In midwinter, you may look out your window and wonder which of your beloved plants will survive these frigid days. Or you may have no worries at all, as you gaze out on your attractive hedge of northern bayberry with its clusters of tiny, blue-gray berries. This dense shrub, native to eastern North America and beloved by wildlife, can handle just about any type of weather you throw at it and any kind of soil you dump it in. It is superb as an urban, roadside, or seashore hedge; it also belongs in the herb garden (provided your herb garden is quite large).
Common name: Bayberry, northern bayberry
Botanical name: Myrica pensylvanica
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 3 to 6
Height: 5 to 10 feet tall
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Prefers acidic and humus-rich soil but tolerates a wide range, including swampy, poor, and salty
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: Cut suckers to the ground if you want to prevent northern bayberry from forming a thicket.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By cuttings and seeds
Pests and diseases
• May be vulnerable to root and stem rot, leaf spot, rust, and dieback.
• The flowers of M. pensylvanica open in spring and, if pollinated, will be followed by fruit in late summer.
• In order to get fruit, you need both male and female plants.
• Birds are attracted to the waxy, blue-gray bayberry fruits. If not eaten, the berries will persist through the winter. They can also be used to make candles or soap.
• Deer don’t like bayberry.
• Northern bayberry gets rather large and has a tendency to sucker, so plant it in a place where its natural form is an asset—for instance, at the back of a large herb garden, in a barren, moist area that needs cover, as a hedge, or in a wildlife border.
• Since the shrub tolerates salt, it can be used in coastal areas and near roadways that are salted in winter.
All in the family
• The genus Myrica contains about 50 species, including wax myrtle (M. cerifera) and bog myrtle or sweet gale (M. gale).
• Don’t confuse bayberry leaves with the bay leaf (bay laurel, also called sweet bay) used in cooking. The bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis), native to the Mediterranean, is in the laurel family.
Where to buy
• Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
• Deer-resistant Landscape Nursery, Clare MI, 800-595-3650, www.deerxlandscape.com
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com.
• White Oak Nursery, Geneva, NY, 315-789-3509, www.whiteoaknursery.biz
(Photo of Myrica pensylvanica courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)