Bountiful Fall Berries for Gardens

Bountiful Fall Berries for Gardens

As a child, we had golden raspberries in our woods in southern Indiana. Each fall, as I passed them in the morning to meet the school bus, I would see how many were ready to pick and pop the ripened fruits in my mouth. The lingering memory of their warm, sweet, raspberry taste makes them my ultimate autumnal berry, but there are many others to be grown and enjoyed in the garden. After doing a little research, I discovered that our woodland raspberry was likely an escaped golden-fruited Rubus ideaus, or cultivated raspberry, which makes finding it at nurseries easier.

Late-season berries come in all forms—from grapes to cranberries to raspberries. In this piece, I am also bending the definition of “berries” a bit to include figs, another fall favorite. (Botany lesson: fig fruits are technically aggregate or collective fruits called “syconia” (singular syconium) made up of multiple tiny fruits from multiple tiny flowers folded inward to form a single fig. The resulting fruit has a berry-like appearance.) Fall and figs go hand-in-hand. And, my figs are going gangbusters on this early September day, so I want to include them. They should keep producing into mid- to late-fall.

Garden Berries for Fall

Cranberries grow best in boggy soils that are peaty and sandy.

American Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon, USDA Hardiness Zones 2-7): Ripening by late September to October, no berry says fall quite like the tart snap of an American cranberry. Cranberries are fully evergreen and grow in bogs with moist, sandy, acid soils. If you lack a bog (most of us do), it’s smart to create special beds for the best yields. Rows of low-set, broad nursery pots partially sunk in the ground and filled with sand and Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss work well. Keep the pots moist and supply fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Lots of pink, bell-shaped flowers will appear in springtime (bees pollinate the blooms) followed by ripe red cranberries in fall. Full to partial sunlight is needed–that’s at least 6 hours per day. The variety ‘Pilgrim‘ is especially attractive and spreads to form a tidy groundcover with plenty of flavorful berries.

Cape gooseberries are easy summer fruits you can grow from seed.

Cape gooseberry or Peruvian groundcherry (Physalis peruviana, Zones 10-12): Imagine growing golden fall fruits that taste of tart pineapple, which can be grown like tomatoes or tomatillos. These are Cape gooseberries, close tomato relatives from subtropical regions in Peru. The husked berries are golden when ripe and mature from August until mid-fall when nights grow cool. Tender Cape gooseberries produce fruit the first year from seed, which is why they are grown as annuals. Eat them fresh or use them to make jam for canning or pie.

Concord grapes need time and training, but the fresh fall fruits make them worth the work.

Concord or Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca hybrids, Zones 4-8): Sweet, aromatic Concord grapes are a late-season treat that taste of grape jelly and purple grape juice. The twining, woody vines need a strong fence or trellis for best production and begin to produce fruit by late September. Seasonal pruning in spring will keep vines productive and in control. (Click here for some grape-pruning tips.) Try the popular Seedless Concord. It has all of the great flavor and vigor of the traditional type but it lacks the seeds–making them easier to process into jelly, juice, and pies.

Many figs ripen in late summer or fall for fresh eating or drying.

Figs (Ficus carica, hardiness varies) grow very large (6 to 15 feet by 8 to 20 feet), even compact varieties, so plant them in an area with space. My Zone 7 garden requires that I choose hardier varieties. I have found that some hardy varieties taste better than others. My top choice is the small-fruited, super sweet sugar fig ‘Celeste’ (USDA Hardiness Zone 6-10) with its copious small, squat, purplish-brown fruits that produce most on second-year wood. This year mine is producing beautifully. Another that I want to try is the Louisiana State introduction ‘LSU Gold’ (Zones 7-9), which produces very flavorful, sweet green figs with pinkish flesh. Expect this more southern fig to be more cold-sensitive. When plants die back to the ground, they do not always set fruits on new wood. One means of protecting plants through winter is mounding mulch around the crown in late fall and then removing it in spring after the threat of frost has passed.  (Click here for a full overview of figs.)

Golden raspberries ready for the picking.

Golden Raspberries (Rubus ideaus hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones ): Some late raspberries are red and others are black, but I like the gold ones for their delicate, sunny flavor and unique beauty. There are several from which to choose. The large berries of  ‘Anne Yellow‘ are deep gold with almost a hint of orange. Berries appear July and again in fall on tall, upright plants with thorned stems. Double Gold Yellow is a patented berry with thimble-shaped gold fruits blushed with pink. Thorned fruiting canes produce berries both in summer and again in fall. Pull and prune back new suckers to keep rows tidy.

Sink a few of these sweet berried plants in your garden next spring, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of fall berries. In the meantime, look for them at your local farmers market or roadside fruit stand.

Which Vegetables [Berries] will Tolerate Some Shade?

“Which vegetables will tolerate some shade?” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey

Answer: There are some vegetables and herbs that will tolerate some shade in the day, but most will not. Those tolerant of the partial sun are greens, such as lettuce, arugula, kale, and some herbs, such as lemon balm and sweet woodruff.

Berries, such as lowbush and tallbush blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) will also tolerate shade. In fact, both naturally grow in forest openings and are an excellent crop for spots with a little shade. Currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), and elderberries (Sambucus spp.) will also tolerate partial shade conditions. With that said, maybe what you need is a berry patch!

Most other vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of strong direct sunlight when growing most other vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and others that need lots of sun to produce. More sun is always better. Clearing away some of your larger tree branches might help offer more light for a sunnier vegetable patch.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold horticulturist

Beautyberry for Bountiful Fall Color

Branches laden with bright purple berry clusters can be a very pleasant surprise to those unaware of the virtues of beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.).  These berries  provide a bright spot of color, especially in the autumn garden when the color performance of many shrubs is over.

Beautyberry Origins

There are more than a dozen species of Callicarpa, however only a few are readily available to at plant nurseries.  Most often referred to as beautyberry, most species are native to China and other parts of Asia, but Callicarpa americana is a native of the southern and eastern United States. All grow and flower best in full to partial sun and prefer soil with average fertility and good drainage.

Beautyberry Varieties

The leaves of Bodinier’s beautyberry develop a burnished or yellow color before falling in autumn.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the most widely planted variety is the Chinese Bodinier’s beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii  ‘Profusion’, USDA Hardiness Zone 6-8).  This is recommended because it is a heavy bearer of bright purple berries.  In the spring the new leaves are tinged with bronze as they first appear, and the branches become lined with clusters of tiny lavender flowers. In my garden, it tends to be a bit of a gangly grower, reaching up to 7 feet tall and almost as wide. Select pruning of the tallest, most overgrown branches will keep it in check.

I also have a  white Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica ‘Leucocarpa’, USDA Hardiness Zone 5-8), which has white flowers and berries and is a slightly smaller shrub (4-6 feet) than Bodinier’s beautyberry.  In the autumn, as the foliage of ‘Leucocarpa’ begins to turn yellow and brown, the clusters of white berries create quite a color contrast.

The spring flowers of beautyberry are pale lavender to pink.

There are new varieties Callicarpa that have been developed to offer colorful foliage and a compact growth habit.  Variegated Japanese beautyberry (C. japonica ‘Snow Storm’, USDA Hardiness Zone 6-8), is a good example with leaves that are white at the beginning of the season and then becoming mottled with green as they develop.  Unlike the gangly ‘Profusion’, ‘Snow Storm’ is a tidy, mounding shrub to 3 to 4 feet that is desirable for small gardens or containers.  It has pink flowers and purple berries.

The American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana, USDA Hardiness Zone 6-10) is a larger shrub (6-9 feet) with a more informal, long, arching, open branches and of looser bright purple berry clusters. Plant it in more informal landscape settings.

Beautyberry Lore

The leaves of American beautyberry naturally repel mosquitoes.

Sometimes I marvel at what we do for our plants and what our plants do for us. I find it fascinating to read folklore about plant attributes and then test the folklore in real life.  The American Beautyberry poses a good example of how lore can help today’s gardeners.

In the early part of the 20th century, farmers in northeastern Mississippi discovered that placing fresh crushed leaves of Callicarpa americana under the harness of draft animals, like horses and mules, helped keep biting insects away.  This practice became known throughout the region, and people began crushing leaves on their own skin to keep mosquitoes away. People stopped using American Beautyberry with the dawn of insect sprays, so this practice was almost forgotten until recently. Recent research found Mosquito Bite Deterrent chemicals were present in the leaves of these plants. In fact, they showed significant repellent activity against mosquitoes.  Maybe this could be called ‘folklore becomes reality’.

Two years ago I conducted my own experiment with a neighbor that is interested in botanicals for medicinal purposes. We both rubbed leaves of my Bodinier’s beautyberry on our arms to see if they would repel mosquitoes. Sorry to report that the mosquitoes landed on both of us, because I had not realized that the mosquito repelling properties were from C. americana and not my variety!

Visit your local garden center this fall season and check out their selection of berried Callicarpa.  By making your purchase now, you are assured of getting the berry color that you want!  With the long and hot dry summer we have had, be sure to amend the soil with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend before planting, and water thoroughly.