Choose the Right Location for Your Salal Berry Plants
Salal berry plants need acidic, nutrient-poor, and well-draining soil with filtered light or partial shade. Salal berries thrive in humid, coastal environments from British Columbia through northern California. They grow best in zones 6 to 9 in the understory of coniferous or deciduous forests.
Provide a location with morning sun exposure and afternoon shade or dappled sunlight throughout the day. Areas under pine or oak trees are ideal. The soil should be acidic with a pH between 4 to 6 to produce the most berries. Salal bushes grow 3 to 6 feet tall and spread horizontally, so space the plants at least 3 to 6 feet apart.
Bury the top few inches of the woody stem when planting to encourage new root growth. Water the bushes regularly, especially for the first year. After establishment, salal berries require minimal maintenance but may need occasional pruning to shape the plant. Fertilize lightly in early spring before new growth starts.
Prepare the Soil for Planting Salal Berry
Before planting salal berry bushes, test your soil to determine the pH and nutrient levels. Salal berries prefer acidic soil with a pH between 4 and 6. If your soil has a higher pH, add composted organic matter such as compost, peat moss, or aged manure to help lower it. These amendments will also improve drainage and moisture retention, which is important for the health of your salal berry plants.
For the best growth, salal bushes require soil low in nutrients, especially nitrogen. As such, do not add fertilizer at planting time. Only add fertilizer once new growth starts in spring, and then only use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer at half the recommended strength.
>“While salal bushes can tolerate some shade and nutrient-poor soils, they require moisture and acidic conditions to produce abundant berries,” according to the Royal Horticultural Society.
If you have heavy clay soil or soil with poor drainage, create a raised bed or berm to improve conditions for your salal bushes. A raised bed with a mixture of topsoil, compost, and perlite or coarse sand will provide the well-draining, moisture-retentive soil salal berries need.
- Use a garden fork or shovel to loosen compacted soil to a depth of 1 to 2 feet before adding amendments. This allows for better root penetration and water movement.
- Create a raised bed at least 6 to 8 inches high for adequate drainage. Taller beds, up to 2 feet high, provide the best conditions.
- In natural soil, dig planting holes at least 2 feet wide and deep. This provides space for the roots to spread out.
- Backfill the area with a mixture of compost or peat moss, native soil, and perlite. This creates a blend that mimics the acidic, organic soil salal berries thrive in.
For the best growth and berry production, test your soil every few years and adjust as needed to maintain the proper pH and nutrient levels. With the right light and cultural conditions, a mature salal berry plant can produce up to 10 pounds of berries in a season!
Planting and Care for Salal Berry Plants
Once you have prepared the planting area and soil for your salal berry bushes, space the plants 3 to 6 feet apart. This gives the shrubs adequate room to spread out as they become established. Dig holes at least twice the size of the root ball of the plant. Place some of the amended soil back in the hole before positioning the plant.
Bury the top few inches of the woody stems when planting to encourage new root growth. Water the bushes thoroughly after planting and regularly for the first year while the roots become established.
>According to the USDA, “New plantings should receive about an inch of water per week for the first growing season.”
- For the first year, water salal bushes at least once a week to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Check the top few inches of soil before watering to avoid overwatering.
- After the first year, water when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil are dry. Salal bushes can tolerate some drought once established but produce more berries with regular moderate watering.
- Never fertilize at planting time. Only add a balanced fertilizer once new growth starts in the spring, using it at 1/2 the recommended strength.
- Salal bushes require minimal pruning. Only remove dead, damaged or crossing branches to shape the plant. Too much pruning can reduce berry production.
Salal berry bushes are relatively low-maintenance, but consistent mulching around the base of the plants helps retain moisture in the soil, keeps weeds down, and provides nutrients as it decomposes. Apply 2 to 3 inches of an organic mulch like compost, pine needles, or wood chips around the bushes, pulling it away from the stems. Replenish as needed to maintain coverage.
With the right care and conditions, salal berry bushes can produce an abundant harvest for 15 to 30 years or more. They provide tasty fruit and help attract wildlife to your garden with little ongoing maintenance required. By following these best practices for planting and caring for your salal berry bushes, you’ll be enjoying homegrown berries for years to come!
Harvesting and Using Your Salal Berry Harvest
Salal berry bushes produce deep purple-black berries in the fall, usually starting in late summer. Check your bushes regularly once berries start to ripen. Grasp the berry cluster at the base and gently pull to separate it from the plant. Do not pull too hard, or you can damage the bush. Ripe berries should come off easily.
Rinse the berries under cool running water to remove any debris. Hull the berries by pinching off the sepals at the base – the green caps that enclose the berry. Spread the berries on a tray or baking sheet in a single layer and leave at room temperature for 2 to 3 days until the berries soften. This improves the flavor as the berries ripen further.
> According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, “Fresh salal berries will last 2 to 3 days when refrigerated.”
Salal berries have an intense, unique flavor and can be used in many recipes:
- Preserved as jams, jellies, and syrups: Salal berries contain plenty of pectin, so they make an excellent jam or jelly on their own or mixed with other berries. A salal berry syrup is also popular and used as a glaze or topping. Preserved berries will last up to 1 year.
- Frozen for longer storage: Rinse, hull and pat dry the berries. Spread on a tray and freeze until firm, then transfer to an airtight container or ziplock bag. Properly frozen, the berries will last up to 1 year.
- Dried as natural fruit leathers or powder: Salal berries can be dried whole or juiced then dried to make colorful fruit leathers or a powder to add nutrition and flavor to recipes. Dried berries can last 6-12 months when stored properly.
- Crafted into wines and liqueurs: Salal berries make a flavorful country wine or cordial on their own or blended with other berries. Some recipes combine salal berries with blackberries or other native berries. Homemade wines and liqueurs can last 2 to 5 years.
- Used in savory meats like duck, pheasant or venison: The tart, fruity flavor of salal berries pairs well with gamey meats. Simmer salal berries with wine or brandy to make a reduction sauce or stuff the raw berries under the skin of the meat before cooking.
With their intense flavor and high acidity, a little goes a long way. But for those who love this unique native berry, the possibilities for using them in recipes are many. Your homemade salal berry creations can grace your table for meals or be given as gifts to share with others. Enjoy your harvest!