If you like growing sweet berries on your property and want to try something different from the traditional blackberry or blueberry, huckleberries are the ideal choice.
When it comes to flavor, you can’t go wrong with huckleberries. They taste like a perfect blend of raspberries and blueberries. These underappreciated berries are finally getting their due.
If you want to grow these lovely little berries at home, keep reading to learn about the growing requirements and how to care for this plant.
Learn To Identify Huckleberries
Huckleberries are fruit-bearing shrubs that produce flavorful berries. These plants are found in the Gaylussacia and the Vaccinium genera. There are several cultivars of each species that you can buy in stores, so there are plenty of options out there.
Many huckleberries grow wild in North America and species like Mountain huckleberries are an important food source for wildlife.
It’s easy to spot huckleberries growing in your garden or in the wild as they have distinctive red, purple and black berries. During the spring and summer, you can see tiny flowers blooming on the branches in the spring and summer. These flowers can be pink, red, white, or yellow.
After the flowers fade, the berries emerge and mature to dark blue, purple, red, or black. On some species, the foliage is evergreen, so for every season, there’s some visual delight in your garden.
Once the berries have matured, you can harvest them for making jam, pies, or other sweet treats.
The best way to tell huckleberries apart from blueberries is the small spots that can be found on the underside of the leaves.
Here are some of the most common species of huckleberries:
- Dwarf (Vaccinium cespitosum)
- Cascade (Vaccinium deliciosum)
- Mountain (Vaccinium membranaceum)
- Red (Vaccinium parvifolium)
- Black (Gaylussacia baccata)
- Evergreen (Vaccinium ovatum)
The berry flavor will vary depending on the climate, time of year, and species, but they taste similar to blueberries and raspberries. Huckleberries can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7.
Picking the Right Location for Huckleberries
A smart tip for growing huckleberries at home is to start with planting them in a large pot for a few years before transplanting them to the ground. This allows you to monitor their progress and let them get established before they enter the soil of the earth.
Of course, if you purchase a seedling that is at least a few years old, you can skip this step.
You want to start by picking a location that will get adequate sunlight throughout the day. For huckleberries, these shrubs should be placed somewhere that’s in full sun or partially shaded.
Growing huckleberries in full sunlight is possible if you live somewhere cool, but the plant might struggle in full sun if you live somewhere warm. If you plant in too much shade, the shrub might not fruit as quickly or as much as it would in more sun.
Besides the light exposure, you also must consider the soil’s quality. The best type of soil is acidic and sandy soil. This type of soil gives the shrub the right balance of nutrients and drainage to keep it healthy.
Once you’ve found suitable soil, you should ensure that the pH levels are between 4.3- 5.2 before planting. Soil that is the wrong pH can be altered by using sulfur or aluminum sulfate. Sulfur is longer lasting.
Huckleberries are resilient shrubs and they can adapt to other soil conditions such as rocky or heavy soils, but they won’t do well in alkaline soil.
Huckleberries are known for growing in a range of regions and they can thrive in a range of temperatures. However, the lowest temperature they can handle is -30°F.
This shrub needs cooler temperatures at night during spring to begin the flowering season and produce fruit. If you have warm winters and springs, you might have trouble growing huckleberries.
To keep the process simple, follow a few steps to ensure that the shrub has the best chance of surviving and blooming in your garden.
You can plant purchased rhizomes in containers following these steps:
- Pick a spot with partial sunlight
- Add your soil to a large container (make sure the soil has the right pH)
- Plant the rhizomes in late winter/early spring
- Keep soil moist but not wet
- Move the shrub to the garden after 1-2 years
For planting directly in the garden, wait until the last frost in your area and place the rhizomes in the soil. Keep the soil moist as the plant establishes itself.
You can propagate huckleberries by seed, but it can be difficult as the seeds are short-lived and hard to germinate. Plant them 1/4 inch deep in prepared soil and keep the soil moist.
Many people opt to propagate huckleberry shrubs by division. Division is when you dig up the entire plant and divide it into multiple plants.
Whichever method you choose, you should clear away any weeds and debris from the area before planting. Pests like to burrow in leaves, so it’s a good idea to ensure the area is clean before planting your shrub.
Caring Techniques for Huckleberries
Now you have the huckleberry plant in the ground; what next?
Huckleberries are drought-resistant, so if you forget to water, all is not lost. If you live somewhere with hot summers, you’ll have to water more often. If you live in a region that sees regular rainfall, you might not have to water at all.
The soil should be moist but not wet, and you can allow the top inch or two to dry out in between watering.
You can add mulch to the soil to prevent weeds from growing and some well-rotted compost or manure will help enrish the soil. Just be careful when doing maintenance and pulling out weeds, as huckleberry shrubs have shallow roots.
The good news is that once these shrubs are established, they don’t require much maintenance.
Pruning should be done in the winter when the shrubs are dormant. This includes evergreen types. Remove any diseased, dead, or crossing branches. Be careful not to remove any new growth that started in the previous year, because these plants fruit on one year old wood.
Feel free to remove older branches as they’re less productive.
Huckleberries also don’t require fertilizer to be healthy, but it’s a bonus if you want to boost your plant’s overall nutrition. When feeding huckleberries, you should use a 10-10-10 fertilizer during the flowering season.
A slow-release fertilizer will help improve the quality of your harvest and give you lots of pretty flowers to look at during spring and summer. Check the label for instructions before applying fertilizer to your plants.
Common Pests and Diseases
While huckleberries are relatively healthy, there are a few problems you might run into when growing them.
Mummy Berry Disease
Even though mummy berry might sound endearing, the disease is anything but pleasant for your huckleberries. Caused by the fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, this disease mummifies the fruit.
This vicious disease is commonly found on young huckleberry plants. Look for any signs of discoloration on the berries and a grey powder on the leaves. Tips of young branches will die off. If you notice any of these signs, you might have a case of mummy berry.
The best treatment for mummy berry disease is to remove mummified berries and dispose of them. Then, spray plants with Monterey Complete Disease Control fungicide.
Leafrollers are another common problem that you can face when growing huckleberries. These caterpillars are known for creating nests in their host by folding the leaves with webbing.
They are roughly one inch long and have dark bodies ranging from green to brown. You can treat leafrollers by removing the infested leaf and watching out for them in surrounding plants, too.
For more tips, check out our guide.
Harvesting Delicious Huckleberries
Harvesting your huckleberries is the easiest part of growing them. You can simply pick off the berries by hand or use a rake that brushes the berries off the shrub without damaging the leaves.
You must wait until the berries are fully matured to get the best taste from the fruit. By the middle of summer, you should be able to enjoy your berries. In areas like Pacific Northwest, they ripen at the same time as salmon season, which is wonderful since they taste great together.
You can either eat them after a quick clean with water or store them for future use. Freezing your berries in a container will keep them fresh and ripe. Plus, you can add them to your morning smoothie during summer!