With a height of two to three feet, this shrub adds layers to your landscaping by placing it in the foreground of taller bushes or trees. Just be sure that the taller plants are to the north of your snowberries so that they still get plenty of sun! While snowberries prefer full sun, they can also tolerate partial shade.
These deciduous shrubs will lose their foliage come winter, but during the growing season, they showcase green rounded leaves dotted with clusters of small white, and sometimes pinkish, flowers. The flowers attract pollinators, including hummingbirds, and a few species of moths use their shrub as their host plant. Small mammals and birds also feed on the berries. You’ll not only be adding beauty to your landscape but also habitat and food for your local wildlife.
What Are Snowberries?
Snowberries are small deciduous shrubs native to North America that produce flowers and small white berries. They make for beautiful ornamentals and provide surrounding wildlife with much-needed habitat and forage.
Resilient snowberries can tolerate seasonal fires.
Snowberries are in the honeysuckle family. Their genus name, Symphoricarpos, is derived from the Ancient Greek words sumphorein, meaning “to bear together,” and karpos, meaning fruit. This refers to the clusters of flowers that this shrub produces, which eventually turn into clusters of fruit.
These resilient plants can survive in various conditions and even tolerate seasonal fires. The forest fires seem to encourage rapid new growth, for example.
Some cultivars feature bright pink berries.
Snowberries are native to North America, where they can be found growing in forests, grasslands, and riparian areas. They are also commonly referred to as waxberry or ghostberry. They are very well suited to a wide range of habitats, light conditions, and soil types.
Some cultivars, like ‘Pinky Promise’ and ‘Symphony Pink’ feature bright pink berries. These cultivars may not provide the same ecological benefits as the native species, though.
The shrub produces pinkish-white flowers that transition into snow-white berries.
This deciduous shrub has rounded leaves that fall away in the autumn and return in the spring. It produces small clusters of white to pinkish flowers that will fade and turn into berries. It is thought that the name snowberry comes from the fact that breaking open the white berries reveals an interior that looks like fine, sparkling snow.
Snowberry is mildly toxic due to its saponin content.
This perennial shrub was a common medicinal treatment amongst several North American Indigenous tribes. It is said to have a flavor similar to that of wintergreen. It was used as a medicinal due to its low levels of saponin, but this is also what makes it mildly toxic when eaten in excess. For this reason, it is treated as an ornamental and not an edible, and it is considered to be toxic to both people and pets.
In addition to its use in landscaping as an ornamental, it is also utilized in wildlife landscaping. These shrubs provide cover and nesting sites for small animals and birds like quail, pheasant, and grouse, who also eat the berries.
The flowers provide forage for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It is also the host plant to two separate moths: the Vashti moth and the snowberry clearing moth. The caterpillars of these moths will chomp on some of the foliage, but the damage usually remains superficial.
Where To Buy Snowberry Bushes
The bushes are readily available at stores and nurseries or can be propagated from suckers.
When searching for snowberry bushes, be sure to look for S. albus, which is the common snowberry variety in North America. It can be easily found at big box stores, online retailers, and local nurseries. If you have a friend or neighbor who already has a snowberry bush, then you might be able to dig up and replant some of their suckers. More on that in the propagation section!
Transplant snowberries in spring or early summer, ensuring establishment before the summer heat.
Snowberries can be planted from spring, after the threat of frost has passed, and through early summer. Just be sure to get your plant established before the heat of the summer sets in. While snowberry is considered to be “drought-resistant,” this is a step down from “drought-tolerant.” This means it will still need water during extended periods of heat and drought.
It can also be planted in the fall, provided there is enough time for the shrub to get established before the freezing temperatures of the winter. Early to mid-fall is your best bet. Be sure to keep a close eye on the weather and protect it with frost cloth from any sudden cold snaps that might appear before the plant has entered into a state of dormancy.
You’ll know your snowberry is dormant when it has lost all of its leaves. Once established and in this stage of dormancy, it can handle temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius.
How to Grow
Snowberries have moderate maintenance needs. This is mainly due to the level of pruning and cutting back that will need to be done to keep this vigorous plant from spreading too much. Read on to learn about additional care requirements.
Snowberries thrive in various light conditions, including full sun and partial shade.
These plants can survive in full sun and part-shade environments. ‘Full sun’ constitutes an area that receives 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. The hours of sunlight do not need to be consecutive, however. For example, if you have an area that receives 3 hours of morning sun, then is shaded for part of the day, and then receives three more hours of afternoon sun, this is considered full sun.
It is important to note that the more sun your shrub receives, the more flowers and berries this plant will produce. In a more shaded location, the flowers may be lackluster, but the plant will still survive. In areas with extreme heat in the summer, partial shade, especially afternoon shade, is best to protect from heat, drought, and scorching conditions.
Provide at least one inch of water per week during the growing season.
Snowberries have moderate water needs. As mentioned above, it is drought-resistant and can handle short periods without water. For optimal plant health, provide your snowberries with at least 1 inch of water per week during the growing season (spring through fall).
This deciduous shrub will go dormant in the winter. During dormancy, it will not need any water other than what it receives from the winter snow. If you are experiencing an especially dry winter with little to no snow, then water your bush, especially during its first winter. You can water it as long as air temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and the ground is not frozen.
Snowberries thrive in diverse environments thanks to their adaptability to various soil types.
These are one of the seemingly few plants that prefer clay soil, but they can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, including sandy or rocky soils. This makes sense since they are found in a wide range of growing conditions, including forests, grasslands, and riparian areas in their native habitat.
For this reason, preparing the planting site is a breeze! There is little to no need for amendments or soil testing.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants thrive in varied humidity levels but dislike drying out.
Snowberries are extremely cold-hardy and can survive harsh winters. They can be reliably grown in USDA growing zones 3-7 and survive temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius. Although they are champs in the cold, they do not do as well in extreme heat and need consistent water and afternoon shade in hotter climates.
This deciduous shrub does well in just about any humidity level. The one thing this plant does not like is to dry out. Although it can survive on low quantities of water, it should not be allowed to completely dry out. Moderate humidity can help you avoid this.
Regular fertilization isn’t required for snowberries.
Snowberries spread vigorously in ideal growing conditions, which makes fertilizing completely optional. At most, fertilize your snowberry bush every other year if you notice a lack of flowers. Since this plant is well suited to survive in many different soil types, an application of compost every few years is sufficient.
Pruning is essential for removing old branches, with spring being optimal for overall maintenance.
Regular pruning is required to remove old, dead, and dying branches. This task should be completed in the early spring, just before your snowberry begins growing again. Damaged and dead wood can be removed in the fall as well, but spring pruning ensures that you are also removing any branches that might have gotten damaged during the harsh winter.
The ideal time to shape the plant for the following year’s growth is in fall, just after flowering. At this time, you should also remove any suckers if you want to limit spread, or let them go if you want your snowberry to form a thicket!
Growing In Containers
Snowberries can temporarily be grown in containers for relocation purposes.
These bushes do not grow well in containers. The roots of mature snowberry shrubs can reach up to 3 feet deep! This can become an issue in limited container depth. For the healthiest plants possible, pick a planting location directly in the ground where the roots can fully spread.
They can, however, be grown in containers temporarily if you need to dig them up and move them to a secondary location. Or if you’d like to dig up suckers and place them in a pot while you choose a new planting site. But for the long term, snowberries need to be planted directly into the ground.
Snowberry seeds are challenging to propagate due to their tough covering and specific germination needs.
Propagating from seed can be difficult, even for experts, and is therefore not recommended. Snowberries have a tough, fleshy, impermeable covering around the inner seed, which makes it hard to separate the seeds from the berry itself. Once the seeds are freed from the berry, they also require very specific stratification conditions to germinate. For this reason, most of the berries that fall from your plant will never germinate. They can lay dormant for up to 10 years!
The main way this plant spreads is via suckers. Propagate by digging up suckers in the late summer or early fall. This is also the time of the year to take softwood cuttings for propagation if you don’t fancy digging around or if you want to leave the suckers to spread. Take a cutting from the flexible, young wood at the top of the bush. Make sure that you include at least 2-3 leaf nodes, and make your cut just below one of the nodes.
Remove the lower leaves and dip the stem into the rooting hormone. It can then be placed directly into the soil. After consistent watering for a few weeks, roots should develop, and you’ll be able to transplant your new snowberry bush.
Vashti sphinxes and snowberry clearwings use snowberries as host plants.
Snowberries are an important host plant for the Vashti sphinx moth and snowberry clearing moth. They lay their eggs on the foliage, which then hatch into caterpillars that chew holes in the leaves as they eat. Generally speaking, this damage is superficial and does not interfere with the overall health of the plant.
The snowberry clearwing moth can be identified by its transparent wings. Both of these moths are beneficial pollinators that you want to have around in your garden. However, if their larval populations get out of control, the damage they leave behind may become unsightly. The best course of action is to ignore it until the caterpillars mature, allowing nature to take its course.
If you have a healthy population of birds in your area, then you likely won’t need to worry about this. I’ve noticed that anytime caterpillars are about to reach critical mass, the birds show up and feast!
Snowberries are resilient! They don’t tend to suffer from the same common growing problems as other plants. However, there are a few pests and diseases to be on the lookout for.
Snowberry bushes are susceptible to rust, a fungal infection causing orange-red blisters on leaves.
The most common disease in snowberry bushes is rust, which appears as small orangish-reddish blisters that will show up on the undersides of leaves. These rust spots release spores that spread the disease further. This leads to widespread yellowing and eventual death.
Rust is a fungal infection that mainly takes hold in high humidity and dense spacing. After removing and disposing of infected leaves, apply an organic copper or sulfur-based fungicide. Prune your plants to improve air circulation. This is especially important if your snowberry bush has put out a lot of suckers in a short period of time. Keeping it pruned can prevent the spread of rust.
The white powdery substance known as powdery mildew attacks many plants in the garden. This mildew appears as a pale white, powdery coating on leaves. Much like rust, it also leads to yellowing leaves and eventual plant death once it spreads. Powdery mildew thrives in cool and damp conditions, so increasing airflow is once again your best preventative measure, along with using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to avoid overhead watering.
Leaf spot and berry rot are two other issues that sometimes affect snowberry bushes. These are usually a result of anthracnose or scab caused by the pathogen Sphaceloma symphoricarpi. These aren’t often severe infections, but they cause leaf spotting in early spring. These start out dark purple to black and eventually expand and develop gray centers. Remove these leaves as soon as you see them to prevent spread to the berries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Snowberry bushes can grow to their fully mature height and spread within 2-3 years.
No! They are a non-invasive native shrub in North America. They are sometimes mistakenly referred to as invasive, given to how vigorously they can spread in their ideal growing conditions.
The short answer is no. Although historically they have been used for their medicinal properties, snowberries contain saponin, which is mildly toxic. If ingested, they can cause symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea and are therefore considered to be toxic to both people and pets.
Yes! This hardy deciduous shrub can be reliably grown as a perennial in USDA growing zones 3-7.
Snowberries are a beautiful native ornamental perennial to add to your landscaping. They provide habitat and food for local wildlife along with beautiful flowers for us and the pollinators to enjoy. Aside from regular pruning to contain its spread and maintain your desired shape, this is an easy-care plant.