Growing the Bearberry in the Home Garden

Bearberry Plant with Fruits Red
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If your garden has the right conditions for it to thrive, bearberry makes a beautiful addition year-round. Bearberry is a small creeping evergreen sub-shrub often used as a perennial groundcover. It is an excellent choice to provide winter interest with tiny leaves that turn bronze in the fall, and small red berries that last until spring. Bearberry is also a useful choice when you need a plant that is tolerant of salt or drought.

Latin name:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is the botanical name of bearberry. It belongs to the Ericaceae (heather) family.

Common Names:

Names used for this shrub are bearberry, kinnikinick, mealberry, sandberry, kinnikinnick, and hog cranberry.

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Zones 2–6 are suitable for growing the bearberry plant.

Size & Shape:

Bearberry grows six to 12 inches tall and can grow three to 15 feet wide. The shape is a dense mat.

Exposure:

Full sun is best, though it can tolerate light shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit:

The leaves of the bearberry are one-half to one inch long and one-quarter to one-half inch wide, turning bronze in the fall. Flowers are small and bell-shaped in white or pink, appearing in clusters in April or May. Flowers are followed by quarter-inch red berry-like fruit that lasts from fall until the next spring.

Design Tips For Bearberry:

The bearberry is a good choice for a ground cover, as it grows low to the ground and spreads out widely, although slowly, via surface rhizomes. Its evergreen leaves and red berries add winter interest and attract wildlife, hummingbirds, and butterflies. It has peeling, red bark, another point in its favor as a winter interest shrub.

Bearberry is salt-tolerant, so it can be used in gardens near the coast and in cold urban areas where the roads are salted.

Growing Tips:

Bearberry is sometimes difficult to transplant and establish. It prefers well-drained sandy or rocky soil and it can even live in poor soil.

While it doesn't require rich, fertile soil to thrive, one requirement it's not flexible about is soil pH: it needs an acid soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. A native of northern stretches of North America, Europe, and Asia, it does not tolerate high heat.

Propagate bearberry through stem cuttings or seeds that have been sacrificed and stratified.

Maintenance/Pruning:

No pruning is necessary.

Pests & Diseases:

Bearberry plants may develop winter burn. Leaf spots can develop if the plant is stressed.

Additional Bearberry Facts:

Bearberry is quite astringent, but it's a favorite of bears, which is where it gets its name. Humans can eat it too, but it's more commonly used in traditional herbal medicine for bladder problems, urinary tract infections, and itchy scalps. For these uses, bearberry is taken as a tea, tincture, or tablet.

Note: The preceding section is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Check with your health professional before taking bearberry for medicinal reasons.