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Groundcover Wednesdays: Bearberry

Salt tolerance makes this a good plant for medians.

Salt tolerance makes this a good plant for medians.

The edible red berries are a visual treat.

The edible red berries are a visual treat.

Week 3: Bearberry

An exhibit at my presentation for the 40th anniversary of the Lake Environmental Association last Saturday reminded me just how much the native landscape has to offer — answering the call from many SafeLawns followers to make sure we focus as much as possible on plants that were growing here before the first settlers began redrawing the landscape with plants from away.

Well, one absolutely awesome plant at the top of any list of natives is bearberry, one of the most beautiful and durable groundcovers. Low-growing and, initially, somewhat slow-growing, it will eventually form a wide mat that is ideal for holding a bank, delineating a planting bed, or encircling a rock outcropping.

Here’s a rundown:

Botanical name: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Common cultivars available at garden centers: ‘Massachusetts’ is a disease-resistant selection with smaller leaves than the species found in the wild. ‘Point Reyes’ is reportedly more heat and drought tolerant than other forms. ‘Vancouver Jade,’ introduced in Canada at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden introduction, it has larger, glossier leaves than typical. It’s also faster growing than the original native.

Plant Characteristics: Low maintenance, disease, insect and drought tolerant. Tolerates wind and slopes, but doesn’t like really hot summers farther south than Zones 6 or 7. Deer and rabbit resistant. A unique feature is it’s relatively high salt tolerance, which is why you’ll see this on many median strips in northern cities.

Foliage Characteristics: The shiny leaves are evergreen, with dark green color, which turns
reddish to bronze in the fall and winter. The leaves are edible and have been used for centuries by herbalists in various tinctures and other remedies.

Flower Characteristics: White to pink in color, they’re urn-shaped when they bloom in April or May.

Fruit: The edible red berries are definitely a visual highlight on the plant and some of the cultivars possess a vast abundance of berries that give bearberry four seasons of interest.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 7

Light Range: Part Shade to Full Sun

pH Range: 4.5 to 7

Origin: Temperate regions of North America and Europe

Soil Range: Mostly Sand to Clay Loam, but prefers thinner soils.

Foot Traffic: It will tolerate the occasional errant soccer ball and subsequent sneaker tracks, but shouldn’t be planted in the walkway.

General Comments: Like most of the plants we’ll pick each week, this plant is self-sufficient. Don’t bother fertilizing after you create a fertile planting hole with compost. Be patient when you first plant bearberry; it’s a good idea to surround it with a few perennials that can be transplanted later when the bearberry growth kicks into full gear, typically by the third year.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • susan harris

    How tall? I think that’s a hugely important feature in choosing lawn alternatives. For design reasons but also to prevent the critters that carry lyme disease.

  • Dt-l

    What are the planting instructions for this plant.  What time of year is best to plant and in what form – seeds or cuttings or what?

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