Belonging to the group of huckleberries found in western United States, Vaccinium membranaceum is known by many common names, including thinleaf huckleberry. Found hidden away in forests covered by cone-bearing trees at mountainous elevations, these treasures of the wild are difficult for home gardeners to cultivate. The reward is the possibility of wild grown quality berries right at your fingertips.
Consider the most ethical and viable source for plant material. Do not take starts from wild lands. Daniel L. Barney, lead researcher on huckleberry development for the Sandpoint Research and Extension Center for the University of Idaho, suggests rhizome starts taken from wild thinleaf huckleberry stands invariably die. The stand it was taken from often suffers for the digging and cutting. Instead, cultivate your own plants through seed germination.
Begin with fresh huckleberry seeds harvested from wild thinleaf huckleberry bushes. Press through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container, rinsing away all but seeds that sink, and re-wash. Sunken seeds are viable and should be left until completely dry. Store them refrigerated in a plastic bag at temperatures between freezing and 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rest seeds on the surface of a bed of moist peat moss sprinkled with clean sand to keep them stable. Provide 12 hours of cool white florescent light with 70-degree daytime temperatures and no lower than 55 degrees at night.
Plant starts in one-gallon containers, transplanting them to three- or five-gallon containers once mature. Barney recommends a loam soil that may contain sand with a pH level between 4.0 and 5.0 as the best potting medium for western huckleberry starts. Raised beds also may provide cultivation success.
Keep soil moist, but not soggy, and ensure good drainage. Avoid outdoor locations with direct, hot sunlight. Full sun in a generally cool area or gentle, morning full sun and shady afternoon spaces are optimum.
Apply liquid 20-20-20 blend fertilizers with normal watering during spring and summer to provide best results, and Barney suggests adding a slow-release fertilizer applied to the top soil of containers.
Store containers between 32 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit in a walk-in refrigerator, if available, after the first few hard frosts. For outdoor storage, use sawdust to bury containers and the top soil of small huckleberry plants. If your area falls to temperatures lower than 0, a cover of snowfall will best protect your starts and give you a chance at overwintering success.