Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fruiting and nutting trees for Ottawa

So what if nutting is not a word, I'm using it anyhow. And yes this article is way later than I intended. My excuse is that there was a minor event outside of the internet world that I had to attend to. Now I wired back in so hopefully all future articles will be on time ;-)

Here is a list of plants that bear edible fruit and nuts for the Ottawa area:

Short plants

Cranberry - A native north American species that needs a moist, acidic soil rich in organic matter for best production. Vaccinium macrocarpon is the large fruited variety grown commercially and Vaccinium oxycoccus is a dwarf variety sometimes called moss cranberry.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) - Another north american. This creeping dogwood likes to live in the understory of a deciduous forest with lots of cool, humusy leaf litter. Generally, I've heard that the taste is 'okay.'

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) - The fruit of this understory plant is also edible but as it has so many warnings attached to it, I'd prefer just to grow it for its attractive appearance and the fact that it is a native rather than as food. But if the fruit is RIPE you can eat it according to most sources. Like I said, doesn't make you run out and grab a handful.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) - Back in safe territory, I was charmed by the description in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingles Wilder about her husband to be digging the berries out of the snow for a frozen treat in wintertime. You will not be surprised to learn that it has a strong 'wintergreen' flavour. It is a common understory plant in acidic soils and though prefers moist (not soggy) soil, it will grow in dryer conditions. From what I've read, it doesn't like clay.

Ligonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus) - Looking very much like the cranberries that it is related to, this is a low growing alpine plant that occurs in northern understories. More than that, I do not know. There are some developed cultivars.

Perennial ground cherries (clammy and smooth) - There are various members of the Physalis genus that are perennial and produce tasty husk tomatoes that can be eaten fresh or cooked. The fruit must be ripe before eating. It will often fall from the plant when ripe and can be gathered up then. The fruit will last awhile in their protective husks. I have not got my hands on either of the above species mentioned but I hope to one day. In the meantime, I grow Physalis pruinosa, an annual that self seeds in some gardens.

Strawberries - The delights of strawberries can not be overestimated. There are many varieties from the tiny wild ones to alpines that hang from little stems on neat plants which make great edging for a sunny border to the classic heavy June bearers that fill your basket with delicious red jewles. Alpine strawberries do not have runners but form neat little mounds that produce a steady though small harvest of sweet berries all year.

Rhubarb - Not really a fruit but used in dessert recipes. What can I say? It will grow in part shade to sun, likes a rich soil and will produce for years.

Bush fruit

Serviceberry etc... (Amelanchier ssp.) - A number of thicket and bush berries fall under this Genus and would be suitable for growing in Ottawa. They like full sun and are apparently delicious. The Ottawa Tree Program usually has them available in their smaller / medium sized tree catagory. I would grow some but I can't figure out where I would squeeze one into the garden.

Sour bush cherries (Prunus) - Several forms of bush cherry with sweet / sour fruit make nice crops here some are sweet enough to eat out of hand especially when ripe. I grow Evans cherry and rarely get to taste it because the kids gobble it up before I can. Nanking Cherry has a good reputation as well. A friend of mine grew it as an edible and productive hedge on his urban property. Both are self fertile.

High bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) - A very attractive bush that yields berries suitable for making a jam that has an interesting aroma much like stinky cheese. They are considered a substitute for cranberries and are better after a frost.

Blueberries (Vaccinium ssp.) - Lots of breeding has gone into this plant so you have low, high, medium and rabbiteye types. The taller rabbiteye varieties grow in low chilling zones down south. The low bush types grow wild around here and have a fantastic taste. They prefer sun but will do well on a sunny edge or in part shade which is where they are often found in their natural habitat. These are the classic acidic plants and they cannot withstand moisture stress. If you provide them with the right conditions, they will reward you with wonderful fruit and a lovely fall display of bright red leaves.

Currants / Gooseberries / Jostaberries (Ribes ssp.) - I grow red currants but golden, white and black currants are also available. My kids love gobbling up the tart but tasty berries and this is another plant that I have yet to have enough to make jam with because it is all eaten fresh. Gooseberries are generally much larger than Currants and Jostaberries are a cross between the two. All will grow in partial shade.

Rugosa rose hips (Rugosa: various) - Some roses have nice edible hips. I'm not a huge fan but lots of people love them and they are produced on a pretty and very hardy plant.

Elderberry (Sambus: various) - An attractive shrub with edible flowers and berries - only the ripe berries. Everything else about the plant could make you ill. I have never tried the oft mentioned flower fritters as I can't figure out how you would eat only the flowers and not any teeny bit of stem but maybe I just need to see it done. Grows wild around here but make sure you positively identify them before sinking your teeth in.

Mulberry (Morus: various)- These would be considered borderline hardy and if it wasn't for the masses of mulberry bushes I see everywhere, I wouldn't recomend growing them. If you have a sheltered sunny location though they can produce a great crop.

Tree fruit

Small plums - Many species of plums will grow around here but I particularly like the Montreal Plum which is self fertile and produces a bountiful crop in good years (last year was not a good year for us for some reason). There are also several forms of small plum like the Manchurian Plum and wild plums. The size of these bush / trees will vary on their growing conditions. In the crowded conditions of the wild, they are generally bushy. I have just seeded some Manchurian Plum in the fall so I'll let you know how it does over the years.

Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) - If you are looking for a large sweet cherry to grow here, I'm afraid you are out of luck but many types of sour cherries will do well and they make superior cooked desserts anyhow. I have seen Montmorency cherries growing here and other cultivars that might be okay are Meteor, and Northstar. Some would be considered borderline here.

Apples (Malus ssp.) - From wild apples, crabapples to large eating apples, there are lots of varieties to choose from that will do quite well in Ottawa. Look for disease resistant cultivars to reduce or eliminate spraying. If you can live with a few defects, you may not need to spray at all. Many larger crab apples also make great preserves.

Pears (Pyrus communis)- Many of my neighbours grow pears and they are delicious but several pear growers I know have trees that suffer from fire blight - a slow death for the tree and a source of contagion for others trees. Generally more than one pear variety will need to be planted for fertilization. There are several fire blight resistant varieties like Moonglow and Seckel - both are borderline hardy from what I can tell.

Peaches / apricots - Though there are some trees that are hardy here their blossoms can be killed by frosts lowering or eliminating the harvest. The peach cultivar 'Reliance' is reliable for some people.

Hawthorn (Crataegus ssp.) - often ornamental with varying degrees of edibility. They resemble little apples.

Mountain Ash (Sorbus ssp.) - My kids enjoy eating these berries even though they are supposed to be inedible before a frost. Go figure. I think the fruit look like tiny pumpkins. They are a common ornamental around here but go easy on them as there are some reports of toxicity.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae L) - These sour berries have to be carefully harvested off a thorny, tall upright bush / tree that is occasionally used as a windbreak. It is considered very nutritious and though mostly I have read that you have to eat it with liberal additions of sugar, some people have eaten it out of hand.

Various bird cherries - Normally collected wild and made into jam. They are pretty bush / trees but often have a suckering habit that can become invasive.

Vining fruit

Hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta and Actinidia kolomikta) - Okay, so these grape sized kiwis are supposed to be hardy around here but I understand that they have a long growing season so can't really be relied upon for a harvest. Alongside the peaches, I would see this as a bonus crop if you were lucky that year. Both a male and a female plant are needed to produce fruit and the Male of A. Kolomikta has beautiful white and pink splashed foliage, is slightly hardier and produces smaller fruit than the A. arguta.

Grapes (Vitis)- There are lots of hardy grapes, some wild and some are cultivars such as the infamous concord. The taste of the fruit varies according to the type but the leaves of most types can be delicious when used young are as wraps.

Raspberries (Rubes) - Anyone walking the woods will know that various kinds of raspberries grow here. Plant them where you want them to stay because suckering is a their speciality but the rewards are sweet. Also tayberry though I've never tried them.


Hazlenuts / Filberts (Corylus) Common commercial hazelnuts would not do well here but there are several wild types such as beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) that you could try to wrestle from the squirrels. It is one of the recommended species for building a wildlife hedgerow in part shade (other plants people can also eat on this page too). Also hope springs eternal that crosses of Turkish filbert will develop cultivars that are hardy in our zone. Did I mention that I love hazelnuts?

Beech (Fagus) - These are also edible though small and fiddly.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) - This tree is infamous for creating an unfriendly environment by exuding juglone from its roots which causes poor growth of most plants beneath it. This plant would probably be considered borderline hardy here in that it is listed as zone 5.

Butternut (Juglans cinerea) - Related to walnut, they produce juglone. If you can get beyond and its slow growth then it can make a high calorie, nutritious food source. I am not sure of its hardiness but I have seen trees growing around here.

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) - This tree has also been accused of producing juglone though in minimal amounts. It has attractive bark that lays against the trunk in shaggy ribbons and produces nuts that are described as pleasant tasting.

Gingko - I guess the nuts of this fruit are edible, even a delicacy, but the fruit smells so bad that nurseries generally only sell the male plants. They are pretty with their prehistoric trees that turn golden in the fall.

White Oaks (Quercus ssp) As far as I know, all oaks have edible nuts once tannins are leached out. They are very hardy and though red oaks seem to dominate the urban landscape of Ottawa, white and bur oaks also grow here. The white oaks have less bitter nuts so are more desirable as food but all oaks contain high amounts of tannins as I understand it. Apparently, the kind of tannin in white oaks is just harder to taste - I'll try and dig up the reference. You can leach the tannins to produce a nutritious and tasty flour.


Enjoy. As always corrections and additions are appreciated as are stories of growing any of the above species. Did it work for you?


Nut Growers of Ontario
Old list of fruit trees for Ottawa


Dan said...

What a good informative post. I just found out last season that I have a chokecherry tree growing with the trees in the backyard. I have been pondering if I should try some chokecherry jelly or syrup this coming season.

Ian said...

Hi there,

Re. www.farmblogs.blogspot.com

Sorry to be a bit off topic here, but please stick with me...

In the interests of knowing a little bit about your readers, I come to you from the Auvergne in France. I'm a writer, live here with my Australian wife and our three kids (www.aplaceintheauvergne.blogspot.com) but I also run a blog called Farm Blogs From Around the World (www.farmblogs.blogspot.com).

I'm a rural downshifter you could say with 10 acres and we're pretty basic - a pig a year, chickens, veggies and we barter grazing and hay for meat and potatoes. We're hoping to expand as the family grows.

Farm Blogs from Around the World is just a hobby of mine. At Farm Blogs I am trying to gather in one place the very best of global blogging about farms and anyone involved in food or natural fibre production on any scale.

The idea behind Farm Blogs From Around the World (www.farmblogs.blogspot.com) is that people involved in farming/rural blogging recommend the blogs that they themselves find the most interesting.

When a blog is recommended to me (you were recommended to me by a blogger in Canada: http://farmblogs.blogspot.com/2009/01/providence-acres-farm-recommends.html, I add the recommended blog to my site, as I have done with yours - with some basic info to help the country blog rolls be more than just a simple blog roll - then contact the recommended blog, asking for their own recommendations....which is how I come to be writing to you!

And so it grows, organically, hoping that good bloggers will lead us to great ones.

I'd really love it if you could send me a little text about your farm and your blog, so I can make a post about you, and ALSO you top 5 blog recommendations (extra points for any bloggers from countries not yet listed - we have Slovakia so I am growing!)

Can I hope to hear from you? I know it's a hassle but www.farmblogs.blogspot.com seems to meeting a real need and I try to do more than just a blog roll but help like minded people find each other.

(If you could also put a link to Farm Blogs that would be great, but it's no drama if you don't feel like it or find me not worthy.)

Kind regards,

P.S My blog is a non-commercial blog and it doesn't take advertising, apart from info about my own writing.

Tim said...

I wanted to mention, I'm in 5a and our black walnut tree grows like CRAZY!
This year I plan to figure out how to shell them, no matter how messy!

Ottawa Gardener said...

Ian, I'll come see your resource soon.

Dan: Do you find your chokecherry suckers or is it well behaved? I love the looks of chokecherry in all seasons. If only I had a larger property, I'd happily let it form a hedge, along with some other wildlife friendly species.

Tim: I've heard that walnuts can grow well around here. I remember visiting an edible wild plant expert around here (Dandelion Jam, I think is her company name) and she had what was either a butternut or a walnut in her yard. I think it may well have been a black walnut. Anyhow, where does your tree grow? Is it sheltered? In deep soil?

myles said...

Try Gogi berries, they survive -30C


Victor Soto Leiva said...

Hi, i want to know: Which is the best month for plant fruit trees in Ottawa?, I usually do it in months that are very cold, because the trees needs this, but i don`t know if i am going to plant trees in october, they can withstand snow and hard winter?, and if october is the best month for do it?.
Best regards,

Ottawa Gardener said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond. Spring or early fall is the best time to plant trees in my estimation. You want to make sure you have minimum water stress. Spring allows for a full growing season before the harsh winter conditions start up but early fall works too and might have been the better option in this drought year when a lot of supplemental watering would have been required just to keep new plantings alive.

Victor Soto Leiva said...

Thanks Ottawa Gardener!!!. And, where can I buy fruit trees in early fall for planting in Ottawa?


Victor Soto Leiva said...

Sorry Ottawa Gardener, about my question before, I tried to ask you: where can I but in Ottawa bare root fruit trees for planting in early fall?

Thanks again


jessica md said...

Hi Ottawa Gardener! I am a Gatineau gardener... :) I planted several fruit trees and I wanted to let you know about the process. I have some rare varieties like japanese hybrid plums, asian pears, hardy kiwis (actinidia kolomikta, but I will get some argutas soon) and apricots. I would like to add to the hardiness factor (when chosing a variety for Ottawa region) the disease factor...! In my area, there is so much black knot (affects mainly prunus like cherries, plums, apricots and others), downey mildew (caused by our wet weather), fire blight, apple scab and cedar apple rust that it becomes really difficult to grow fruit trees in general. If you are lucky enough to live in the suburbs, you might get away with less disease thanks to longer distance between trees. All of these diseases are managable (except maybe blight) with application of different products, pruning, healthy soil, etc...Anyway. I also wanted to let you know that a neighbour of mine grows silver vine (male actinidia) and it's 10 years old! Also, in Aylmer, there are so many black walnuts and nobody picks the nuts... that are delicious btw ! :) There is also a giant pear tree (I believe is barlett) in the neighbourhood that might be 20 + years old and produce abundant crop of huge, juicy pears! Finally, there is also lots of big (10 -13 feet) sour cherry trees around here... Those are early and wonderful!