our early spring warm-ups, an important attribute especially to West River growers. They have larger fruit, which also tends to be rounder. Oregon State has been selecting a number of them that should be on the market soon.
At least two varieties are needed for cross-pollination and fruit production. Mason bees can be important pollinators, since they fly at lower temperatures than honeybees. As this fruit is new to South Dakota, we are still learning which cultivars might do best in the variety of soils and temperatures we have across the state. New cultivars are also coming out each year, so we will have lots to learn about how and where to grow these fruit. A website has been created for growers across the US to report their experiences with the plants. Southern growers seem to have poor success with the fruit, possibly because it is adapted to a shorter growing season.
Planting Honeyberryposted 6 years ago
How close can I plant honeyberry bushes? I have read to put them 6 feet apart in rows 12 feet on center, but I'm not planting a field. I have 4 very small plants and I have an area where I can plant all of them if I can have them about 4 feet apart.
My plants are only about 6 inches tall so would it be better to plant them in the garden now or keep them in pots to get bigger and put them out in the fall or next spring?posted 6 years ago
posted 6 years ago
Blythe Barbo wrote: Last year, we got our first "crop" - looking forward to more as they get bigger. Good luck!
posted 6 years ago
Cam Mitchell wrote: How long did it take to get a yield? I've read it's 2-4 years. Also, what varieties do you have?
I always count 4 years before having a good yield with fruits trees and buches and 6-7 years with nut trees.
posted 6 years ago
My understanding is that honeyberries only get to about 5' in height and width - so planting 4-5' apart should be fine, as long as you don't need a path between them. I planted mine in a triangle patten, one pollinator and two fruiting (though even the pollinator gets some fruit). Mine have been in about 4 years, and this year have a fair number of berries, after micro-crops the past two years. I sheet compost and expand the (wood chip) mulch around them every couple of years, and they are in what is currently a mowed lawn, so don't have a huge amount of competition.
Just yesterday, I was delighted to see some were already ripe (by far the first berry in my region), and I sample them with my 2 and 4 year olds - there was disagreement about whether they were fully ripe, but either way were good. They look a lot like blueberries in colour, but I consider the taste a bit closer to raspberries, though a bit on the tart side (like I said, they are likely not fully ripe, but anyone with kids (or who has been a kid around berries) knows they can take it pretty tart sometimes!
As to planting out small stock - I have mixed feelings on that too. It really depends on the stock. I planted out tiny beach plums - and they are thriving. In small pots, not very well watered, they were fine - even when the soil got hard in the pot from not enough water - a very tough plant. I planted tiny jujube out in the ground - barely alive a year later. The same size plants, kept by a friend in a pot with a lot of care, are really thriving. Depends on the amount of care you are able to give, and how much you want to select for really strong genetics. And how much money you have to buy more stock if you lose it and don't have any other way to get it.