Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
I love the fact that home fruit and vegetable gardening has seen such a surge in popularity in recent years. One of the great side effects of this status is that nurseries are rediscovering previously under-appreciated or unusual fruit and vegetable crops. Many of these "new" plants are attractive additions to the landscape in their own right, the tasty fruit being an added benefit.
One of the "projects in progress" at my house involves a new border of plantings around our fenced in vegetable garden. In looking for some small to medium-sized shrubs for this area, I stumbled on Honeyberry in one of my favorite catalogs.
What drew me to the Honeyberry shrubs was the fact that they appeared to be attractive shrubs for the landscape, with the added bonus of edible fruit. They also reportedly very hardy, tolerating a wide range of environmental conditions. They will survive winters in at least Hardiness Zone 3, making it a great choice for gardeners in Northern climates.
Further research revealed Honeyberry, Lonicera caerulea, is a type of honeysuckle. Another common name for Honeyberry is Sweet Honeysuckle or Edible Honeysuckle. This explains, at least in part, this plant's hardiness.
There are several species of vining and bush honeysuckle that are considered invasive, meaning they crowd out desired plants. Not every honeysuckle is invasive, but overall, honeysuckles in general tend to have a very vigorous growth habit.
One of my jobs growing up was helping to trim the shrubs around the house, some of which were honeysuckle. My dad would scalp the honeysuckles down to the ground about every other year, and within a year they were over six feet tall again.
While it is a honeysuckle, Honeyberry is not considered invasive. It is native to cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. There are nine different naturally occurring varieties of Honeyberry known. I am growing is Lonicera caerulea var. edulis, a native of Russia.
This variety of Honeyberry is the one most commonly sold for home gardens. It reportedly has no significant pest or disease problems. Full sun is usually the best site for this plant. Honeyberry will tolerate even the poorest of soils. The one intolerable condition is standing water.
Its soft grey-green foliage is a nice addition to the landscape. The plants I have will reach three feet tall and four feet wide. Other varieties may be much larger, six feet tall or more.
Honeyberry plants are self infertile, meaning you need more than one cultivar to produce fruit. I have two cultivars of Lonicera caerulea var. edulis: 'Blue Moon' and 'Blue Velvet'.
Many sources of Honeyberry advertise these plants as extremely early fruiting plants, producing fruits at least two weeks earlier than the earliest strawberries. This early fruiting trait is not true for all cultivars. The 'Blue Moon' and 'Blue Velvet' cultivars I have are late bloomers, flowering in May, with their fruit ripening in July and August.
So far my opinion of Honeyberry is they are indeed very hardy plants. The local rabbit population investigated my new Honeyberry bushes and mowed one down nearly to the ground. As with the honeysuckle bushes near my parents' house, the Honeyberry bush is a survivor, little green shoots rising like a Phoenix from the brown stump the rabbits left. I have high hopes for these shrubs. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that we will see a few fruit next year.