Red, White, and Blue Berries

What kind of fruit comes in red, white, and blue? Berries, of course!

Blueberries are a huge treat. Our daughter in western Washington grows them by the bucketful, although our granddaughters have a habit of grazing on them in the backyard, so they don’t always make it into the kitchen.

I wish it was just as easy to grow them here in Colorado, but our conditions are far from suitable. If you want to pick your own, you have to put in some significant effort. Blueberries prefer acidic soil, optimally with a pH of 4.5 to 4.8. Ours is alkaline, typically between 7 and 8.5, so you have to grow them in containers or bales of pure peat moss. The roots must be kept evenly moist, so consistent irrigation is essential. And the dormant plants are particularly subject to desiccation from wind, something we have a lot of. While they’re hardy to USDA zone 3, they dry out easily in our cold but arid winters. Some growers recommend wrapping the dormant plants to help them survive.

If you want to give blueberries a try in Colorado, you might want to first check out these links from Colorado State University:

If you simply want a landscape plant with blue berries,  consider one of the Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia sp.) cultivars. They’re native to much of the west. Or, if you live where Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) isn’t invasive, that plant also has dark blue fruit. Just don’t eat them—they’re poisonous!

White berries are far less common, and typically not edible.  I’ve already written about Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus, a Colorado native, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Some species of dogwoods, such as Red Twig Osier (Cornus sericea syn C. stolonifera), also have lovely white berries (technically, these are actually “drupes”). These are popular large shrubs for Colorado, as their bright red stems provide abundant winter color at a time when most plants are pretty drab. They also offer showy flowers in early summer, and bright fall foliage. Just be prepared to cater to their needs with plenty of compost and extra water, as dogwoods prefer constantly moist soil high in organic matter.

When it comes to plants with red berries, we have an abundance of choices. Firethorn (Pyracantha), Cotoneaster sp., various manzanitas and ground-covering Bearberry (Arctostaphylos sp.), Cornelian Dogwood (Cornus mas), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana),  various honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.), Boulder Raspberry (Oreobatus deliciosus), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)—the list seems endless.

Having a yard full of berries (or similarly small fruit) comes with a number of benefits. Some of those berries are edible. And even if we don’t harvest them, the birds certainly will. Many wild birds (such as robins) that feast on worms or insects during the summer switch to berries during the colder months. And then having persistent bright berries on a bare branch adds color after the flowers have long faded. Nearly every shrub in my landscape yields some sort of fruit. I wouldn’t have it any other way.



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