“I learn something new every day.” I am sure many of you reading this column have heard that phrase before.

As I researched topics to share with you this week, I stumbled across an online post that referenced an article in the March/April 2016 issue of Horticulture (full article at hortmag.com/plants/fruits-veggies/haskaps-are-easy-versatile-berry-bushes-for-the-garden). The article, penned by Rose Willow, featured a little-known, easy-growing and versatile berry bush for the garden, the haskap.

I know, I thought the same thing: What in the world is a haskap? Well, prepare to be enlightened. This week’s column helps those of us in Northeast Ohio better understand this prized Japanese berry of “good vision and long life.”

The name “haskap,” coined by the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido, Japan, means “many fruits on branches” and today is typically used to describe cultivars of the Japanese blue honeysuckle species. The name honeyberry is more commonly used as the commercial name for the Russian and Kuril varieties of blue honeysuckle. This is an important distinction and good information when selecting the correct variety to best match with your backyard’s growing zone and environmental conditions.

Haskaps (Lonicera caerulea) produce deep blue, oblong fruits with a combined flavor of raspberry, blueberry and strawberry. These ancient berries also pack a serious nutritional punch as a strong source of vitamin C, anthocyanins, antioxidants, fiber and potassium.

A member of the honeysuckle family, haskap plants are native to northern Europe, Asia and Canada, are very cold-tolerant (hardiness zone 3) and are a good choice for our Northeast Ohio climate, especially those of us closer to the Lake Erie shores. Haskaps are tolerant of a variety of soil types and environmental conditions, but prefer rich, loamy, moist but well-drained soils. They can be planted in spring or fall (fall is preferred) and thrive in full sun to partial shade in the backyard.

Haskaps or honeyberries offer a unique addition to the edible garden and landscape with attractive soft green foliage and tasty fruit as a benefit. They are most commonly utilized as border or cluster plantings, hedges or large patio container plants (containers should hold at minimum 32 quarts of soil; make sure to not allow soil in containers to dry out, but don't overwater).

The growth habits of haskap are shrublike, from low growing to upright. Plants can reach 4 to 6 feet in height and width, and should be spaced and pruned appropriately to allow for good air circulation. Haskaps also require cross-pollination in order to fruit, so you will need at least two varieties per planting. Creamy white to pale yellow blooms appear in early spring and typically ripen fruit in early to mid-June, just ahead of strawberries. Some new varieties are later fruiting.

Haskaps are a relatively low-maintenance, pest- and disease-free plant. Wildlife and birds are the largest source of damage to the fruits and shrubs, which may require deterrents like fencing or netting to protect them. If you want a plant in your yard that will attract wildlife, the haskap is a great addition.

Gardeners should monitor for the presence of powdery mildew in mid-late summer. The best control option is to select a resistant cultivar, and prune regularly.

For more information on growing haskaps, check out https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/considerations_for_growing_backyard_small_fruit; and https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/palette/101010.html.

 

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County extension educator in agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or neikirk.2@osu.edu.