Skip to Content

How to Care for a Bearberry Plant!

Beautiful red bearberries gleaming in the sun

Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi

The arctostaphylos uva ursi plant family is home to dwarf shrubs that are part of the heather plant family and they can be grown in some pretty surprising places. The low growing perennial plant is loved by gardeners for its low care, beautiful foliage, flowers, and berries.

Uva ursi plants are most commonly known as the common bearberry plant, but may also be known under mealberry, sandyberry, mountain box, fox plum, hog crawberry, or barren myrtle. Certain Native American communities refers to the plant as Kinnikinnick.

These names have several meanings. The scientific term is divided into two terms, arctos, meaning “bear”, and staphyle, meaning “bunch of grapes” (in reference to the berries on the plant). Kinnikinnick is the Native American term for “smoking mixture”, because the dried leaves and bark would be dried and blended with other herbs and tobacco to be smoked in pipes.

This is the perfect flowering plant for your rock garden, for an area that has poor soil and needs coverage, it can be planted under a large shrub or tree, it one of the great facer plants, it will soften borders and can cascade over rock walls, and will accompany the show stoppers of your garden.

What do Bearberry Plants Look Like?

Dense bearberry berries among dark green leaves in the sun

Growth Habit

The bearberry plant is a multi stemmed evergreen shrub with a ground cover growth habit. This plant grows wider than it is tall. It will usually achieve heights between 2 and 12 inches, with a spread of over 3 feet!

From a sturdy root system will emerge woody stems that give way to erect branching stems. This type of growth creates a very dense, mat forming appearance. When new growth first emerges its a dark red color which will eventually fade into brown.

Bearberries are a perennial plant type, meaning that they will continue to produce flower blossoms year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

Leaves

Bearberry plants are evergreen, meaning that they bear refined foliage that will remain green and persist all year long. Leaves will usually stay on the plant for about 3 years before they fall away to make way for new growth.

Tiny glossy round leaves are alternately arranged along the stems of the plant. Each bearberry leaf is shiny, thick (similar to succulent leaves) which a dark green upper side and a light green under side.

Much of the reason why gardeners love planting these specimens so much is because of its attractive evergreen dark green leaves that brings interest to the garden all year round.

Flowers

Once the early spring comes around, bearberry plants will start to form small urn shaped flowers which can last into the late summer and sometimes longer into the late fall. Each flower is small and usually nods downwards. Flowers are either white or very light pink.

Once a bearberry flower is fertilized it will produce a fruit in the form of a small rounded pink or red berry. Each red berry will contain 1-5 hard seeds that take a while for germination.

Bearberry plants are great for the local ecosystem because of their sweet smelling flowers that attract all sorts of beneficial insects to the area, and their edible berries that feed small animals as well.

All sorts of different moth and butterfly species also use the bearberry shrub as a host plant to lay their larvae, specifically the hoary elfin butterfly.

A particularly popular variety of bearberry is the Massachusetts bearberry (arctostaphylos ova ursi ‘Massachusetts Bearberry’) that is a bit taller and can grow to be 12 inches with a spread of 4 feet. It’s a super tough and hardy ground cover plant that pear pink flowers and red fruits.

Where are Bearberries Native Plants?

Wild bearberry shrubs covering rocky alpine area

One of the most important aspects of gardening is understanding that not all plants can be grown in all types of climates. Doing proper research about where certain species are native plants will better enable you to mimic those conditions in other parts of the world.

Something really surprising about the bearberry plant is its ability to grow in pretty hostile environments. This plant grows in the most northern parts of northern hemisphere and especially loves rocky mountain habitats.

The natural growing range of the bearberry plant extends throughout the northern areas of North America, Europe, and Asia, with high population density in Iceland, Norway, Italy, Siberia, Turkey, Alaska, and all over western North America (with a huge population in British Columbia).

Bearberry plants can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 2 through 6, meaning that they can survive some pretty serious winters. They will not be happy in the summers outside of those direct zones.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Bearberry Plants?

If you happen to live in the appropriate growing zone, the natural next step is going to be learning all about how to properly care for a bearberry specimen of your very own. Though they can be a little bit particular about certain things, if you can achieve the right conditions they will grow very enthusiastically.

Close up image of dark red berry of the bearberry plant

Soil Type

Something great about bearberry plants is that they prefer to live in harsh soil conditions. This means the soil should be low in nutrient content and doesn’t need to be amended with fertilizer or compost.

Despite their relaxed nature about soil fertility, these plants are rather particular when it comes to the acidity level of the soil. They do not tolerate alkaline soils whatsoever, and need a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. Poor acidic sandy soil is ideal for these plants.

In order to increase the acidity level of the soil (this will help with drainage, too) incorporate some peat moss into the soil mix! If the soil is too alkaline, the dark green leaves will experience chlorosis yellowing.

Another great aspect to bearberries is the fact that they’re tolerant to environmental salt, whether it be through the soil or by salt spray. It’s a great coastal shrub due to its salt resistance.

Water Level

The water requirements for bearberry plants are very moderate. The are pretty drought tolerant and only need to be watered once the soil has dried out completely.

Just remember that over watering can become an issue, especially if the plant is planted in soil that doesn’t have excellent drainage. Under watering is better than over watering.

Sun Exposure

Bearberry plants are used to growing wild in areas that receive a ton of sunlight, and they really perform their absolute best when they get to sun bathe with minimal light shade.

An ideal amount of full sun per day is 6-8 hours, though in warmer regions they will appreciate some partial shade, especially in the heat of the summer sun.

Close up image of tiny white flowers of the bearberry plant

Temperature

Many of the plants that we go through tend to prefer existing in warmer temperatures, so it’s always nice to come across a plant that actually prefers to exist in colder temperatures.

They not only prefer it, but they will not be able to survive in hot temperatures. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 6, but will not survive the summer heat outside of those zones.

Fertilizer

When it comes to fertilizing, bearberry plants actually prefer to not receive any fertilizer at all! This is because when growing in the wild they’re used to growing in poor acidic sandy soil. This means no liquid fertilizer and no compost either!

Pruning

Not much needs to be done in way of pruning a bearberry plant. Simply snip away any branches that seem to be snapped, sickly, or dying. You can also used healthy snipped stems to use for propagation, which we’ll go over in the following section!

How do you Propagate a Bearberry Plant?

Light pink pendant bearberry flowers

Propagation of bearberry plants can be done through collecting and sowing seed, but this is a far more time consuming method as the seeds are very hard and need stratification.

You can collect the bearberry berries, collect the seeds, rough them up a bit, and store them in the fridge over the winter so they’ll be ready for planting the following early spring. Otherwise, here’s the method for propagating through stem cuttings:

1. Clip a healthy looking stem that is about 6 inches long and has several sets of leaves on it (this is required for the cutting to continue photosynthesizing).

2. Pick a spot on your property that receives full sun or partial shade. If planting directly in the earth, pick a spot that is slightly sheltered so that the cutting isn’t tampered with and plant in the mid spring.

3. Dip the cutting in root hormone and plant it in a pot indoors 3-4 weeks before early spring. Use a soil mix that has been amended with peat moss and sand.

Or, you can put the cutting directly in its permanent spot in the garden if the temperature is warm enough for it to first get established.

4. Water thoroughly right after planting and as the plant is getting established. Every week, tug slightly to see if the cutting has taken root.

Happy planting!

Lovely clusters of light pink bearberry flowers growing among dark green leaves

FAQs

Are bearberry plants deer resistant?

Yet another positive aspect of the bearberry plant is the fact that it is resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

How are bearberry plants used?

Gardeners really love to use bearberries as landscape plants because of their tolerance to sandy acidic soils and environmental salt, and they can be planted in all sorts of different applications like rock gardens, hanging baskets, over rock walls, they’re great facer plants, and will help soften the edges of the garden.

What are the damaging agents to bearberry plants?

Bearberry plants are most intolerant to being planted in alkaline soils. They will experience chlorosis yellowing in the leaves if they are subjected to the wrong acidity level.

Can bearberry plants survive winter temperatures?

Many of the plants that we go through tend to prefer existing in warmer temperatures, so it’s always nice to come across a plant that actually prefers to exist in colder temperatures.

They not only prefer it, but they will not be able to survive in hot temperatures. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 6, but will not survive the summer heat outside of those zones.

Are bearberry plants evergreen or deciduous?

Gardeners love bearberry plants because they bear evergreen leaves, meaning that they will persist and remain green all year long, adding ornamental interest in every season.

Can a bearberry plant be grown indoors?

Since bearberry plants are a ground cover plant, they are not appropriate for indoor planting, especially since they require cold parts of the year to stay healthy.

Can a bearberry plant be grown in a container?

Bearberry plants are actually great to plant in containers as long as they are large enough.

Are bearberry plants perennials?

Bearberry is a perennial plant type, meaning that it will produce flower blossoms each year as long as its ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

What USDA growing zone can bearberry plants grow in?

Something really surprising about the bearberry plant is its ability to grow in pretty hostile environments. This plant grows in the most northern parts of northern hemisphere and especially loves rocky mountain habitats.

The natural growing range of the bearberry plant extends throughout the northern areas of North America, Europe, and Asia, with high population density in Iceland, Norway, Italy, Siberia, Turkey, Alaska, and all over western North America (with a huge population in British Columbia.

Bearberry plants can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 2 through 6, meaning that they can survive some pretty serious winters. They will not be happy in the summers outside of those direct zones.

How often should a bearberry plant be watered?

The water requirements for bearberry plants are very moderate. The are pretty drought tolerant and only need to be watered once the soil has dried out completely.

Just remember that over watering can become an issue, especially if the plant is planted in soil that doesn’t have excellent drainage. Under watering is better than over watering.

What are some other common names for bearberry plants?

Uva ursi plants are most commonly known as the common bearberry plant, but may also be known under mealberry, sandyberry, mountain box, fox plum, hog crawberry, or barren myrtle. Certain Native American communities refers to the plant as Kinnikinnick.

These names have several meanings. The scientific term is divided into two terms, arctos, meaning bear, and staphyle, meaning bunch of grapes (in reference to the berries on the plant). Kinnikinnick is the Native American term for “smoking mixture”, because the dried leaves and bark would be dried and blended with other herbs and tobacco to be smoked in pipes.

Should a bearberry plant be pruned?

Not much needs to be done in way of pruning a bearberry plant. Simply snip away any branches that seem to be snapped, sickly, or dying.

Do bearberry plants prefer full sun or partial shade?

Bearberry plants are used to growing wild in areas that receive a ton of sunlight, and they really perform their absolute best when they get to sun bathe with minimal light shade.

An ideal amount of full sun per day is 6-8 hours, though in warmer regions they will appreciate some partial shade, especially in the heat of the summer sun.

Where can I buy bearberry plant seeds?

An excellent resource for gardeners is NETPS plant finder tool. The NETPS plant finder tool is an online tool for gardeners where they can find all sorts of planting information, and where they can order all sorts of bulbs and seeds for purchase.

What is the ideal soil type for a bearberry plant?

Something great about bearberry plants is that they prefer to live in harsh soil conditions. This means the soil should be low in nutrient content and doesn’t need to be amended with fertilizer or compost.

Despite their relaxed nature about soil fertility, these plants are rather particular when it comes to the acidity level of the soil. They do not tolerate alkaline soils whatsoever, and need a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. Poor acidic sandy soil is ideal for these plants.

In order to increase the acidity level of the soil (this will help with drainage, too) incorporate some peat moss into the soil mix! If the soil is too alkaline, the dark green leaves will experience chlorosis yellowing.

Another great aspect to bearberries is the fact that they’re tolerant to environmental salt, whether it be through the soil or by salt spray. It’s a great coastal shrub due to its salt resistance.

What is the easiest way to propagate a bearberry plant?

Propagating bearberry plants can be doing through sowing seed, though that is very time consuming and they won’t flower for a while. It is better to propagate through stem cuttings for quicker results.

How tall do bearberry plants get?

Bearberry plants will usually grow to be between 2 and 12 inches tall with a spread of 3 feet to sometimes 15 feet.

What time of year do bearberry flowers bloom?

Once the early spring comes around, bearberry plants will start to form small urn shaped flowers which can last into the late summer and sometimes longer into the late fall. Each flower is small and usually nods downwards. Flowers are either white or very light pink.