Grow Superberries in Your Backyard

Aronia and elderberry are both hardy, easy-to-grow plants that provide loads of antioxidants.

| March / April 2018

  • The American elderberry grows wild throughout much of the United States.
    Photo by Stocksy/Harald Walker
  • American elderberry, while lovely, spreads rapidly.
    Photo by Getty Images/Ralf Blechschmidt
  • Don't harvest all of an elderberry plant's lovely white flowers; the berries start to form in their place after the flowers bloom.
    Photo by Stocksy/Alberto Bogo
  • Compared to their American counterparts, European elderflowers are far more fragrant.
    Photo by Getty Images/cjp
  • Cooking neutralizes the poisonous compounds in elderberries, which is why reputable recipes that include the berries will call for heat processing.
    Photo by Getty Images/Madeleine_Steinbach
  • Harvest European elderberries when they're dark purple, almost black.
    Photo by Getty Images/jaye19
  • Commonly known as "chokeberry," aronia is an attractive, productive, un-fussy plant worth growing.
    Photo by Getty Images/AksanaYasiucheia
  • The fragrant white flowers of the aronia plant give way to small, green berries in late spring.
    Photo by Getty Images/Adnan Vejzovic
  • The foliage of the aronia plant turns brilliant colors in the fall, adding visual interest to a yard or garden before the plant loses its leaves for winter.
    Photo by Getty Images/Drabanth

A short time ago, a European couple visited my small suburban nursery in search of some berry plants for their newly acquired home. As we spoke, the husband, an architect, puzzled over the American habit of planting large lawns dotted with only a few decorative trees. We continued our philosophical musings for a while, and then they packed up their plants and headed home.

Not everyone yearns to transform their yard into a cornucopia of edible delights. However, even if you’re a fan of lush, perfectly manicured lawns, you can still add a few multiuse plants that will both look nice and provide nutritious edibles for you and your family.

Berry plants are particularly useful for this purpose because many of them are attractive perennial shrubs with fruits that are both delicious and healthful. Beyond their ornamental and nutritive value, homegrown berries are also much more affordable than the store-bought alternatives, they taste much better when picked fresh off a vine, and home gardeners can grow a number of unique berries that are nearly impossible to find fresh at big-box stores.

Aronia and elderberry are two alternative berries that are sometimes referred to as “superberries” because of their extremely high antioxidant levels. Both are easy to grow at home and will produce an abundant, nutritious harvest. Even if you don’t eat all the berries, they’ll attract many appreciative birds to your property, which will bring added visual interest and help support local wildlife.

American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

You can find the American elderberry, which is also known as common elderberry, growing wild throughout most of the United States along fence rows, roadsides, streambanks, and thickets. Over the years, some plant varieties were selected that showed particularly attractive traits, such as larger berries or more vigorous growth, including ‘Adams,’ ‘York,’ ‘Nova,’ and ‘Johns.’

American elderberries grow as canes that only provide fruit for a few years. The best berries grow on first- and second-year canes. After the first few years, the canes begin to lose productivity, so consider cutting them out in late fall. For best results, maintain a mix of brand-new and 1-year-old canes. If this sounds like too much trouble, then another option is to cut the entire plant down to the ground every fall. This process will make managing the plants easier, and although you’ll get fewer berries as a result, you’ll still have plenty left to enjoy.

Rosetta Kay richards
2/16/2018 5:46:09 PM

Love elderberry jelly and wine we makes it a lot when I was growing up

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