Cultivars

Blackberries, Raspberries and other Rubus

Boysenberry: Boysenberries originated from a complex cross among blackberry and a raspberry and a [dewberry X loganberry hybrid] on the farm of Rudolph Boysen. Mr. Boysen died, but fortunately the famous plant breeder and explorer George M. Darrow heard about it and with the help of Walter Knott, rediscovered the plant. It was then brought to the public's attention by Knott's Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California in 1934, back when it was actually a berry farm.
I planted boysenberries in-between my young grapevines in my Coal Mountain, Georgia orchard. My memory on how they did is vague, probably indicating that they didn't perform well. I don't remember ever getting to eat a berry. I recall them dying back to the ground every winter and I finally gave up and planted more grapes where those useless berries had been. The general consensus is that the thorned kind of boysenberries do better and taste better. I had planted the thornless version.
The lying Washington Post had left out the contribution of the dewberry and the loganberry in their story. They HATE dewberries and loganberries and will do ANYTHING to discredit them! Another conspiracy! SAD!!!
(Washington Post and Wikipedia)

'Heritage' red raspberry: Various literature, including the Georgia Extension Service, suggested that the only red raspberry available at the time that might do well in our area was 'Heritage', so that's what we planted. We grew about an acre of them for the U-pick market. They were planted in bottomland, which was good rich soil, but we made long raised beds so that the berries would be sure to have good drainage year-round. After harvest, we would mow them with a Bush Hog®. They were essentially organic, though we never got certified. They were a real draw on the farm, because no one else in our area had them. At home, my Mom made delicious raspberry pies, one no-bake version with a neufchatel bottom crust was a favorite on hot summer days during picking season. We also ate lots of them fresh, or with fresh cream from our Jersey cows. Although they were not the most intensely-flavored raspberry I've ever eaten, they had a nice red raspberry aroma and certainly tasted good. I recommend them to Southern growers.
'Heritage' was developed by Cornell University. A good summary of Cornell raspberries can be found here.

'Navaho' blackberry: An erect-cane, thornless blackberry developed by the University of Arkansas' impressive berry-breeding program. I generally agree with the patent description pasted below with minor edits, even the comment about its excellent taste, with the caveat that 'Triple Crown' is technically a dewberry, not a blackberry.
"Originated from a hand-pollinated cross of Arkansas Selection 583 (non-patented)×Arkansas Selection 631 (non-patented) made in 1977 at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station Fruit Substation at Clarksville, Ark. The seeds resulting from this controlled hybridization were germinated in a greenhouse in the spring of 1978 and planted in a field on the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station in Clarksville, Ark. The seedlings fruited during the summer of 1980 and one, designated Ark. 1172, was selected for its thornless canes, erect growth habit, and high fruit quality.
During 1981, the original plant selection was propagated asexually from root cuttings and [s]ubsequently, larger test plantings have been[were] established with asexually multipled plants at [snip] locations in Arkansas and on state experiment stations in Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi.
It forms new plants from adventitious buds on most root cuttings, but is best propagated by rooting softwood cuttings. Test plantings over a wide geographic area have shown this new variety to be adapted to differing soil and climatic conditions. It has performed well in tests in the Southeast U.S. but is not cold hardy in northern states. Plants of the new variety are moderately vigorous and row establishment following planting is more rapid than with other thornless varieties. Both primocanes and floricanes are erect in growth habit and the new variety is the first truly erect thornless variety to be developed. The plants are genetically thornless, having the recessive genes for thornlessness derived from 'Merton Thornless'. Plants and fruit are moderately tolerant to anthracnose (Elsinoe veneta (Burkh.) Jenkins), and plants are immune to orange rust (Gymnoconia peckiana (Howe) Trott). Fruit of the new variety ripens late, about 15 days after the Cheyenne variety, and 7 days after the 'Shawnee' variety, but about 5 days earlier than Dirksen Thornless, a standard thornless cultivar. Average ripening date is June 25 in central Arkansas. The harvest period is longer than most other erect varieties; it produces well for a full month. Fruit yields are comparable with the 'Cheyenne' variety but are less than the Shawnee variety. Late spring budbreak avoids spring frosts and the new variety is consistent in yield from year to year.
The fruit is short conic in shape, bright glossy black in color and medium in size (ca. 5.1 g). The fruit is firm at maturity, consistently rating more firm than fruit of the Cheyenne and Shawnee varieties.
The fresh fruit has better flavor than any extant variety of thornless blackberry and is rated superior to the thorny varieties Cheyenne and Shawnee. The soluble solids content averages 11.2%, higher than most blackberry varieties. Seed size is smaller than other thornless varieties now in existence."
The information other than my own experience was copied from James N. Moore, USPP #6679.

'Triple Crown' blackberry: Technically, 'Triple Crown' is a dewberry because it grows as a vine and propagates by tip-rooting, unlike blackberries which have upright canes and don't tip-root. Nevertheless, the lying catalog media is conspiring to make us think that only blackberry lives matter, so they insist on calling this a blackberry. That said, this dewberry is the best-tasting blackberry or dewberry that I've ever eaten, and apparently many others think so, too. In addition to having large, delicious berries (unless it rains during ripening, in which case, they aren't so good), it is untroubled by diseases and insects and is easy to pick because it is thornless. It is a tough vine that continued producing long after my 'Navaho' plants had all died. On the downside, it does need some type of support. I grew mine on a simple two-wire vertical trellis, essentially a Kniffen system, as is used up North for grapes. It also freely tip-roots, which is good if you want to share plants with friends, but requires constant snipping of the tips if you want to keep your berries in a row and not spreading all over. I highly recommend this berries for fellow Southerners, except the laziest gardeners.
There is a nicely-written article about 'Triple Crown' here, even though the writer is not from the South, but from li'l liberal Oregon and has clearly bought into the lying catalog media's story about this being a blackberry. SAD!!!

Blueberries

When my father decided to migrate away from broiler chicken and beef cattle production and move towards high-value crops, blueberries became our farm's main crop. Thankfully, the talented and dedicated plant breeders associated with the University of Georgia had recently developed a productive, delicious blueberry type that was adapted to the South, the rabbiteye blueberry. The name, "Rabbiteye" comes from the color of the unripe berries, because they are pink like the eye-color of the stereotypical white rabbit. Only a few cultivars of this type were available at the time. We planted a few 'Southland' and 'Woodard' as pollinizers for our main cultivar, 'Tifblue'. A couple of years later, we added some 'Climax' bushes, so named for their characteristic of ripening all their berries in such a short time that you can effectively pick the whole crop in one pass. This characteristic of 'Climax' was actually targeted more towards the large-acreage producers who use mechanical harvesters, but the berries are very good quality and we wanted to try them. Our operation was U-Pick, primarily, and though we weren't certified organic, production methods were organic. We didn't spray the bushes at all and mostly fertilized with cottonseed meal. Bushes were heavily mulched down the entire row with wood chips and we had overhead irrigation leftover from our days growing forage for the cattle. All the above cultivars produce good quality berries, but 'Southland' was notably lower quality than the rest. Both 'Southland' and 'Woodard' were also not as productive as 'Tifblue' and 'Climax'.
After I moved away from home, I experimented with several of the recently-developed "Southern Highbush"-type of blueberries that have the advantage of ripening earlier than rabbiteyes and supposedly are adapted to the Southeast (NOT!). I will have to dig out my notes to list which Southern highbush cultivars I tried, but in my opinion they are not adapted to the Southeast, except maybe the mountain counties and the more-northerly parts of the South. They were all sickly and unproductive in Apex, NC and Pittsboro, NC.
I was also allured by catalog ads from Gurney and Henry Field's (same parent company, by the way) catalogs to try the cultivar, 'Ka-Bluey®' because they said it tasted so good. It's not even recommended for parts of the country below USDA Zone 6, and my Pittsboro garden was in Zone 8, so I don't blame the sellers for the fact that my bush struggled for survival. I got a single berry and it was, as advertised, a fabulous flavor. I can't recommend this berry for most of the South because of its poor health, but it is worth a try in northerly portions of the South and in the mountains. For more information, see the catalogs.
In general, I'd say stick with rabbiteye blueberries. New cultivars of rabbiteyes are released every year now from several breeding programs in the South. The quality and adaptability keeps getting better, too. The most-recent ones I tried were 'Vernon' and 'Ochlockonee'. 'Vernon' is an early-ripening cultivar and 'Ochlockonee' is late-season. More information can be found here.

Cornelian cherry (Edible dogwood, Cornus mas)

When I was a student at Cornell (pun not intended), the university had planted a number of seedling Cornus mas as ornamentals on campus. I knew they were edible and tried some. They varied from delicious sweet-tart, rather like a good pie cherry, to so astringent that one immediately spit them out. Nevertheless, those days of grazing on campus got me looking for an opportunity to grow some named cultivars. I planted several in Apex and Pittsboro, North Carolina. Both of these towns are in the Piedmont region in USDA Zone 8/ 7b, so its pretty hot and humid. I tried 'Red Star', 'Yellow'™, and 'xxx (I can't remember this one, it started with a "K")'. Basically, they make nice ornamentals in the South, with pretty clusters of tiny yellow flowers appearing very early in the Spring, but they don't make good fruit in our climate. They ripen in the heat in the South and wind up being very astringent and inedible. They would probably be tasty in a cooler climate. I can't recommend them as a fruiting tree in the South, but folks in the mountains or along the Mason-Dixon line might give them a try. They have no serious disease or pest problems and if they can be ripened well, are quite delicious, a good substitute for cherries, as one of their common names implies.

Figs

Figs are a very good fruiting crop for those living in the Piedmont or further south. They are easy-to-grow once established, drought-resistant, have no serious insect or disease problems and are delicious. Considering how happy figs are in the South outside of the mountains, I am frequently surprised at how few of my fellow southerners have tasted a fresh fig. You do need sun, the more the better, and figs are fairly heavy feeders, so giving them a good dose of cow manure under their mulch is a good idea, especially when the bushes are young. You also should avoid planting them over sidewalks unless you plan to be diligent at picking the fruit. Dropped fruit, whether because birds knocked it off, rainy conditions and wasps caused it to fall or you were just plain too lazy or preoccupied to pick the fruit, is messy. Some people will freak out at the wasps that gather on injured fruit as well. On the plus side, large established trees provide great shade and can be pruned into a great play area for children.
In Apex, I planted 'Atreano', 'Brown Turkey' (there are two different figs called, 'Brown Turkey', but the other kind is not generally found outside the western U.S.), and 'Desert King'. All three produced delicious figs, but 'Desert King' was the family favorite.
Because of the extreme rich sweet deliciousness of the 'Desert King', I planted it again at our place in Pittsboro, NC and added bushes of 'Celeste', a nicely-flavored small fig, and 'Scott's Black', a relatively new fig developed by Dr. O'Rourke at Louisiana State University and whose seed parent is 'Celeste'.
'Desert King' again was our family's consistent taste favorite, but it is not the most-attractive fig- it only loses all its green color when it is fully ripe. The girls actually prefer it with some greenness still visible. I like my figs so ripe that they are beginning to dehydrate and wrinkle a bit. This often attracts ants, but to the horror of those who watch, I find the taste of ants with fresh figs to be delicious.
'Scott's Black' is a larger, dark-purple fig that actually tied 'Desert King' as the taste favorite one year when ripening conditions were ideal for it. 'Scott's Black' ripens a bit later and unfortunately this means it usually coincides with rainfall. No fig is at its best if it ripens in the rain, but 'Desert King' is a bit more tolerant. 'Scott's Black' turns into tasteless wasp magnets that sour on the tree and aren't fit to eat. Its a great fig if it doesn't get rained on during ripening. If you try growing them for sale, it would be worthwhile to provide a rain-out shelter, such as a high tunnel to prevent this disaster. One has to take this mix of information with a grain of salt, but you can find some interesting fig information . If the discussion in that post is accurate, then I may have been sold a 'Sicilian Black' instead of a 'Scott's Black'. Caveat emptor.
Bottom line: My fellow southerners should plant more figs. They are delicious and so easy to care for. I wish I had photographed this, but there is a trailer home, near the Dogwood Veterinary Clinic in Pittsboro, NC with a huge fig bush growing right up against the trailer. If one looks closely, you can see the remnants of the small plastic pot that the tree had come in. Presumably, the owners had bought a fig on a whim, set the pot down next to their trailer and then just ignored it. The fig rooted itself, split the pot and just kept going, shading half the trailer by the time I drove by it. Plus, figs are soft and perishable, so you won't get this delicious treat at the grocery store and there is no substitute for those moments when you enjoy a tree-ripened fresh fig from your own tree on a warm Summer day.

Persimmons

Another crop that Southerners should plant more of are persimmons. There are two main kinds, the American persimmon, Diospyros viginiana and the Asian persimmon, D. kaki. "Diospyros" means "food of the gods" and I can see why it got this name. A good, ripe persimmon is sweet and rich like candy. American persimmons are one of the sweetest fruits in the world, sometimes reaching over 40% natural sugar. They also have numerous other health benefits, some of which are described (in a bit too-glowing terms) here. I actually prefer the taste of American persimmons as well, though there is some variation, because most American persimmons are grown from seed, so not every tree has good fruit. I haven't grown any grafted American persimmon cultivars, but planting those would ensure that you get high-quality fruit. On the downside, American persimmons grow on large, hard-to-harvest trees and their fruit is small, seedy and is mouth-puckering astringent until they are fully ripe. There is local lore that American persimmons can't be eaten until they have had a hard freeze. This is mostly a myth, but there is some truth in it- unripe astringent persimmons are loaded with phenolic compounds that react with protein (which is why they are pucker your tongue as these phenolics react with your mouth proteins). Persimmon fruit also contains a small amount of protein, so when a nearly-ripe persimmon is frozen, many internal cells burst, releasing protein and phenols to mix and react with each other, neutralizing the effect on your mouth. The fact is that the ripening process itself oxidizes many of these phenolics and degrades cell membranes, which again allows the natural persimmon proteins to neutralize the astringent phenolics before you eat them.
Some Asian persimmons are also astringent and have to be fully-ripened before eating. Japanese and Korean children sometimes leave persimmons on the tree in winter. When they want a treat, they pick them, remove the top end and core and then eat the rest of the fruit with a spoon, like a natural frozen custard. In the South, you have to mimic this particular treat in your freezer because they ripen before we get hard freezes and the weather doesn't stay cold, so they start to rot if left on the tree after ripening. Asian persimmons aren't as cold-hardy as American ones and aren't quite as sweet, although at the level of sweetness of persimmons, how much more sweet do you want? They are all very sweet. In Apex, NC, I grew 'Chocolate', 'Fuyu' (aka Fuyugaki) and 'Hachiya'. 'Chocolate', is a cultivar with pollination-dependent chocolate-colored flesh and an acorn-shape that many people rave about as a fantastic-flavored persimmon. It is also non-astringent before it is fully ripe. Flavor is a very personal thing, but my family and I were unanimous that this was the lowest-quality persimmon we grew. The brown flesh was novel and it made very good dried persimmons, but we ended up either drying the whole crop or turning it into persimmon vinegar because no one wanted to eat more than one or two of the fresh ones.
'Fuyu' is the most-common Asian cultivar found in the U.S. It is a good-quality persimmon whose fruit is wider than tall and they lose astringency before they fully ripen, making it possible to eat them when they are still firm. My mother-in-law used to eat them when they were as crunchy as an apple. I didn't like them that way because I thought they hadn't developed their sweet-spicy potential, but maybe it suits your taste, too. They also make a superior dried product as it retains its golden-orange color after drying.
'Hachiya' is the most-common astringent-type Asian persimmon grown in the U.S. It is an acorn-shaped orange-fleshed fruit that needs to be fully ripe before eating. I don't see any advantage vs. 'Fuyu', so I didn't plant this one again when we moved to Pittsboro.
In Pittsboro, I again planted 'Chocolate' (although I wouldn't again) and 'Fuyu' and added 'Coffee Cake' (aka 'Nishimura Wase'), and two Asian X American hybrids, 'Nikita's Gift' and 'Russian Beauty'. The 'Russian Beauty' was attacked by borers and didn't fruit, but the others did.
'Coffee Cake' is currently my favorite Asian persimmon. It is non-astringent, large and has a wonderful spicy-sweet taste. It ripens quite early, when the weather is still hot, which is nice that it opens the season, before other persimmons are available, but can be a problem because wasps are still very active and they swarm around any holes that birds peck.
Possibly my favorite persimmon is 'Nikita's Gift'. The fruit are super-sweet with that hint of pumpkin-pie spice flavor that is characteristic of its American parent. They grow on a small, manageable tree like an Asian persimmon. The fruit size is much larger than American persimmons, though not nearly as large as the Asians. They are self-fertile, so if you have only room for one tree, it will be OK. Unfortunately, they are very astringent until fully ripe, like the American persimmon. The flavor is worth the wait, though.

Ripening order of those we grew side-by-side was 'Coffee Cake' (late Summer), then 'Chocolate', then 'Fuyu' and finally 'Nikita's Gift' wrapping up the persimmon season just before Christmas. Except for 'Coffee Cake' which ripens much earlier than the others, their ripening seasons overlapped with those adjacent in ripening time.

Persimmons also make beautiful landscape trees, as long as you prevent dropped fruit from making a mess. They have gorgeous fall color of golden and bright orange, and the fruit of the later-ripening cultivars hang on the tree like Halloween mini-pumpkin ornaments. The Asians in particular also have large dark green leaves that are quite attractive from late Spring until their gorgeous Autumn show. They are occasionally bothered by webworms, which are unsightly, but with the aid of a stick and some Bacillus thuringiensis dust or spray, there is a simple, organic solution to this pest.

Kiwis

My father planted some fuzzy kiwis in Georgia which didn't fare well, so I said farewell to fuzzy kiwis (Actinidia deliciosa) and tried hardy kiwis in North Carolina. The one that did the best for me was 'Ken's Red', from which I got one crop from the vine growing on our deck in Apex, NC. The fruit were fuzzless, so could be eaten like a seedless grape and were sweet-tart with a delicious tropical flavor, so I planted it again in Pittsboro on a rather shady fence. They are slow to come into bearing and need a male pollinizer, which won't produce fruit. 'Ken's Red' is an interspecific hybrid, A. arguta X melanadra. They do make lovely landscape plants and have no pests or diseases that I noticed, but they are vigorous vines, so they need a structure to climb on.
I also tried growing the Siberian species A. kolomikta, but they really didn't like our heat, even though I planted them in partial shade on a North-facing slope. For more information on hardy kiwis, the University of Minnesota has published a nice summary which can be found here.


Other weird stuff

Some unusual things I've planted have done well and others have failed.
Honeyberries (also known as haskap or by their scientific name, Lonicera caerulea) is a type of edible honeysuckle, but they can't stand our heat. I recommend sticking with blueberries, to which they are otherwise similar in taste. If you move to a very, very cold climate, give them a try. Wikipedia page.
Seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides), aka sea buckthorn has loads of bright orange or red fruit that look a bit like pyracantha, if grown in cold climates. Like the honeyberries, they can't take our heat and humidity in the South. More information about this fascinating and healthful shrub that can even fix nitrogen can be found here.
Highbush cranberry is not related to cranberries, it's not even in the same family. Highbush cranberry is Viburnum trilobum from the Adoxaceae family, whereas true cranberries are members of Ericaceae, as are blueberries. They got their common name from the appearance and use of the berries. One doesn't eat them fresh, they are too sour and astringent. But they have a good reputation for jellies and pies. I had so much other fruit that was delicious, that I left these for the birds and for their ornamental value. The bushes are beautiful almost year-round. In the Spring, they have loads of pretty white umbelliferous flowers, followed by dense foliage that makes a good place for some songbirds like cardinals to nest. In the Fall, the foliage turns beautiful bright colors and the bright red berries hang well into Winter, probably because the birds don't know how to make pie or jelly, so they only eat them when there isn't much else to eat.
Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa) is known for its healthful fruit that is rich in antioxidants. I planted seedling aronia bushes and after ten years saw a few flowers, but no fruit so far. It
'Silk Hope' mulberry: This is another underplanted tree in the Southeast. Its only downside is that the fruit is messy. When the trees have a lot of ripe fruit, the fruit falls and stains what's below and attracts birds which enjoy the fruit and drop another staining substance. If you have a place in your yard where this consideration doesn't matter, then you will enjoy several benefits. The large, glossy leaves are ornamental and provide a nice shade. The berries are about blackberry sized and are sweet and delicious. They are also good dried, baked into pies and for basically any other recipe where you might use blackberries. I haven't seen mulberry wine, but it must exist. 'Silk Hope' was the cultivar that I chose because it originated in a town near Pittsboro, Silk Hope, North Carolina. The town was named for an attempt in the 1800's to start a silk industry. To grow the silkworms, of course, they needed mulberry trees. The silk industry didn't work out, but one of the mulberry trees that they planted had exceptionally good-tasting fruit, thus the 'Silk Hope' mulberry came into prominence.
'Pixwell' Gooseberry: Gooseberries are illegal in some states, including North Carolina, because some cultivars are an alternate host for white pine blister rust. White pine blister rust doesn't hurt gooseberries and currants very much, but it is deadly to white pines, so the laws are intended to protect that lumber species. Some states, including North Carolina ban all gooseberries and currants, whereas other states allow people to plant cultivars and species that are known to be highly resistant to white pine blister rust. Thankfully, Georgia allows people to plant gooseberries, so my grandmother had a patch of the cultivar, 'Pixwell'. 'Pixwell' happens to be one of the cultivars that is resistant to white pine blister rust. We got some plants from her and started a patch of our own in Coal Mountain. 'Pixwell' is the only kind of gooseberry that I've ever tasted, so I can't comment on its relative quality. Others have generally said it is a cultivar of low quality, but certainly we enjoyed eating them, making jam, sauces and pies from them. Some of our U-Pick customers who were born in England were thrilled to find someone growing gooseberries and were happy to buy whatever we would sell them. 'Pixwell' got its name from its characteristic of having many fewer thorns than other cultivars. It originated as a cross between an American species and the European gooseberry. Additional information taken from Michigan Department of Agriculture .