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Don Kinzler, Published March 14 2014

Growing Together: Landscapes that are good enough to eat

Soon we’ll be busy pruning, planting and weeding with less time to ponder and plan. Because none of us are ever really “done” landscaping, early spring is a great time to consider plant material that provide healthy snacks.

Using landscape trees and shrubs that are both edible and ornamental is a new trend that has been rediscovered from the days of our ancestors. As with all landscape plants for the Upper Midwest, hardiness is a primary factor. North Dakota and Minnesota’s northern tiers of counties are in hardiness Zone 3, and the southern portions are Zone 4.

The following plants are well-adapted.

Large Shrubs

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) grows as a large shrub or a small tree to 25 feet.

Dark purple berries ripen in July and August and are used for jelly, syrup, pie and wine.

The variety Canada red, also known as Schubert, has purple leaves and is a common ornamental. Fruits are identical to green-leaf chokecherry and can be used the same.

Pin cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica) grows to 15 feet with bright red berries ripening in July and August useful for jelly, syrup, and wine.

Juneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is also called serviceberry or Saskatoon. Varieties like Regent produce larger fruit than plants in the wild.

Nick-named Blueberry of the North, the large shrub grows to 15 or 20 feet, ripening in late June and July. Fruits are purple-black when ripe and can be eaten fresh or used for jam, jelly and sauces.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) bears clusters of purple-black fruit in late summer and fall on a large shrub 6 to 12 feet tall. It is classically used for wine, but is tasty in pies and jelly. Named varieties like York and Adams are found in the nursery trade.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) produces brilliant red berries that ripen in September. Height ranges from 5 to 8 feet. The fruit is bitter until cooked, but it is delicious in sauce and jelly. Fruits cling all winter, adding interest to the dormant landscape.

Dwarf sour cherry (Prunus x. kerrasis) is a hybrid, indicated by the “x” in the botanical name.

It needs a new common name because the fruits on these 6- to 10-feet-high shrubs contain twice the sugar content of the famed Michigan pie cherry.

Hardy varieties that have tested well include Evans Bali and Carmine Jewell. Fruit can be eaten fresh or used in pies and sauce.

Medium Shrubs

Aronia black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is being studied because of high antioxidant content of the purple-black berries. The fruit contains high levels of compounds that are being analyzed for slowing the growth of cancerous tumors.

It becomes an attractive shrub at 5 to 6 feet high. Fruits can be eaten fresh or used for jelly, juice and wine.

Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is becoming popular worldwide, and in Japan it’s called haskop. It is fully hardy for our region and can be used like blueberries. It grows to about 4 feet and many varieties are available in the nursery trade. It deserves increased use.

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) produces red cherry fruits useful in pie and jelly. Height is about 5 feet.

Sand cherry (Prunus besseyi) forms a shrub to 5 feet with purple-black berries that ripen in July and August and are used for sauce and wine.

Black currant (Ribes nigrum) fruits contain twice the antioxidants of blueberries. Height is 3 to 5 feet, and the deep purple berries are tasty fresh or processed into jelly, juice or wine.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum) produces clusters of dark red fruit on a 4-foot shrub. Fruits ripen in late June and July. They are bitter for fresh eating but are highly prized for jelly and jam.

Gooseberry (Ribes species) fruits vary in color from greenish-white to red-purple and ripen in July-August. The popular variety Pixwell was developed in North Dakota in 1932. Fruits can be used fresh or processed into jelly and jam.


Adapted varieties of apple, plum, hardy cherry and pear are considered small to medium landscape trees growing from 12 to 30 feet. They are not large shade trees like elm, ash and oak, which can grow taller than 50 feet.

The low heads of fruit trees make them ideal for screening and privacy in the backyard landscape.

Black walnut is our tallest edible tree, reaching 50 feet.


Fences can be turned into living walls by planting grape vines. Add wire to wood fences for support.

Visit locally owned garden centers for high-quality hardy varieties.

Entire landscapes have been constructed using only edibles, but I think the addition of evergreens is nice. If you consider juniper berries in gin production, then you have all bases covered.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.