If you are the type of grower that enjoys prolonged relaxing moments and occasional breaks from your gardening activities, we have the ideal companion for you! Gaylussacia baccata a.k.a. black huckleberry is so independent, that you will not have to worry about it at all. Too good to be true? Keep reading and you will see for yourself!
Gaylussacia baccata, commonly known in cultivation as the black huckleberry, is a species of flowering shrubs in the Ericaceae family. This plant originates from a wide area of North America, starting from Eastern Canada and all the way down to Georgia. It grows mostly along the margins of different wooded regions and acidic forests.
Black huckleberries are popular ornamentals not only for their captivating appearance but also due to their easy-going style. It is safe to say that they are one of the easiest plants to grow and care for. These shrubby friends are frost-hardy, drought-tolerant, and can grow without any problem in almost any region worldwide.
Black huckleberries are pretty versatile, making them wonderful garden and potted plants. These shrubs are great for informal hedges, foundation plantings, and shrub borders. The perfect plant companions for them are Azalea, Beetleweed, Eastern White Pine, Lowbush Blueberry, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Sassafras, and Wintergreen.
About Black Huckleberries
- Black huckleberries look very similar to the native blueberry plants (Vaccinium species). Moreover, both species share the same native habitat.
- The best time to harvest Black huckleberries is anytime during midsummer. You can collect the fruits by hand or using a berry harvesting rake to avoid touching and damaging their leaves.
- Their adorable flowers are highly attractive to several species of pollinators including honeybees, mason bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, and butterflies.
- These shrubs play a big part in the overall well-being of their ecosystem. They serve as hosts to the caterpillars of numerous species of butterflies and moths like the Henry’s Elfin, Brown Elfin, Huckleberry Eye-spot, Pink Sallow, or Gordian Sphinx.
- Their berries have a very tasty, sweet to spicy flavour. They are edible if consumed both raw and cooked. The fruits do not please only us, humans, but also birds and animals.
- Black huckleberries have cultural significance for Native Americans who used their berries fresh, frozen, dried, cooked, or mashed in many culinary recipes of soups, cakes, or jams.
- Nowadays, the berries of these plants work as excellent ingredients for jellies, milkshakes, muffins, cakes, pancakes, or pies. You can easily use them as a substitute in absolutely any recipe that contains blueberries.
- The fruits of Black huckleberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, B, and C. They have astringent properties, can help with digestive problems, and improve blood circulation.
Black Huckleberries Features: An Overview
- These plants belong to the Gaylussacia genus that contains about 50 species of flowering shrubs. They share this genus with species like Box huckleberry, Dwarf dangleberry, Dwarf huckleberry, Blue huckleberry, or Hairy-twig huckleberry.
- Black huckleberries are deciduous and perennial shrubs. In their natural habitat or proper environmental conditions, they can reach from 1 to 5 feet (0.3-1.5 m) in height.
- They are usually very stiff, upright, and come with a multi-branched overall look. These shrubs have a spreading and dense growth habit, forming extensive colonies whenever they have the chance.
- The leaves of Black huckleberries are small, shiny on the upper surface, hairy on the lower surface, ovate, narrowly oval, or obovate with finely toothed edges. They grow alternately arranged on slightly woody, pubescent, or hairless stems.
- Their younger leaves usually exhibit shades of bronze to red. At maturity, the foliage turns into various hues of glossy green, especially during the summer months.
- Blooming season is typically in spring, but it can also last until summer in some regions. Black huckleberries produce numerous raceme-like clusters of cute, down-facing, and bell-shaped flowers.
- Their blossoms measure up to 0.3 inches (8 mm) in diameter and have delicate petals with curved tips. They can have several colours, such as white, yellow, pink, or red.
- After their flowering period, Black huckleberries replace their blooms with fruits. The berries are initially green, becoming blue-black when mature. Each berry has a fleshy, sweet pulp, and contains 10 seeds.
Growing Black Huckleberries
Luckily, these shrubs are usually very understanding and friendly with their owners. Once they have settled in their new environment, Black huckleberries become fairly low-maintenance and do not require too much attention. They are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions, so it will be almost impossible to kill them.
Black huckleberries prefer to grow in locations where they can receive plenty of dappled light to partial shade. If you cannot meet these particular lighting demands of your shrubs, no worries! They will also do just fine under bright, direct light to full shade exposure. However, these plants may not produce fruits as easily in prolonged periods of shade or full sunlight.
Temperature-wise, Black huckleberries are frost-hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7. These shrubs can easily withstand harsh winter temperatures that drop to -30 °f (-35 °C). Additionally, they will fruit and bloom healthier if you provide them with low nighttime temperatures in spring.
Black huckleberries are essentially fearless when it comes to pests and fungal diseases. Although some pests like aphids, spider mites, or mealybugs might visit them occasionally, they are not as damaging as with other species of plants. If you notice any suspect presence on your shrubs, you can handpick the intruders and apply neem oil on the infected parts.
Planting Black Huckleberries
If you just got home from your local gardening store with some lovely black huckleberries, do no rush them into the garden! First things first, plant your shrubs into a new pot filled with a fresh peat-moss-based mixture and grow them in it for at least one or two years. After this period, you can transplant them into the garden and care for them as usual.
In general, the ideal soil pH for these plants is somewhere between 4.3 and 5.2 (acidic). Yet, they are not as picky regarding their growing medium as you might imagine! Although they perform best in sandy or rocky substrates, black huckleberries can adapt to a variety of soil types.
It is not in the black huckleberries’ nature to require frequent fertilizing. When their soil is not acidic enough, however, your shrubs will benefit from yearly amendments to correct the pH. Moreover, you can feed them with a balanced granular or slow-release fertilizer in spring. Make sure you follow the package instructions to successfully promote healthy growth and profuse blooming.
Black huckleberries typically grow at a pretty slow pace, so they will not need regular pruning. In fact, young specimens do not demand nor enjoy pruning at all. We recommend you prune these shrubs only to remove their damaged stems, dead branches, and spent flowers. When your plants reach maturity, you can trim them occasionally to maintain the much-dreamed size or shape.
Watering Black Huckleberries
Like most species of shrubs, Black huckleberries are generally tolerant of drought for long periods. Yet, these plants have moderate to dry water demands and thrive when they are growing in constantly damp soil. But if you cannot manage to provide them with water regularly, do not panic! They are very forgiving and will keep loving you no matter what.
For optimal results, make sure you always check the soil of your shrubs in-between waterings. As a general rule, you should water your Black huckleberries only when the substrate has dried out completely. During their active growing period in spring, however, you must water them once the top 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of soil feels dry to the touch.
Propagating Black Huckleberries
Do you want to fill your garden with more Black huckleberries? Many growers decide to propagate them using seeds, but they are usually short-lived and tricky to germinate. The easiest and most efficient method to obtain more of these charming shrubs is the old-fashioned division.
Still, you should divide your beloved plants only when they are mature, large, and well-established. In general, younger specimens have tender roots and do not handle this kind of stress pretty well.
As always, all you have to do is get your Black huckleberries out of the soil and divide their roots into as many sections as you wish. Make sure that each divided part has at least one branch (stem) that emerges from it to ensure proper growth.
After this process, transplant your baby plants in their permanent spots and give them the same care as before. If you have sections that are too small for the garden, you can plant them in pots and surprise your family members or friends with an eye-catching shrubby gift!
Overall, Black huckleberries have a lot to offer. Their exquisite foliage, pretty flowers, and delicious fruits blend perfectly with their low-demanding nature. Simply put, they are basically everything any respectable gardener could want in his collection.
Once you give them a chance, you will surely not regret it! And if you are already among the happy owners of these shrubs, do not hesitate to share your story with us in the comments!