Honeyberries, also known as haskap berries, are a type of fruiting honeysuckle that tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. For cold climate gardeners, honeyberries are a dependable source of early spring fruit, ripening about three weeks before strawberries. Haskaps are extremely cold hardy as well, growing and producing fruit where winters hit 40 below.
Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) are also known as haskap berries, blue-berried honeysuckle or sweetberry honeysuckle. Though they’ve been grown for hundreds of years in cold climates like eastern Europe, honeyberries are become especially popular in permaculture gardens because of their low maintenance needs. They’re cold hardy, fast-growing and tolerant of poor soil.
Knowing they’d be perfect for our northern climate, I wanted to plant honeyberries for years before I finally found a source for honeyberry plants. Our soil is shallow, clay-filled and wet, and winters are long up here in Vermont (zone 4).
When I finally found honeyberry plants, I was very pregnant, and just a few days shy of delivering my first child. I bought them anyway, and they were planted just a few days before my daughter was born.
She’s always been in the 99th percentile for height, but these vigorous plants still outpaced her. Four years later, they’re around 5 feet tall now, and she can’t quite reach the highest fruits.
Honeyberry plants take begin bearing early, often in their second spring. Crops are light at first, as the plants put most of their energy into growing into vigorous bushes. When they do begin to bear, honeyberries can be quite prolific.
It all starts with small, honeysuckle flowers in the early spring. They look like honeysuckle flowers because that’s what they are. Honeyberries are fruiting honeysuckle bushes, so you get the benefit of beautiful flowers as well as fruit.
They’re a favorite of our native bumblebees, and the early blossoms provide early spring nectar sources when they’re desperately needed by pollinators.
Though honeyberry plants bloom about 3 to 4 weeks before our last frost, I’ve never noted frost damage or decreased crops. I assume the blossoms are frost tolerant as an adaptation to many years growing in harsh northern climates. While late frosts will destroy our apple crop some years, honeyberries have been very dependable.
Dependable early fruit is a big deal for us, as someday our goal is to grow all our own fruit for a year-round supply. We successfully root cellar apples already, but by early spring, our palates are craving the first tastes of soft fruit. Strawberries don’t come in until late June or early July, so honeyberries are a big deal around here.
Though they’re often quite tart, especially when under-ripe. The first fruits of spring are excused for their tartness, and I can understand how they would have been valued in northern climates centuries ago before international shipping.
Tart or not, I can’t keep the little ones off them.
How to Grow Honeyberries
Honeyberries are generally grown from transplants that were propagated from cuttings and then rooted in a pot for 1 to 2 years before planting. While we’ve successfully propagated blueberries and grown elderberries from cuttings, I haven’t been able to get honeyberries to root. All our plants were purchased either from local nurseries or as bare-root plants from online nurseries.
I’ve read that honeyberries can also be started from seeds, but I haven’t yet tried growing them that way.
Either way, once you have a few young honeyberry plants, they’re surprisingly easy to grow with minimal care. Here are all the specifics for growing your own haskaps.
While hardiness varies by variety, honeyberries grow best in zones 2, 3 and 4. They need a cold winter dormancy each year. Some varieties will grow and produce in climates as warm as zone 8, but for the most part, they were bred for cold weather and that’s what they need.
Honeyberries aren’t picky about soil type. They have been known to do well on clay soils where other crops have failed. Our plants are a prime example, growing in about 6 inches of mediocre topsoil above a hardpan layer of dense clay. Under ideal conditions, they’d grow in loam with a pH of about 6.5.
While they don’t require particularly deep or fertile soils, they do benefit from a heavy supply of leaf mulch. Honeyberries are shallow-rooted, with the majority of their roots in the top 5-7 inches of soil. Weeding and cultivating the topsoil around their base can damage their roots, and they can be stunted by over-competition with weeds.
Keeping roughly 2 inches of leaf mulch around each mature plant will help prevent weeds, and promote a healthy root system.
Honeyberry fruit is produced on 1-year-old wood, and the highest yields come from strong, vigorous 1-year-old branches. Honeyberries should be pruned when they are dormant in the winter months, removing any dead branches.
For the first 5 to 7 years, allow the plant to grow as much as possible. Mature plants can be between 3 and 6 feet tall depending on the variety, and it takes a while for them to achieve full size.
Once the plants are full size, prune them annually to maximize 1-year-old wood and remove old or damaged branches. Older branches can shade new growth, and prevent good crops. By pruning the bush back, you’re encouraging sunlight penetration to all the productive branches.
Avoid cutting back the tips of branches, as that’s where the most fruit production occurs.
While the plants are hardy, and vigorous in mediocre soils, they produce best with fertilizer or organic manure.
If you’re choosing to apply fertilizer, a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer is a good choice. Apply in very early spring or fall. Otherwise, go with 2 inches of well-rotted manure per year.
This past spring, we applied fish emulsion fertilizer to honeyberry plants right at bud break. The fruit set was out of this world, and we’re harvesting 4x as many berries this year as ever before. While we’ve always gone with heavy mulch and compost in the past, I think we’ll stick with this fish emulsion routine in the future.
The one place where honeyberries are particular is in pollination. To produce fruit, you need at least 2 different honeyberry cultivars. Ideally, you’d have at least 5 bushes planted near each other, with as many different varieties as possible. Here’s a really handy chart that covers honeyberry pollinator compatibility, and tells you which varieties are good pollinators for others.
They’re bee-pollinated, and with their early flowers, they provide much-needed food for native pollinator bees. A favorite of bumblebees and ours are full of buzzing bumbles in the early spring.
One of their main benefits is the fact that they fruit so early in the spring. They produce around 2 weeks earlier than the first strawberries. They’ll fruit for 2 to 3 weeks a year, and after that, they’re attractive bushes for the remainder of the summer.
Unlike other perennials, honeyberries can be productive just one year after planting. They go on to produce berries for 30 years or more with benign neglect for management.
The berries are easy to pick with a gentle hand. A bit softer than blueberries, but firmer and more durable than raspberries.
Pick them by hand into a basket and use them within a few days. They tend to hide under the leaves, meaning that they’re overlooked by birds, but they’re at a perfect angle for small children to harvest.
Honeyberries work well in place of blueberries in most recipes. Keep in mind they’re much softer, and they break down quickly in cooking.
If making honeyberry pie, combine them with a firmer fruit (like pears or apples) so that the pie doesn’t become soup in a pan. For muffins or bread, choose a recipe using strawberries because they will bake up more like those soft fruits in cakey baked goods.
Our favorite way to use honeyberries is in a simple jam. Mix equal parts berries and fruit (by volume) and simmer until the jam gels when tested on a plate kept in the freezer.
Experienced jam makers will know what this looks like, as the bubbles in the pot change when the jam is almost finished. They’ll take on a glossy sheen and the whole pot will change over within seconds.
Haskap jam can be canned just like any other, by allowing for 1/4 inch headspace and processing in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
Beyond jam, this year’s harvest is going into simple shortcakes and maybe a honeyberry ice cream. Similar to blueberry ice cream, but these berries are more tart and take a bit more sugar. They also have more flavor in the finished ice cream in my opinion, and honeyberry ice cream is fast becoming one of my favorites.
Other than preserves, it can be hard to find specific honeyberry recipes online, but I dug up a few for you to try:
- Honeyberry Pear Crisp ~ Grit Magazine
- Orange, Honeyberry and White Chocolate Bread ~ Artisans Des Saveurs
- Honeyberry Wine ~ University of Saskatchewan
How are you going to use your honeyberries?
I purchased 2 honeyberry plants 3 years ago. They did not produce the first year and were getting crowded, so we transplanted to a better site. Last year they didn’t produce either, but I figured that was because they had been transplanted the previous fall. This year they didn’t produce either. They did produce a few blossoms and one or two berries. They have good soil and regular watering. I use compost to fertilize, but have never use any other ferilizer, but maybe some manure. They are both about 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, which the planting instructions say is expected.
Your article says you have to have a different cultivar?
Does that mean I need to get a different variety? Both of my plants are Cinderella Honeyberries. I live in Zone 4.
If they’re both the same cultivar, they won’t set fruit well. Honeyberries need two different cultivars for cross-pollination. They’ll occasionally make fruit without a cross-pollinator, but they won’t really produce until there’s one nearby. We actually grow 6 different types.
Besides a cross-pollinator, the blossoms are really delicate until they’ve set fruit. If you get a very heavy rain or a hail storm at the wrong time, it’ll destroy the crop.
here is the chart for compatible coss-pollination Haskap cultivators https://research-groups.usask.ca/fruit/documents/haskap/Haskap%20bloom%20ripe%20charts.pdf
Can someone post a working link to the Chart for compatible cross-pollination Haskap cultivators?
I just checked the link and it works for me? It goes right to a PDF that downloads from a Canadian research university. Maybe you have popups or downloads blocked? or maybe there site was just down when you checked? Either way, it’s working now, here’s the link: https://research-groups.usask.ca/fruit/documents/haskap/Haskap%20bloom%20ripe%20charts.pdf
We have two varieties of honeyberries that I planted two years ago. They flower beautifully, then start to produce fruit. Before they get to full size, they ripen and shrivel up. The fruits are much smaller than they should be when they do this (about the size of a grain of rice). What are we doing wrong?
That’s a good question and I honestly don’t have the answer, as I’ve never come across that problem. Are they getting enough water during fruit development? I know other types of fruit will abort their developing fruit if they’re water-stressed while they’re forming.
I’m interested in which varieties there are available for zone 8.Any information will be appreciated.
I wish I could help, but I don’t have any personal experience with honeyberries above a zone 4 climate. I did a bit of research, but I wasn’t able to find anything other than dozens of sources claiming they can grow up to zone 8. Whether or not you’d need to take extra steps to achieve chill hours in the soil I couldn’t say.
The honeyberries/haskap that are late bloomers do best in warmer zones. Any of the Yezberry cultivars should work well such as Solo and Maxie. Other cultivars to consider are Blue Sea, Blue Pagoda and Blue Mist among others. Seek out ones of Japanese or Japanese hybrid origin.
Thanks for another useful article. I grow haskap in Ireland (zone 9, but temperate cool). The berries are always quite tart – they aren’t a big hit fresh with anyone so far. Maybe cooking with them is the solution. Or maybe named varieties instead of my unnamed varieties from the nursery.
It’s really a mix by variety, some of ours are absolutely delicious fresh, other bushes are better for haskap jam. Sadly I didn’t label them when I planted them and I can’t remember what variety the sweet ones are anymore…
Hi Jay, I think onegreenworld.com has zone 8 varieties. That’s where I bought them two years ago.
Are you in a cool summer, maritime Zone 8 (Pacific Northwest in the USA, much of Western Europe)? Then ask a supplier from your region. (One Green World and Burnt Ridge are both in the PNW and know fruit.). As others suggested, the Hokkaido (northern Japanese) subspecies should be the most reliable.
If you are talking about the Southeast, I suggest you forget about this fruit. The species is from Siberia! Even Hokkaido is the same climate as the Queen Charlotte islands of British Columbia. That isn’t you. Haskap would fry. You have other spring fruits in the Deep South (zone 8): native dewberries (Rubus trivialis), most mayhaws, evergreen oleasters, and in 8b (the plants are hardy in zone 7b, but the flowers are at the end of fall or over winter and do get zapped by cold snaps), loquats. Texas might get drier and more alkaline, but further east, even in karst areas like the Florida/Marianna Caverns, I saw plenty of native azaleas away from the rocks, implying that the soil is still quite acidic in spite of the underlying limestone. Blueberries will do fine, and the “Southern Highbush” cultivars will often ripen by the end of May (traditional “rabbiteyes” extend this season into summer). Why bother with a plant clearly unsuitable for your borderline subtropical climate when you have many suitable alternatives?
River Bend Orchard Manitoba Canada has Boral Blizzard, Boral Beauty, Boral Beast all compatible .
Hi, we have a place in Jay—any thoughts on the best place to obtain honey berries? Thanks!
Jay Vermont? That’s quite a bit north of us, but we’ve picked them up from EC browns in Thetford and East Hill Nursery in Plainfield VT. They also have quite a few varieties in the Fedco catalog, and we’re ordering a few new ones from there this year too.
For anyone interested St. Lawrence Nurseries has 4 different cultivars – I think all Russian. They specialize in cold hardy apple trees but do have hasp. They’re located in Potsdam NY (NNY).
Wonderful! I’d heard of them as a great source for hardy mulberry, but last I checked their website was down. I just checked out the catalog and I’m exited =)
Do you have a good source for mail order? I live in Chicago and I have never seen any locally. I have 2 I got 2 years ago, and they are supposed to pollinate each other but they can’t because they flower at different times. So I have yet to taste a honeyberry. 🙁 So I am in the market to buy a few more bushes but I’d like to get them from a reputable source.
We’ve had great success ordering them from fedco trees. They come bare-root and are pretty big for bare-root plants. They grow fast, and we’ve been very happy with them. They have a number of cultivars too.
Jungs Seeds & Plants aka jungseed.com out of Randolph, WI, has at least 10 different types of bushes.
my first yr planting these . so far so good.. northen Ontario canada
Also from Northern Ontario. Can you share where you purchased yours from please? Would like to get some for my yard.
Riverbend Orchard Manitoba
Whiffletree Nursery in Ontario is where I buy mine. They ship all across the province and have a good selection. You can kill two birds with one stone as well. They ship cherry bushes developed from the university of Saskatchewan as well. Cold hardy as well.
I have had 2 bushes for 3 years and get very littke fruit. They are different varieties but seem to blom at different times.. How can I find ones that bloom at the same time? Also the berries are tiney.
Pollination can be an issue, and they’re not all totally cross-compatible. There are a bunch of different pollination charts online, showing different varieties and if they pollinate eachother. Here’s one: http://prairietechpropagation.com/app/uploads/Haskap-Compatibility-Chart-2.pdf
There are others as well, just search haskap pollination chart.
As to the berry size, that may just be a factor of your specific varieties. We have a couple of bushes on the smaller side, but most are pretty big.
My honeyberries are very happy and large in a hugelkultur bed. They seem to really love it. I use the ones in the hugel as mother plants for propagation.
I didn’t see anything about animals, we have deer on our property pretty much year around they even come up onto our deck and eat certain plants, so I’m wondering if they will eat the honeyberries. We live in northern California and we are going thru a warm spell right now, however, our temps have been down to 19 degrees already this year
Mule deer will gobble up what they can. We lost all of our new growth to them in northern British Columbia. On apple trees, raspberries, haskap and even horseradish.
Thanks that was the question I had. Mulies and Whitetail we have in abundance. Maybe I’ll keep looking, need something deer don’t care for but will give us fruit…
Only thing we’ve found for deer (eastern washington) is an 8 foot tall fence. Whitetail and moose around here. They even eat potatoes and irises, which are supposedly poisonous to deer.
What I have done was to take my prunings and stick them in the soil as they are when the soil thawed enough and out of probably ten cuttings, five sprouted new growth. Had I fenced them in I would think all five would be good but in the fall the deer came in our yard and ate all new growth. I brought three in the house and put them under grow lights and they came back to life so I have three free haskap plants now and will try to do more with this winter’s pruning by bringing them inside and starting them all indoors.
Great article! I took hardwood cuttings of some of our Aurora and Tundra honeyberrie in late winter this year. I put them in a raised bed that I use to root cuttings. They will remain there until next fall if they root.
Can the berries be frozen like blueberries for winter time baking?
Yup, freeze just like blueberries!
How much sunlight is required for them? Are they shade tolerant?
They do well from partial shade to full sun. Ours get shade from some maple trees that are near-ish as the sun goes across the sky, but just for a few hours during the day.
The first year the birds cleaned my berries out before I even knew there were any! I caught them coming out of the bushes early one morning. No berries that year. Then this year the raspberries crowded them out! 4 of the bushes anyway. The raspberries are going to be GONE.
Hi! I have four bushes coming this spring,. I am unsure of where I want to plant them. Do you know if they require wind protection where I live is very windy, but all of the ideal planting locations do not have that much of a wind break. Thanks!
I think it would be a good idea to provide them with some wind protection. This article I found says that strong winds and heavy rains can dislodge the ripe berries and can experience sun/wind scald as well. http://honeyberryusa.com/about-honeyberry.html
Hi there love your article…I am in South Africa and would love to get some seeds to try and grow them here…do you think you can send me some 🙂 Theunis
So glad you enjoyed the article. You can try jungseed.com and see if they ship internationally.
I am thinking of trying these. How big is their seed? Do they dry well?
The seeds are very small, really not noticeable (like blueberries). I haven’t dried them, but I bet they’d dry beautifully (following the same instructions as for blueberries).
T B King
Ashley, I have to start by thanking you for all of your amazing information. I look forward to you showing up in my inbox every week. I am new to gardening in general; however, after reading about honeyberries, I am obsessed. This is my question. I have just a regular backyard that I will be planing in. Is it better to plant in a circle so all bushes can cross-pollinate each other or does it work if I plant them in a row like along a fenceline?
It’s not necessary to plant them in a circle. They are pollinated by bees so as long as you have at least 5 bushes planted relatively close together then you should be good. You also want to plant as many different varieties as possible and make sure that they are compatible with one another in regards to the bloom time.
can anybody help with getting more bumble bees in yard thank you
I would recommend adding more plants that attract pollinators.
I planted a Haskap sapling last Spring and a windstorm broke the main branch. Then I moved it closer to the other one I have away from winds. The other one has started to leaf. But the one I had to move doesn’t have any leaves on it yet. The roots are intact. Should I wait to see if it leafs out? I can’t tell if it’s alive or not. I don’t know how long to wait. Or should I just buy another one?
I’ve seen them resprout from the roots (a tree came down in a storm and landed on one of ours, breaking it off completely). But it’s totally possible it’d dead too. If it is going to come back from the root, it might take longer to sprout. If you have the space, a thrid plant is a good way to ensure pollination anyway, and then it won’t matter if that one comes back or not.
Stool mounding is a great way to propagate honeyberry plants. I have had a lot of success with that.
I have 2 plants that I want to propagate from. I’m trying stool mounding (happy to hear you’ve had success with this method!) and I did get 6 seeds out of 10 to germinate in cells this spring. They are tiny and a long way from being planted out but I’m still excited.
I’ve had haskap bushes for the past 7 or 8 years. In total I have 15 of them planted throughout the yard. I’m in zone 3 in BC Canada. The first five bushes I planted are now 7 ft tall and the same in diameter. I fill a medium size chest freezer with them every year. We eat them every day as topping on yogurt and in crisps with them combining the berries with sour cherries topped with a butter and oat flakes topping. So delicious on a cold winter day. I planted three new bushes last year that were new cultivars from the University of Saskatchewan (a treasure trove of info on haskaps….https://research-groups.usask.ca/fruit/Fruit%20crops/haskap.php). These berries in their second year are amazing. Three or four times the size of the other ones and they come clean off the stems without tearing. Harvesting time is dramatically reduced with a better product. My first bushes were Aurora and Polar Jewel. The Aurora were considered the pollinators and the other the money berry. But I’ve fond the Polar Jewel are much harder to pick as the stem clings on the berry and often pulls out the guts if not twisted off like a bottle cap. The Aurora though smaller are easy to pick and more prolific with bushes that grow straight up unlike the Polar which droop and can easily become infested with spiders. The problem with Aurora is the berry size is often small and harvesting any appreciable quantity is a long job. My latest bushes are the Borealis (I’m not sure which one of the several) but it grows upright and has berries are easily over an inch long. They come off the stems easily and taste great. The Aurora was used as the pollinator so I get great berries either way. I’ll be replacing The Polar Jewel with these guys next spring for sure. From my last years harvest I had berries left over in the freezer and still had lots on the bushes for the birds (once they fall on the ground, the birds can find them) after that harvest. These bushes are the best!
When you talk about making jam, do you add sugar at all? I see equal parts honeyberries and fruit… thank you!
Sorry about that. That should say equal parts honeyberries and sugar. Here is a post with the exact recipe for you. https://practicalselfreliance.com/haskap-jam/
🙂 Ahh, thanks so much!!
You’re very welcome.
I need canning instructions. Is this possible or just follow Canning blueberry instructions ?. Please and Thank You.
They are very similar to blueberries and most blueberry recipes should work well with honeyberries. Let us know if you decide to give it a try.
Lots of great information, thank you. However, no mention of any pest/disease issues which is my main problem here on Vancouver Island, west coast British Columbia. The problem: as soon as a new leaf starts developing, the tip of the leaf turn brown, almost if scorched, which eventually spreads to the rest of the leaf and eventually turns brown/black. I have tried spraying with neem oil but no luck. any info and/or suggestion would be greatly appreciated.
There isn’t much mentioned in the article about pests or disease because the honeyberries are typically very hardy and don’t really have many significant pest or disease issues. It’s really hard to say exactly what’s going on without knowing your specific situation. It could possibly be an issue with water or nutrients.
it might also be the extreme heat of afternoon sun?
Yes, that’s possible.