Ask a Master Gardener: Any berry options other than raspberry and strawberry?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 23, 2014 

Ski to Sea: Carey Jones

The alnifolia serviceberry, Thursday, April 24, 2014 at Cloud Mountain Farms Central in Everson.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Question: I have strawberries and raspberries growing in my yard, but I want to try some different edible berry plants. Any suggestions?

Answer: I have two suggestions: serviceberry and mulberry.

Serviceberry is in the rose family and is widespread across North America. The plant is an attractive shrub, small- to medium-sized tree (can grow to over 30 feet but can be kept shorter with pruning) with a small leaf that turns yellow in fall. In April it is covered with masses of small white flower clusters, and by July is blanketed with small blueberry-like fruit. The fruit has a sweet-tart flavor similar to crabapple. It is high in vitamin C. Serviceberries need reasonable watering in the hot part of the summer, full sun and well-drained soil.

Good fruiting varieties come from the cultivar A. alnifolia, and include "Smokey," "Thieseen," and "Northline."

"All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel." Remember this child's song? Well, let me introduce you to the real thing - the mulberry tree. This is the tree with the leaves that are fed to silkworms, but it also produces great quantities of sweet white, red or black berries. According to some, they have a kind of coconut aftertaste.

Though the white and black mulberry trees both come from Asia, the white is invasive and not recommended. However, the black type is considered the most flavorful, not as invasive as the white, but is hardy to only 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus it is a poor choice for all but the warmest parts of Western Washington.

That leaves "Morus rubra," the American mulberry with a fruit that is a colorful mix of red and black drupelets, as the Mulberry's fruit is called. It is native to the U.S.

Mulberry trees are moderate to fast growers; some can reach 30 feet in 20 years. They have attractive heart-shaped, dark green foliage and are self-pollinating. Fruit ripens over an extended period from July through September. They need full sun; a deep, well-drained soil; and water during the driest part of the year.

Important: While mulberry trees make nice landscape trees, plant them away from walkways, patios or driveways. Birds love the berries (there will be plenty enough to share with our feathered friends) and the purple droppings aren't appealing.

Q: I have seen carrots for sale that are so different from the traditional orange. What do you know about them?

A: Some of the new carrots might be unrecognizable to those used to the orange root we all immediately recognize as a carrot. Now they come in purple, white, red, and yellow. Carrot breeders have been working for 50 years to perfect the disease immunity, shape, taste, size and color of carrots. They've come a long way from their first appearance in western or central Asia around 900 to 1000 A.D.

A breeder at the University of Wisconsin worked for years on new carrot strains, and then asked Washington State University to trial his seeds. That led Tim Waters, a WSU Extension educator in Pullman, to experiment with the new cultivars.

But why Washington for these trials? Did you know that this state grows 36 percent of the nation's supply of carrots? And that orange carrots today have 75 percent more beta carotene than 25 years ago? Our bodies use that to produce vitamin A, essential to good health. And the new carrots are loaded with good things: purple carrots contain antioxidants liked to prevention of cancer, as well as anti-inflammatory properties; red carrots promote heart health; and the yellow pigments in carrots are linked to eye health.

So do what your mom and Bugs Bunny urged: Eat your carrots, and try growing some of the new varieties!

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html. Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

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