Honeyberry Fruit
Indigo Gem pollinationBorealis blossom and berries formingBlue Belle and Tundra berries
 

About the Honeyberry Shrub and Fruit

 

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Early blossoming honeyberries begin to ripen when the daisies come out in the spring

The flavor of honeyberries is very hard to describe, so it may be best to just say it's a "mystery berry" flavor, reminding some people of blackberry, cherry and even grape or kiwi. With a very thin skin, the zesty berries melt in your mouth! These healthy berries can be eaten fresh off the bush, or used fresh or frozen in your favorite blueberry recipe.

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6 year old Borealis and Berry Smart Blue (Czech #17) with happy honeyberry grower

Honeyberry bushes sold commercially typically grow from 3 – 8 feet tall, with oblong berries ½ – 1 inch or more in length, depending on the cultivar. A member of the honeysuckle family, the honeyberry shrub (Lonicera caerulea) grows circumpolar in the northern hemisphere. They are known as zhimolost in Russia, haskap in Japan, and honeyberry in the USA! Some people refer to the Japanese varieties as haskap and to the Russian varieties as honeyberry. Edible Blue Honeysuckle is an accurate way to refer to the species in general! 

Interesting Features

*    Cold hardy to -55 F, blossoms withstand 20 F

*    First fruit of spring (in zone 3 earliest blooming cultivars bear prior to strawberries, mid season ripen concurrent, late blooming selections bear a week later)

*    Higher level of antioxidants than blueberries

*    Grows in most soils in wide range of pH levels (4.5 - 8.5) though 5-8 is preferred. May perform better in clay soils than sandy soils.

*    USDA zone 2. Fruiting depends on availability of pollinators when plants are blooming. Late blooming varieties may be more suitable for warmer climates. Testing of U of S bred cultivars currently taking place in zone 8.

*    Some varieties produce 10+ lbs of berries after 5 years, others produce 1-2 lbs

*    50+ year lifespan

*    Honeyberries do not sucker but send up shoots from the root crown

*    Grows in sunny or shady locations. Bears best in sun in the North, needs some protection from sun in the South.

*    Disease and pest resistant, great for organic gardening

*    Many honeyberries require proximity to another unrelated honeyberry plant for pollinization by bees and other insects. Some varieties will produce some fruit alone.


Harvesting Canadian-bred haskap (honeyberries) at The Honeyberry Farm in northern Minnesota (4 year old Indigo Gem).



Planting

Spacing: 4.5 - 6 ft (1.3 - 2 m) within rows, 8 - 10 ft (2.5 - 3m) between rows
Depth: May be planted a couple inches deeper than original depth to compensate for possible frost heaving or to establish a deeper root system.
Pollination: Proximity to an unrelated variety (within same yard is fine). A different variety (P for pollenizer) is recommended per 2-4 smaller plants (X) to ensure the best fruit set. While theoretically the best example is:
                    X P X
                    P X P
                    X P X    
It is advantageous for harvesting to have each variety in its own row:
                    X P X
                    X P X
                    X P X    
Fertilizer: Most soils are adequate to sustain honeyberry plants. Composted manure/compost tea may be applied in the spring.
Watering: Heavy watering a few times the first few years recommended to promote deep root growth. Do not overwater potted plants. Let dry out in between watering.
Mulching: Honeyberries appreciate being mulched as it helps retain moisture and reduces competition from grass and weeds. Leave a couple inches away from stem free of mulch. Do not overwater mulched plants. Do not use cardboard mulch over winter as mice are attracted to cardboard. While mulch is not required, weed control is essential. Keep grass and weeds at least 24" away from plants. Honeyberries planted into sod do not thrive, and young transplants may get crowded out and die or be severly stunted.

Blossoms

Different honeyberries may blossom at different times. Check out more info at our Blossom Page.

Pollination

Many insects, even humming birds pollinate honeyberry blossoms. Bumble bees are great pollinators. Honey bees are smaller and fly at warmer temperatures than bumble bees, but having a hive in the neighborhood can be an asset to pollination. Watch Wild Bees as Crop Pollinators: a Case-Study in Haskap webinar on pollination. Also, see the Xerces Society's "Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farm article.

Netting


See Blog Post.

Fertilization

  • Compost Tea (simplest recipe: soak manure overnight in 5 gallon pail with water and apply to plants)
  • Nature’s Source Professional Plant Food 10-4-3
  • 19-19-19 twice a year before or during bloom and after harvest. Handful on two sides.

    Pruning

  • First year pruning: some growers recommend pruning as follows: leave two stems 3 or 4 inches tall, cut everything down to above last node.
  • Fifth year and thereafter: Remove old growth (1/5 of bush)
  • Prune older branches at base when bush gets too dense, about 25% of the bush at a time. Recommended pruning time is late winter or early spring but we have done it in the fall as well. When mature plant is transplanted it usually needs more aggressive pruning in order to encourage root establishment along with new growth. If accidentally mowed off, the plants usually regrow. See example of pruning at the U of S.

    Storing

    FRESH
    Post from Honeyberry / Haskap Growing & Info. Facebook Group 5/12/20: doing research on that question at MSU-Western Agricultural Research Center... We found they can store at least 2 weeks if not more when harvested and stored correctly
  • plan on careful hand harvest -- wear latex or similar material gloves or white cotton gloves that can be found online
  • harvest intact and high quality fruit only
  • harvest straight to the container you'd plan to sell them from (we were using "6 oz clamshells")
  • store at high humidity (95%+) and between 33 and 34 F (a standard fridge is 40% relative humidity).
    If don't have a produce-specific cooler we had some promising results with Freshworks containers (but I'd still open them periodically so they can air out) with other kinds of berries

    HoneyberryUSA notes: storage life is much less in normal fridge and dependent upon variety

    FROZEN
  • Honeyberries store frozen very well but their thin skins bursts and release their juice upon thawing. Winemakers love this feature!

    Cautions

    • Birds love these honeyberries. We like Plantra's netting that is easier to work with than some other netting.
    • Deer and rabbits may also nibble on young shrubs
    • Weeds should be kept away from young plants until the shrubs are well established.
    • Strong winds and heavy rain may dislodge ripe berries, which normally stay attached for an extended time. 
    • Regular watering is advised for at least the first couple of years. Somewhat drought tolerant when older but will drop their leaves early in dry years.  
    • Several sites have reported to us problems growing honeyberries in the vicinity of black walnut treesnbsp;
  • FAQ

    1. What are the chill hours needed for honeyberries?
      Later blooming plants with Japanese genetics require as low as 400-500 (per reports from northern New Zealand) but early blooming plants require more.
    2. What are the nutritional needs of honeyberries?
      While the results of Case-Studies-on-Haskap-Nutrition-Feb-2019.pdf are somewhat inconclusive, plants do not typically do as well on the tops of hills where they may not get as much moisture or at the bottom of hills in heavy, higher alkaline soil with less drainage. Weeds also greatly stunt the growth. High pH (8.5) with low K (potash) resulted in leaf curl with brown edges.
    3. My honeyberry leaves look like they are afflicted by blight in mid-summer.
      Most likely it's sun/wind scald, and many cultivars of honeyberries, especially the early blooming ones, naturally experience browning and dropping of leaves. Honeyberries benefit from shade from the hot afternoon sun.
    4. Are honeyberries self-pollinating? Most honeyberries, like apples, need a different honeyberry plant for pollination. Both plants must bloom at the same time. Some will not produce any fruit without a companion, others will produce some fruit alone, but will benefit from a companion.
    5. How are honeyberries pollinated? Insects, especially bumble bees.
    6. When will the plants produce fruit? Honeyberries produce fruit on year-old wood, so it is possible to see a couple berries the year following propagation, but the plants need 3-4 years in the ground to grow to sufficient size to produce any significant amount of fruit, and reach maturity at 5-7 years. Some varieties grow faster and produce fruit earlier than others.
    7. SWD (Spotted wing drosophila fly) issues? We have not had problems in northern Minnesota with our harvest running June 20 - July 10, while raspberries and cherries which ripen second week of July can run into major problems.
    8. How bad are the birds in terms of loss? 100% if you only have a few bushes, and could be major should a flock of cedar waxwings find your orchard. We net.
    9. What's u average plant yield at 5-6 years?Depends on the variety. See variety descriptions at Honeyberry Plants page.
    10. Where are my berries? Look underneath the branches close to the older stem. Leaves may be hiding them.
    11. Are honeyberries compatible with black walnut and other Juglandaceae trees? NO. A grower in New York initially reported, "I sure have a thriving wild (invasive) L. tatarica population in my yard under about 40 black walnuts. My baby L. caerulea "Aurora" showed NO signs of damage, growing in close proximity to walnuts." But several years later reported the honeyberry plants were dying off. In southern Minnesota, two sites with L. caerulea planted just beyond black walnut failed to thrive from 2011-2014, and we have heard of similar cases in other parts of the country, even after the trees had been removed from the field. The Fall 2000 Restoration and Reclamation Review explains that juglone is "an allelopathic compound, which inhibits stem elongation and lower germination rates." Note that this article refers to the invasive Lonicera maaki, not edible blue honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea L., and also states that Lonicera has been found to grow under black walnuts, but while they may grow, they may not thrive.
    12. Are honeyberries invasive? Edible blue honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea L. is distinctly non-invasive as compared to Lonicera maaki (Amur Honeysuckle), Lonicera morrowii (Morrow's honeysuckle), Lonicera tatarica (Tartarian honeysuckle), Lonicera japonica, (Japanese honeysuckle) and (Bell's honeysuckle/showy fly honeysuckle). However, ISHS 2018 proposes some considerations.
    13. How are honeyberries used? - food & drink, dye
    14. Do honeyberries grow in the wild? - Minnesota Wildflowers
    15. More general info on the Caprifoliaceae family, genus Lonicera.

    Pests




    Canadian-bred Honeyberries (Japanese/Russian/Kuril genetics)

    The University of Saskatchewan began breeding honeyberries(haskap) in 2002. Using lines from Russia, Japan and the Kuril Islands north of Japan, this program is producing fruit that is sweeter and superior in taste to many other honeyberry varieties on the market, as well as being larger and more easily detachable from the plant. Royalty fees support ongoing research. Plants may be purchased from HoneyberryUSA.

    American-bred Haskap (pure Japanese genetics)

    Visit Dr. Maxine Thompson's plot in Corvallis, OR, with the folk from St. Fiacre's Farm (Artisian Loose Leaf Teas)

    More Info

    6 year old orchard video
    More links