Decisions, decisions. Should your shrubs offer tasty berries or good looks?
No need to choose between the two; there are plenty of shrubs that are ornamental and bear edible berries as well.
Berry shrubs are as easy to grow as strictly ornamental shrubs. Pests rarely pose a threat, which is fortunate, since you're likely to plant ornamentals near living areas where you can enjoy their looks, and you don't want to have to spray anything near where you dine al fresco or where children regularly tumble on the grass.
OK, there is one pest that might bother your shrubs: Birds. However, some berry shrubs bear more than enough fruit to share with feathered friends. And if you like birds, attracting them may just be another plus for these plants.
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Although a berry shrub can be as easy to grow as any forsythia or lilac, berry shrubs do — like those two ornamentals — need some attention. As with any plant, check out site conditions before you plant.
For berry shrubs, make sure that soil drainage is adequate. If water still stands in a foot-deep hole for more than 12 hours after you pour water into it, the site is too boggy for most shrubs.
In that case, either plant your shrub atop a wide mound of soil to get its roots up and out of the waterlogged zone, or choose a site with better drainage.
Another requirement of most berry shrubs is abundant sunlight — at least six hours per day. They need light both for flavour and yield. The sweetness in a blueberry fruit, for example, represents the conversion of the sun's energy to sugar. Red currants are exceptions; they fruit well in the shade.
A LITTLE PRUNING FOR A LOT OF BERRIES
Finally, many berry shrubs require regular pruning — as do, again, forsythia, lilac and many other strictly ornamental shrubs. Pruning allows stems to bask in light and bathe in air, keeping a shrub productive and limiting disease problems. Regularly removing old stems also makes way for younger, more productive ones.
No great skill is needed to prune a shrub, and pruning is generally not needed until your plant's fourth winter. Just take your hand shears or lopping shears (the latter if stems are thicker than about 1/2 inch) and cut a few of the oldest, thickest stems to ground level, or to lusty, low-side shoots. Shrubs differ in how many new shoots they send up at or near ground level each year, and the more new shoots that a particular shrub makes each year, the more old ones you will have to prune away.
The only other pruning needed is to clip back any stems that look out of place.
WHAT LOOKS AND TASTES GOOD
Spend the next few days looking around your yard for places that might be beautified by pretty shrubs. Fruit-bearing, ornamental shrubs include lowbush and highbush blueberry, juneberry, quince, gumi, seaberry, beach plum, Nanking cherry, red (white and pink) currant, rose, huckleberry, pineapple guava, pomegranate and clove currant.
For more about getting both fruit and beauty from trees and vines as well as shrubs, see my "Landscaping with Fruit" (Storey Publishing, 2010).