How to Care for Bearberry Plant

If you have ever been in the northern half of the United States, you might have passed by a plain-looking little ground cover plant, known as Bearberry. This is also known by the name Kinnikinnick. It is most common in homeowners and landscapers who like a low-maintenance perennial. If you need a carefree ground cover, consider growing Bearberry.

The maximum height this plant can reach is between 6 to 12 inches. It grows cherry red berries that are mostly attracted to wildlife. This plant got its name from the fact that the bears love to eat berries of this plant. It grows dark green leaves. This plant produces white or pale pink flowers in March and June.

Bearberry is a low maintenance plant that can easily be grown in a place with poor soil. It can survive in soil with poor nutrients and sandy soil where other ground covers cannot thrive in.

You can place it in partial shade or full sun where it can spread. As this plant grows slower in the first year, once established it will spread easily and will create mats that will fill a lot of space.

While Bearberry will slowly spread in the beginning, it spreads quickly when it adjusts in the soil. You can propagate it where you want to fill in the spots quicker.  

You can plant bearberries on a hillside or on rocky areas that need coverage. It makes a brilliant look underneath shrubs or around trees. If you live near an ocean, you can also use it as a seaside cover. Plant it along a rock wall where it will give a softening look to your landscape perimeter.

Bearberry, evergreen shrubs of the heath family, native to the northern areas of Europe, Asia, and North America in rocky and sandy areas. It has flexible, woody stems that grow 5 to 6 feet long. Roots emerge from the stem, and the plant spreads massively forming a ground cover.  The foliage of the plant turns bronzy in winter. The plant flowers in the spring produce white, pink, or pink tipped flowers. The flowers are in the shape of a narrow-mouthed bell and are formed in clusters at the ends of twigs. The leaves have rolled margins with fringed hairs. The berries produced are red.

Size and Shape:

This plant grows 6 to 12 inches tall and can grow 3 to 15 feet wide. It forms a dense mat shape.

Bearberry names:

Bearberry is also known as Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in the botanical form. It belongs to the heather family. The other common names used for it are mealberry, hot cranberry, and sandberry. 

Design Tips for Bearberry:

Bearberry is considered as a good ground cover as it grows low to the ground and spreads widely. Its evergreen leaves and red berries are attracted by wildlife, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Its peeling, red bark is another reason for it being a winter interest shrub.

This plant is salt tolerant so it can be used in the areas near the sea and in cold urban areas where the roads are salted.

How to Plant Bearberry:

Propagate this plant through seeds that have been sacrificed and stratified. You can also propagate through stem cuttings. You can plant Bearberry by clipping off the stems and then dipping it in the rooting hormone powder. Next plant them in the moist sand.

Another way for growing bearberries is by collecting and then planting the seeds. Store these seeds in the refrigerator for about 3 months before you plant them. Make sure to rough up the outside of the seeds with a file before burying them in the soil.

Different Species of Bearberry Plant:

This plant has three major species:

Alpine Bearberry

Also known as Arctostaphylos alpina, it is a shrub as high as 30 cm. The dead leaves stay on stems for several years. The berries of this type have dark purple to black colors. It is commonly found in Russia, Canada, Alaska, Greenlands, Asia, British Columbia, and Maine.

Red Bearberry

Also known as Arctostaphylos rubra, red bearberry is a shrub that grows from 10 to 30 cm high. This specie has deciduous leaves that fall in the autumn. It produces red berries which is why this specie is known as Red Bearberry. It is mostly found in the mountains of Sichuan, China, Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada, and northern Quebec.

Common Bearberry

This species is known by the name Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. This species has long and flexible branches. It forms a green mat over a several meters wide area. The leafy stems of the plant are covered with soft, white hairs.  Its dark-green leaves stay green throughout the year. They measure about 1 to 2 cm long. They are leathery in texture and have smooth edges. The flowers of White Bearberry are white or pinkish and appear in small hanging clusters. These urn-shaped flowers appear from May to June.       

Common Pests and Diseases:

This plant has relatively few serious diseases. The common diseases in Bearberry can be winter burn or leaf spots if the plant is stressed.  If its roots are too damp, then it may be susceptible to a few diseases and fungi. Damp roots can cause root rot, black mildew, leaf spot, leaf gall, and rust. If you keep your Bearberry plant dry, then it will be less prone to disease problems. You can move wet Bearberry, but roots do not tolerate disturbance well. 

Winter Burn:

Winter burn is common in plants that are grown in open, unprotected areas and are exposed to severe winter conditions. Depending on the conditions, winter burn can be so severe that even the plant may die. Winter burn will typically brown the leaves. There are many reasons that can cause winter burn. In general, if your Bearberry plant doesn’t get enough water due to poorly established water, then it will cause root burn. Cold injury can also be the reason. When the temperatures drop sharply with the sunset, it causes foliage to rapidly cool that has warmed during the day.  

Leaf Spots:

Leaf spot is a disease that affects the foliage of the trees. It may occur due to fungi or bacteria. Some insects may also be the cause of this disease. In most of the cases, leaf spots occur at a mild level. It affects only some areas of the plant. However, the continuous occurrence of leaf spot may lead to the complete damage of the plant.

Root rot:

Root rot is a common disease in the plant that can mainly occur due to overwatering. It causes the leaves to get dull and turn yellow and the whole plant may die. The overwatered conditions may cause the roots to die because of lack of oxygen. The rot can spread to healthier roots and affect them as well. The other reason for root rot can be a fungus in the soil. The root rot due to fungus also causes the roots to die and rot away.

Growing Conditions and Requirements:

Water Requirements:

Bearberry plants need about an inch of watering every week. You can increase the amount of water during the hot and dry weather. If your plant is receiving enough water during rain, then you don’t need to water yourself. Otherwise, you can supply water for half an hour with a sprinkler. During spring, we recommend you supply 0.5 to 1 inch of water during the week. In summer, increase watering to 1.5 inches a week. During fall and winter, reduce water supply from late august to mid-October to avoid excessive growth in the plant that might be susceptible to winterkill. During the late fall, you can resume supplemental watering.

Soil Requirements:

This plant is sometimes hard to transplant and establish. It doesn’t require rich, fertile soil to thrive. Sandy or rocky soil is preferred but it can also thrive in poor soil. While it doesn’t require ideal fertilized soil, it is not flexible about soil PH. It needs an acidic soil with soil PH ranging from 4.5 to 5.5.  It prefers well-draining, coarse or sandy soil. It will not grow in wetlands or clay. Bearberry needs very little maintenance and basic weeding.

Fertilizer Requirements:

Bearberry is a plant that can survive in less fertilized soil. You should apply fertilizer only once in a year. This fertilizer should be a commercial sludge, composts, or a fertilizer with less nitrogen release. You can apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer every spring to increase growth. When you apply the fertilizer, make sure it doesn’t touch the plant. Always apply the fertilizer on soil 1 to 1.5 feet beyond the tips of the branches. Make sure that you are following the directions given on the package to determine the amount of fertilizer. Make an annual application of fertilizer every spring. During summer, a monthly spray of dilute liquid fertilizer mixed with some dilute seaweed extract will give better results. You should do this for the first three months after the last frost. However, stop any feeding 2 months before the first frost.

Maintenance/Pruning:

This pant generally doesn’t require pruning. However, you can do it to reshape the plant or cut the deadwood. Bearberry needs about 2 to 6 sq ft space for growing. As it is a very slow-growing plant, trimming is not necessary. However, it can tolerate some trimming, clipping sand browsing from wild animals.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit:

The leaves of this plant are 0.5 to 1 inch long and 0.25 to 0.5 inch wide. The plant produces small, single flowers. These flowers are either light pink or white. The plant flowers in May and the flowers last until June. Bearberry offers a perfect floral arrangement in terminal clusters.  The flowers are small, appearing in clusters. Flowers are followed by red berry-like fruit that lasts from fall until the next spring season.

Sunlight Requirements:

It doesn’t tolerate high heat. Full sun is preferred for this plant, but it can also tolerate partial shade. Providing less light can cause many diseases in your Bearberry plant.

Mulching:

These plants do well when they have a 2-4 inch layer of some organic mulch all along with their roots. Do not let the mulch come together with the main stem to avoid decay and rodent damage. You should mulch with pine needles, chopped leaves, or wood chips. Mulching with unchopped leaves should be avoided because the leaves may mat together and prevent the water to reach the soil. Peat moss should also be avoided because it drives water from the soil and is also difficult to rewet. When you are planting a lot of bearberries together to form a ground cover, you can mulch with pine needles, wood chips, bark, and shredded leaves.

Human uses:

In the past, this plant had been eaten and smoked by Blackfoot and Algonquin Indians. The berries have also been used for food. Its leaves were dried for pipe mixture. The fruit of Bearberry is considered as nontoxic but it’s generally non-palatable. Due to insufficient research about this plant, the use of berries is not recommended. The moderate or large quantities of leaves are also toxic and can cause liver damage. 

It was first recorded in the 13th century. It was used extensively by the native Americans. A lot of tribes that live there used this plant for a variety of reasons.

The leaves that are mainly used from the plant are used in smoking mixtures. The term kinnikinnick means smoking mixture. So this plant was used for either to soften the harshness of the tobacco or added to other mixtures. It has astringent properties, so it could be used as a wash for sores, it could be used as a tea for cold chest and lung conditions. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties which are the most widely used and widely known reason for the plant. These properties are used to strengthen the tone of urinary passages in response to inflammations from urogenital diseases and for venereal diseases.

As it was used by a range of people, there are tons of uses of it. It is also used for tanning, backache, bladder ailments, bronchitis, diabetes, diarrhea, fever, dysentery, dysuria, hepatitis, and ulcer.

More Information about Bearberry Plant:

Bearberry grows in the temperate zones in the northern hemisphere ranges all the way across the northern US and into Canada. It can also be found in Europe and some parts of Russia as well. Within these areas, it can also add elevations between 3,000 and 9,000 feet. So it grows down the rocky mountains. The berries in red circular forms are very dry and mealy. They are edible so you can’t eat the berries. This plant is the type that after moderate disturbances crop up pretty quickly.

This plant is quite astringent but still, it is a favorite of bears. It is not harmful to humans but it is commonly used in making herbal medicines for urinary tract infections, bladder problems, itchy scalps. For these purposes, it is taken as a tea, tincture, or tablet.

FAQS:

1. What animals eat the Bearberry plant?

Bearberry plants are very attracted to wildlife. Birds like thrushes, grouse, wrens, robins, and waxwings like to eat Bearberry fruit. Some animals use this plant as a winter food source. These animals include bears, deer, and mammals. Among these animals, this plant is the most favorite food of bears.

2. Can humans eat Bearberry plants?

This plant is used by humans for many purposes. In the past, its berries had been used as food, and its leaves were used for pipe mixture. Bearberry fruit is non-toxic but it’s generally non-palatable. The large quantities of leaves are toxic and may cause liver damage.

3. Is Bearberry a diuretic?

Bearberry extract which is also known as Uva ursi  is a potent diuretic that can enhance the excretion of fluids from the body. This plant acts by decreasing the accumulation of uric acid which is a natural component of urine.

4. Is the Bearberry plant poisonous?

Bearberry plants have long been used by humans for many purposes. It is used to treat several diseases. However, large doses of it may cause vomiting, nausea, fever, chills, tinnitus, and back pain.

5. Where is the Bearberry plant found?

Bearberry is a shrub that is commonly found in sandy and salty areas. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It can be grown in rocky and sandy woods and in open areas.

6. How does a Bearberry look like?

Bearberry is a ground cover shrub that usually grows at about 6 to 12 inches. Its flexible stems produce leathery, teardrop-shaped leaves that appear dark green. In March and June, it produces some white or pale pink waxy flowers as well.

7. Is Bearberry an evergreen plant?

Bearberry is a small, evergreen shrub that makes a perfect ground cover for your garden. It provides winter interest with small red berries and tiny leaves that turns bronze in the fall.