Haskap (also called honeyberry or edible blue honeysuckle) is a relatively recent introduction to the home gardener. The fruits are blue, oval, thin-skinned, soft, and early-ripening. Haskap’s unique flavour is described as a cross between a blueberry and raspberry. The best varieties are sweet with a zingy aftertaste.
Why the sudden buzz about haskap? Having a world class breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan is a big part of it.
Before buying raspberry bushes, consider what features are most important to you. Is it berry flavour? Proven cold hardiness? High yields? Harvest time? Whatever features are most important to you will guide you to your ideal variety choice.
At this point, it’s also useful to understand how summer-bearing and everbearing (fall-bearing) varieties differ.
With raspberries, the roots and crowns are perennial but their shoots (above ground growth) may be annual or biennial.
All summer-bearing raspberries are biennial: they need two seasons to complete their life cycle (to grow, fruit, and then die). Without getting into further complexities, suffice to say that this produces one large raspberry crop in early summer. Summer-bearers usually fruit for a few weeks.
All everbearing raspberries have a mixture of biennial and annual canes. The earliest shoots to emerge in spring will fruit that same fall; the later emerging shoots won't produce fruit until the following summer. The result is two crops of raspberries: a small crop in early summer and a large crop in fall.
The drawback to everbearing raspberries is that the larger crop usually ripens in late summer, when frost may damage the harvest. Therefore the yields are often smaller versus summer-bearers. However, their advantage is that they fruit for longer duration.
Berry production, fruit quality, hardiness and ripening time can greatly vary between cultivars. To extend the harvest period, consider getting a few varieties with different ripening times.
Also see the Proven Performer Varieties listed at the top of the page, in the Growing Raspberries Overview section.
Summer-bearing Varieties to Consider
- Killarney: A productive early to mid-season variety with good disease resistance. Firm, sweet berries ripen over 4-5 weeks. Not ideal for preserving as they tend to discolor
- Latham: A classic mid-season variety with good disease resistance. Yields plenty of sweet, medium to large sized berries
Everbearing Varieties to Consider
Everbearing varieties generally fruit later than summer-bearing varieties. They can potentially producing a summer crop and a fall crop BUT in our climate, they are best treated just as a late season producer (see #5 on the Post-Planting Care, below, for more details).
Here are some everbearing varieties to consider:
- Nova: A productive mid-season variety, yielding large, firm berries with great flavour. Fewer spines than some other raspberries. Excellent for freezing
- Joan J: A hardy, nearly thornless, high-yielding variety. Berries are firm, large and sweet flavoured
Note* - If you’re buying bare-root raspberries, there may be additional instructions, such as soaking the roots before planting.
Now that you've prepared the planting site and got your raspberry bushes (refer back to the Before You Plant section if needed), lay out your plants.
Water the raspberry plants and planting holes deeply. Add a handful of bone meal or other similar fertilizer. Once the canes are in the ground, consider adding 2" of bark mulch, sawdust, leaves or lawn clippings around the base of the plants. This helps to retain moisture while suppressing weeds. Water the plants once more.
Install support posts or stakes at this time to avoid disturbing the root system later. Check out gardening books or online sources for support ideas; there are dozens of variations.
Raspberries grow with such incredible vigour that it’s hard to believe that they need any attention. However, you’ll notice huge differences in berry quality, production and general plant health with just a bit of routine care.
- Water deeply and infrequently - about once per week. Watering is most critical during the fruit development stages (bloom time to harvest).
- Eliminate competition - Keep weeds away from the base of plants by mulching and/or weeding
- Feed annually - With a granular berry fertilizer, all-purpose fertilizer or other balanced fertilizer
- Enrich soil - Add organic matter (compost or manure) annually or as needed to maintain soil fertility
- Prune - Raspberries require yearly pruning to prevent disease and keep growth in check. In fall, prune out all canes that bore fruit (to a few inches above ground level). In spring, thin the canes so that there are 4-6 canes per linear foot. Remove any weak or dead cane tips. Do not allow rows to grow beyond 12-18” wide.
Raspberries are excellent for fresh eating, freezing, or preserving. Here are some serving suggestions:
- Sprinkle fresh raspberries on top of salads, yogurt, ice cream, or chocolate desserts
- Add frozen raspberries to smoothies (freeze on cookie sheets before bagging)
- Cook into jams or syrups
- Make juice
At a Glance
SOIL NEEDS Organic, moist, well-drained, and very acidic
MATURE PLANT SIZE 1-4' high & wide, depending on variety
GROWTH RATE Slow
LIFE SPAN 40 years or more
FRUITING TIME July or August, depending on the variety
EXPECTED YIELDS 5-9 lbs per bush
POLLINATION NEEDS 2 varieties minimum for best production
PRUNING REQUIRED Annually
PROVEN PERFORMER Northblue, Northcountry, Patriot, Chippewa
Proper soil preparation is key to maximizing berry production and overall plant performance.
First, choose a planting site that receives 6+ hours of daily sun. Decide roughly how many plants you want. (Required spacing between plants is 2-4' feet.)
If your soil doesn't fit the ideal profile for blueberries (and it probably won't) the soil will need amending. Blueberries thrive in exceptionally acidic, moist, rich, well-drained soils. Generally speaking, most gardens will require:
- Adding four to six inches of peat moss to increase soil acidity and regulate water retention
- Adding two to six inches of garden compost, mushroom compost, and/or well-rotted manure to improve soil fertility and water retention
Ask your local garden centre if you have any specific concerns regarding your garden soil.
Blueberry bushes are often available throughout the growing season.
Buying Blueberry Bushes
Not all blueberries are created equal. Before buying blueberry bushes, decide what features are most important to you. Is it berry size? Berry flavour? Proven cold hardiness? High yields? Whatever feature(s) are most important to you will guide you to your ideal variety choice.
For best fruit set, you'll actually require two or more different varieties with the same or overlapping bloom times. You can pair an early season variety with a mid season variety, a mid season variety with a late season variety. Basically, any pollination pairing will work except for an early season with a late season variety.
Blueberries are also classified according to their bush height: low-bush, half-high, and high-bush. The half-high varieties tend to be the hardiest of the bunch.
Also see the Proven Performer Varieties listed at the top of the page, in the Growing Blueberries Overview section.
Half-High Varieties to Consider
- Chippewa: A reliable producer of sweet, large, firm sky-blue berries. Grows 3-5' high and wide. A mid-season variety
- Northblue: Perhaps the highest yielding variety for our area; berries are large, sweet, firm, and dark blue. Grows 3-4' high and wide. A mid-season variety
- Northcountry: Produces an abundance of small to medium, sweet, mild sky blue berries. Grows 2-4' high and wide. A mid-season variety
- Northland: A small to medium sized, dark blue berry with wild blueberry flavour. Grows up to 4' high and wide. A mid to late season variety
- St. Cloud: A high yielding variety with medium sized, firm, flavourful, dark blue berries. Excellent for fresh eating. Grows 4' high and wide. An early season variety
- Patriot: A hardy, reliable producer of sweet, large berries. Grows 3-4' high. An early season variety
- Duke: A high-yielding variety producing large, mild-tasting berries. Grows 4' high and wide. An early season variety
- Reka: A high-yielding variety that produces medium sized, tasty, firm blue fruit. Grows 4' high and wide. An early-season variety
- Bluecrop: Produces large, sweet, mild tasting berries. Grows 4' high and wide. A mid-season variety
- Chandler: Produces the largest sized blueberries in the world! Grows 4' high and wide. A late-season variety that produces over many weeks
Novelty Varieties to Consider
- Razz: developed in the 1930's but remained obscure because of its unsuitability for commercial production. Large, powder blue berries have a unique raspberry flavor. Grows 3-4' high. A mid-season variety.
- Pink Popcorn: Introduced in 2014, this variety produces high yields of medium sized pink berries with the typical blueberry flavour. Grows 3-4' high. A mid season variety.
So you've prepared the planting site and you've got your blueberry bushes (refer back to the Before You Plant section if needed). Next, space your blueberries appropriately. Spacing will range between 2-4', depending on which varieties you've selected.
Water both the blueberry plant and the planting hole deeply. Add a handful of bone meal or other similar fertilizer at planting time. Once the bushes are in the ground add 2-4" of bark mulch, sawdust, or pine needles on top. This will help to acidify the soil and keep the roots cool and moist. Water the plants once more.
Refer to our Guide to Planting Shrubs for further transplanting instructions.
Caring for Blueberries After Planting
Since blueberries are shallow-rooted plants it is critical that their soil never dries out. Water the blueberries deeply and infrequently (about once per week), especially during the first few years of growth.
Also, prune off all flowers for the first 2 years so that the plant to devote all of its energy to establishing a healthy foundation of roots and leaves. A bigger, sturdier bush will produce significantly larger yields for decades to come.
Keeping Established Blueberries Happy
In subsequent seasons, you may need to add more organic matter to maintain the soil's richness and acidity. An annual application of fertilizer in early spring is also a good idea. Use a formula specifically recommended for acid-loving plants or berries. Organic fertilizer options include blood meal, bone meal, kelp, or fish fertilizer.
Since blueberries only bear fruit on one-year old wood, established plants need an annual spring pruning. For pruning instructions, visit the University of Minnesota's blueberry page here.
Eating the Harvest
Blueberries are a versatile crop. They are delicious fresh, frozen, baked, or preserved. Here are a few serving suggestions:
- Sprinkle fresh blueberries onto salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or pancakes
- Freeze them for smoothies
- Make jams and jellies
- Bake them into muffins or pies
Blueberries are one of the easiest berries to grow in our climate. They are hardy, long-lived, and disease resistant. As ornamental shrubs, they aren't slouches either; their stunning fall colors range from coral to orange to red.
For further reading, check out the University of Minnesota's page on Blueberries for the Home Gardener. U of M is an authority on the topic as they have bred many of the half-high blueberry varieties currently on the market.
My education in gardening began at 13, when I started working at our family-operated garden centres. Truth be told, I wasn't always thrilled to be sweating away my weekends in the greenhouse. However, I did become undeniably interested in the vast world of plants, and my summer job eventually transformed into a lifelong passion.
For 20 years, I've answered customer questions, poured over reference materials, sought the advice of others, and conducted countless of my own planting experiments. In the process, I've gained much insight into what works (and what doesn't) for us Northern Gardeners.
With this blog, I hope to accomplish a few things. I hope to answer the commonly asked questions we hear from our greenhouse customers. I hope to offer information that will be relevant and interesting to you. And my most lofty of goals, I hope to inspire, inform, and help cultivate your lifelong interest in growing plants.
May your personal gardening adventure be ever unfolding!