Honeyberries are deciduous shrubs in the honeysuckle or Caprifoliaceae family. Also known as the blue honeysuckle or edible honeysuckle, their native range includes Siberia and Japan. These hardy, low maintenance bushes have become popular in the UK recently. Unlike blueberries, they thrive in both acid and alkaline soils, and they make a fantastic addition to a fruit garden or a warm, sunny border.
Delicate pale-yellow flowers appear in March and April, and the dark blue berries ripen from early June after the flowers have been pollinated. The fruits look rather like elongated blueberries and taste similar too, with sharper hints of raspberry. They have a thin skin and are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. They are ready to harvest when the flesh turns a deep blue colour. Honeyberries can be eaten raw, or used in jellies and jams.
Varieties of Lonicera caerulea var. edulis and L. caerulea var. kamtschatica have the best tasting berries. Honeyberries need to be pollinated by another bush of a different variety for good crops, so they are best bought in pairs.
Although honeyberry plants are related to other Lonicera, the berries of many honeysuckles are potentially harmful, so do check that you are growing an edible type.
How to grow honeyberry plants
Honeyberries need a fertile, moist but free-draining soil. They're extremely hardy and well suited to the UK climate. Once you have planted a honeyberry bush, it should continue to crop for at least 30 years and may live for over half a century.
Although honeyberries taste similar to blueberries, they are easier to grow because they do not require acid soil. Bushes take a couple of years to bear fruit. If your bushes are still not fruiting after three or four years, check that your honeyberry plant is in fertile soil in full sun, and that it has consistent moisture and a compatible variety for pollination nearby. Honeyberry crops are generally not as abundant as those of blueberries.
Where to grow honeyberry
Lonicera caerulea var. edulis and L. caerulea var. kamtschatica will both tolerate light shade, but the berry yield will be higher in full sun. Honeyberry bushes are suitable for small gardens. They grow to a maximum of 1.8m high and spread up to 1.5m wide, though some varieties are more compact. The best place to plant honeyberry bushes is in a sheltered, sunny spot in a kitchen garden, mixed border or a wildlife area, leaving 1.5m between plants.
You can grow honeyberries in pots of free-draining, loam-based peat-free compost. Plants grown in containers will remain more compact. Keep well-watered in summer and top dress with compost in spring. Repot plants into larger containers annually.
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How to plant honeyberry
Plant honeyberry bushes in spring so they have the chance to become established before colder weather arrives in autumn.
- Soak plants in water for 30 minutes prior to planting
- Dig a hole as deep as the rootball and 1.5 times the width
- Take the plant out of the pot, tease out roots if necessary and place in the hole
- Backfill with soil, firm gently and water in
- Mulch with a layer of organic matter
How to care for honeyberries
Keep soil moist for the first season, but in subsequent years watering is only needed in extremely dry periods as honeyberries have good drought resistance. Plants in containers will need regular watering, especially in hot, dry weather.
Feed with an annual balanced fertiliser in the spring and add a layer of organic mulch in the autumn to retain the moisture and suppress weeds.
Honeyberry plants provide an early source of nectar for bees, but if numbers of pollinating insects are low, it may be necessary to hand pollinate the flowers with a soft paint brush. This should ensure a larger berry crop later in the season.
How to prune a honeyberry bush
Little pruning is required in the first three years. Once honeyberry plants have established and started cropping, prune lightly after fruiting every summer. Remove any thin, crossing or damaged shoots, and cut back some of the older stems to the base, leaving eight to ten shoots. Prune the tips of the remaining stems to stimulate fruit-bearing sideshoots.
How to propagate honeyberries
Lonicera caerulea varieties can be grown from seed or propagated from semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and hardwood cuttings in late autumn or winter. Bushes can also be propagated by layering.
Pests and diseases
Honeyberries are generally robust, problem-free plants. They need little attention until the berries begin to ripen in spring. Protecting plants at this stage in a fruit cage or with netting will avoid the birds eating the berries before you have chance to harvest them.
Advice on buying honeyberry bushes
- Honeyberries are partially self-fertile, but buying two plants of different varieties improves the chances of fruiting. Alternatively, search for suppliers that sell bushes in pairs
- Select a sunny spot for your honeyberry to ripen the wood and improve the fruit yield
- Check carefully that the Lonicera species and variety you buy has edible fruit
Where to buy honeyberry bushes online
Honeyberry varieties to try
Lonicera caerulea var. edulis – this honeyberry has an upright shape and can reach 1.5m in height. It produces yellow-white flowers in late winter and tasty blue berries from May to June.
Height x spread: 1.5m x 1.5m
Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica – originating from Siberia, this variety is another easy-to-grow honeyberry bush that produces tasty fruit in June and July. Hardy down to -40.
H x S: 1.8m x 1.5m
Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Blue Velvet’ – this compact honeyberry has grey-green foliage and oblong blue berries which ripen in late spring and early summer.
H x S: 1.2m x 1.2m
Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Myberry Sweet’ – bred in Canada, this variety crops well and has, as its name suggests, an especially sweet flavour.
H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m
Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Altaj’ – this Siberian honeyberry has a great taste and larger fruit than many other varieties.
H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m