by Erin Marissa Russell
Gardeners in zones five through nine can grow St. John’s wort, or red hypericum berries. In addition to red, you may find St. John’s wort plants that produce berries in shades of peach, brown, and green. The berries appear at the ends of branches as summer comes to a close and flowers fade. We’ve got all the information you need to care for your red hypericum berries, so just keep reading.
Growing Conditions for Red Hypericum Berries
Red hypericum berries are versatile plants that will do well in a variety of soil conditions. However, they will not tolerate being wet. Make sure that soil in the spot where you will plant your red hypericum berries offers a good amount of drainage. You may need to amend the soil to improve its texture so that sufficient drainage is provided.
Red hypericum berries need full sun to thrive. That means you’ll need to find them a place in the garden that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. While it is possible for red hypericum berries to grow in less than full sun, their berry production will suffer.
How to Plant Red Hypericum Berries
Set each plant at 36 inches apart to make sure that, as St. John’s wort plants grow, they have enough room to stretch without running into a neighbor. The spacing is also important because it ensures that there is enough room for air to circulate between the plants. The more warm and humid your region is, the more important air circulation becomes in keeping plants happy.
Your containers for red hypericum berries must have drainage holes. The plants do not tolerate being overly wet. You may have heard rumors about using stones or broken pottery in the bottom of containers without holes to increase drainage. These measures are not effective. The only effective option is to use containers that do have drainage holes.
To start red hypericum berries from seeds, begin by filling the pots with seed starting medium, leaving half an inch of empty room. Choose a seed starting medium that does not contain organic material to prevent damping off, a disease that can wipe out seedlings.
Add the seeds for red hypericum berries to the center of the pots. Then barely sprinkle soil over the newly planted seeds to cover them. Wet the soil so that the seeds and the soil covering the seeds won’t move. Then place the seed starting tray inside a plastic bag and seal it closed with a rubber band.
Keep the red hypericum berries in a location where the temperature stays between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and where there is no bright light. It will take between two and four weeks for the seedlings to germinate. Remove the bag from around the plants once you see them begin to sprout. Then move them to a location with low or moderate light.
Care for Red Hypericum Berries
Your red hypericum berry bush will need more extensive watering during its first growing season to help it develop a strong, healthy root system. Give your first-year St. John’s wort bush regular deep waterings. To provide a deep watering, leave the water source in place long enough for the moisture to penetrate several inches into the soil.
Once the first year is over and your red hypericum berries are better established, they will not need as much water. It takes about three months for the plants to become established. After that point, you only need to water them if rainfall does not provide the moisture they need. Water established red hypericum berries only when there has been no rainfall for three weeks.
Use a layer of mulch around your red hypericum berries to ensure the soil retains moisture and to help prevent weeds. Start by applying a three-inch layer of mulch all around the area where red hypericum berries are growing. However, make sure that you do not allow the mulch to touch the plant material. There needs to be a gap of several inches to help prevent the spread of plant diseases in your garden.
St. John’s wort plants do require a bit of fertilization in order to thrive. First, every spring you should add a layer of compost to the top of the soil. Follow the same procedure with the compost that you did with the mulch, including leaving a few inches of empty space between the compost and the plants. However, you’ll use just one inch of compost instead of the three inches you’d use of mulch. Once you’ve set out the layer of compost, you should mix it into the soil to a depth of five inches.
In spring as well as throughout the active growth period, you should use a controlled-release fertilizer. Refer to the fertilizer you choose for manufacturer instructions about how much to use and how often to apply it. Make sure to follow the instructions to the letter, as it can be easy to get too much fertilizer.
When plants are dormant from the end of winter to the beginning of spring is the perfect time to prune them. Red hypericum berries do benefit from pruning to promote healthy growth and keep them in shape. Make sure to do your pruning while the plant is dormant, before it starts putting out new growth in the spring.
Use a light hand when pruning young plants, though with more mature specimens you can clip them down to a third of their original size as long as you make your cuts above the lowest node. While you’re at it, remove any branches that are dead or dying or show signs of damage or disease.
If your red hypericum berry bush hasn’t been pruned in recent years, you may be surprised just how much the plant responds to pruning. In return for your efforts, you should see an increase in the amount of blossoms and berries on your St. John’s wort plant.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Red Hypericum Berries
Especially where the weather is warm and humid, it’s possible for red hypericum berries to fall victim to mildew. There are a few things you can do to work against this.
Make sure that when you provide your plants with water, you’re not splashing a lot of excess around the foliage or surrounding soil. For one thing, plants are only able to absorb water and put it to use through their roots, so any that lands on their leaves is wasted. However, the excess moisture sitting around will put your plants at risk for mildew and other fungal diseases. The solution is to aim at the base of your plant when you add water.
In addition to making sure water gets to the right place, it’s also important in preventing mildew to ensure you aren’t giving red hypericum berries too much water. There’s an easy test you can use to determine whether it’s time to give plants their next dose of water. Just stick your finger into the soil an inch near where the red hypericum berries are growing. Does the soil feel moist to the touch. Or does it cling to your skin? If it does, that means it isn’t yet time to water your red hypericum berries.
How to Harvest Red Hypericum Berries
Wait until most of the flowers on a branch have transformed into berries to harvest the branch. Do not remove any leaves from the stem. Use clean, sterile shears or another sterilized gardening tool. It is important that your gardening tools are sterile to prevent the spread of plant disease in your garden. Make one single cut to harvest the branch. Then put the berries in a bucket of fresh water with the cut side down in the water. Remove any leaves that are under the surface of the water and discard them. If you do not remove the leaves, they can rot and turn slimy.
Now you know how to raise red hypericum berries, from seed to harvest.