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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Blueberriy, elderberry, serviceberry plants do well in Inland Northwest

The profuse white flowers of the serviceberry are seen in May 2008 around Spokane. This shrub yields blueberrylike fruit in early July. (Susan Mulvihill / The Spokesman-Review)
The profuse white flowers of the serviceberry are seen in May 2008 around Spokane. This shrub yields blueberrylike fruit in early July. (Susan Mulvihill / The Spokesman-Review)

Home-based fruit growing is seeing a resurgence all over the country. More and more people are swapping out landscape shrubs and trees for fruiting berry bushes and trees. It makes sense; why not make your landscape earn it’s keep a little bit. So, what are some good choices for our Inland Northwest gardens?

First though, what do berry and fruit trees need to do well? Most will need full to partially sunny spots to produce a good crop of fruit. They will need a well-drained, moderately rich soil and moderate amounts of fertilizer. Most of us already have this kind of soil in our gardens. Most will need regular watering especially the first couple of years. Adequate water means bigger fruit. There are exceptions to this so ready the growing instructions for plants you are interested in.

Blueberries do well here if they get enough water and an acidic soil. I grow mine in a raised bed filled with a conifer bark-based compost that is slightly acidic. To increase the acidity, I top dress the bed with granular sulfur in the fall, so it gets into the soil by spring. The sulfur reacts with the soil chemistry to create sulfuric acid. My plants are on an automatic timer that waters them every other day through the summer. I apply a shredded pine-needle mulch to protect the shallow roots and retain moisture.

If you have some space, our native elderberry is a good choice. The dark blue berries ripen in August and make excellent wine, jelly and syrup. The Native Americans used the berries for food and medicine. Elderberry bushes grow 8 feet wide and tall and prefer some afternoon shade in an evenly moist soil. They can get rangy and a little wild so are best in a back corner of the garden. In the wild, they grow along forest edges and near streams.

We all know serviceberry and if you don’t, it’s the white-flowering shrub that covers the local hillsides in very early May. It produces a blueberrylike fruit in early July that the birds love so gather them quickly if you want any for jam or pies. Native Americans dried the fruit and pounded it with meat to make pemmican, their traveling and winter food. The plant does best in full sun and isn’t particular about its soil. It needs a moderate amount of water to grow large berries but is quite drought tolerant. Some cultivars also produce nice fall color.

There are so many fruit trees available for the home garden I can’t list them here. However, plant breeders have been busy creating smaller statured trees that stay narrow and under 10 feet tall. Many of these trees can be densely planted to make a hedge or espaliered along a fence. Espalier is a training technique that prunes the tree’s branches flat against a fence or frame. Most fruit trees require full sun, regular water and average soil to do well.

Be sure to check for deer resistance before you plant.

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