Chuck's all-time favorite plants

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Chuck's all-time favorite plants

Here is a list of some of my all-time favorite plants:

Muscadine Grape – Everyone living below 2500 ft. elevation should have a muscadine in their yard. Muscadines are full of antioxidants, like resveritol – they’ll keep you young! And they’re a smart plant for our climate – they wait until ALL danger of frost is over before budding out. A native plant, they have few pests or disease problems, making them easy to grow organically, and can produce prodigious amounts of fruit if pruned annually. Commercial growers support them with a single wire trellis, but in the home landscape you can also put them on a fence, patio, or pergola.

American Elderberry – Another North American native, elderberries are strongly anti-viral and could be our first defense against a flu pandemic, or any cold or flu. When I was traveling in Ukraine I kept my immune system strong by sipping elderberry syrup before and during the trip. Elderberry fruit can be made into preserves, pies, fruit compotes, syrups, tonics, tinctures, or wine. You need two plants for pollination, but if you don’t have much room, you can plant them just a couple feet apart, or better yet, give one to your next door neighbor to plant in their yard!

aronia-berries-120Aronia melanocarpa – Another native to our mountains, black aronia berries are one of the top health drinks in Europe and starting to be planted here! There are over 300 acres of aronia orchards planted in Iowa alone. Aronias are a nutritional powerhouse, far more nutrient dense than the much hyped acaei berry from the tropics. The berries are not sweet, so take some getting used to for fresh eating, however they are excellent processed or combined with other fruits in cooking, preserves, or for making delicious wine, mead, or juice. The plants are shrubs that are quite ornamental through three seasons, and self fertile, so an overall great plant for the home landscape.

Asian pears – Asian pears are wonderful fruit trees for our area. They are quite ornamental, and much easier to grow than apples and peaches. It’s hard to beat a crisp, juicy Asian pear right off the tree. They are so much more delicious than the ones found in the grocery store.

Blackberries – Thornless blackberries are tasty, health promoting, and easy to grow. You’ll be getting berries the year after you plant them, while you’re still waiting for your other fruit trees and bushes to mature. The fruit is low sugar, so good for diabetics, and loaded with beneficial antioxidants. Blackberries are often the first thing to sell out at the farmers’ market, but you’ll have plenty if you grow them in your yard.

Goumi – A beautiful shrub that generally stays around 6-7’ tall, nitrogen fixing, no insect or disease problems, the first bush fruit of the year to ripen, fragrant flowers, and abundant, highly nutritious, sweet/tart fruit. What’s not to love about this plant?

Figs 2 240 x 181Figs – There’s something magical about a fig and they’re super easy to grow if you have a sunny, warm spot, protected from winter winds. To assure good fruiting, it’s worth the trouble to winter protect them from Thanksgiving to mid-March. Check out the winter protection videos on our website. Figs are smart plants who generally don’t leaf out till mid to late spring.

Ground nuts – Apios americana. A native perennial leguminous vine that produces edible nutritious tubers. A major food for Native American peoples.

Nanking cherries – Nanking cherries are the easiest-to-grow plant we have – even easier than blueberries. They are shrubs that are covered with white blossoms in the spring and then bear abundant crops of bright red cherries in late May/early June. The fruit is about half the size of a regular sweet cherry and is a delightful combination of juicy, sweet and tart essences. Nanking Cherries, like all cherries, need good soil drainage, so if you have a heavy clay soil, dig a wide planting hole amend the soil with pine bark soil conditioner (plus lime and rock powders), and mound the plant so its roots aren’t in standing water.

Tea camellias – Camellia sinensis. Yes, you can grow your tea and drink it too. This is the tea of commerce. This plant is grown for its leaves, which are the source for black, green, or white tea, depending on how it’s processed. Tea camellias are hardy into zone 6b. Give them acidic soil, good drainage, and protection from winter wind and they will thrive. They also have wonderfully fragrant small blooms in the fall and early winter.

cornelian-cherry-240Cornelian cherries – Cornus mas. I found these small trees growing all over the Ukraine, where they are prized for their abundant fruit production. A European relative of our native dogwood, cornelian cherries are a dogwood sized tree that loads up with bright yellow blooms in late February, way ahead of the forsythias, brightening our spirits with the promise of spring weather to come. The blooms are cold hardy and are followed in late summer by abundant 1-2” long bright red fruit. They get sweeter after harvest and make wonderful sauces, preserves, compotes, pies, dried fruit or wine. Partially self fertile, though two plants are required for best pollination and fruit production.

Honeyberries – last, but not least, this is a recent favorite. The plants are named honeyberry because they are in the same family as honeysuckle, with a much more reserved habit. The plants are small shrubs with bluish leathery leaves and stay 3-4’ tall, making them an excellent landscape plant. The fruit is like a grape with a square cross section. They are the earliest fruit in our nursery, so they aren’t susceptible to the spotted wing drosophilas that are causing so much damage to most other berries. Two different varieties are required for pollination. Honeyberries are a real up and coming plant in our region.

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