Dakota Gardener: Best Blueberry for North Dakota

Tom Kalb
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

North Dakota is a terrible place to grow blueberries.

Our soils are too alkaline, our winters are too cold and our climate is too dry. Most blueberries planted in North Dakota will starve or freeze to death within a couple years.

Don’t despair. We have found something better! It is a blue honeysuckle berry called haskap.

Haskaps thrive in our soils and climate. Millions of haskap shrubs are grown in the prairie provinces of Canada. The shrubs are hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and easy to grow.

Haskap fruits are larger and sweeter than blueberries. Their flavor is absolutely delicious with essences of blackberry, cherry and grape. Haskaps are great for eating fresh, making jams and jellies, sprinkled on ice cream or baked into pies.

There are three groups of edible blue honeysuckles. The original group came from Russia and is often referred to as honeyberries. Varieties include Blue Velvet, Blue Moon and the Sugar Mountain series. Russian honeyberries ripen earliest (mid-June) and tend to be tarter. 

Blueberries Blueberries are an antioxidant powerhouse. The small fruit enhances the gut microprofile according to research, which has also shown that blueberries can serve as anti-inflammatory agents in the gut by stimulating the production of healthy gut bacteria.

The second group, with a mix of Russian and Japanese ancestry, has created much more excitement in our state. Researchers in Saskatchewan have released varieties that produce large, plump, oblong berries. Varieties include Aurora, Borealis, Indigo Gem and Tundra. These varieties ripen in late June and are recommended for gardeners by North Dakota State University (NDSU).

The latest introductions from Saskatchewan are Boreal Beauty, Boreal Beast and Boreal Blizzard. They bloom later in spring, which leads to more reliable yields. These newer varieties ripen later, making them more susceptible to problems with fruit flies.

The third group of honeysuckles has pure Japanese ancestry. These have rounder berries, less foliage (making harvesting easier) and an upright plant habit. Japanese varieties have been the most productive varieties in recent trials at NDSU and look very promising. Varieties include Solo and Maxie of the Yezberry series, Opus, Kawai and Keiko. These berries ripen in early July.

Plant two compatible varieties for cross-pollination and maximum yields. Indigo Gem and Solo will set fruits on their own but produce higher yields when planted with other varieties. 

You can expect two pounds of berries per bush after three years, and sometimes double that yield as the plant matures.

Netting is essential. Haskaps are the first fruits to ripen and birds love them. Place netting over the shrubs a couple weeks after flowering.  

For more information on growing haskaps, go online and search for the NDSU Hardy Fruit Evaluation Project. The website honeyberryusa.com has lots of good information.

Forget about growing blueberries in North Dakota. Grow haskaps instead.

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/directory/counties.