How to Grow and Care for Coffeeberry

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Frangula californica, or Coffeeberry is a species of flowering and fruiting shrub in the buckthorn family. Native to southern parts of North America, the coffeeberry has edible fruits. 

This perennial plant is also known as the Californian coffeeberry or Californian buckthorn. 


The name “coffeeberry” arises from the similarity of the plant’s fruit to that of the coffee plant. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameFrangula californica, Rhamnus californica 
Common namesCalifornian coffeeberry, Californian buckthorn
Height3 to 12 feet
WidthUp to 12 feet
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneZones 7 to 10
Native toWestern and Southern United States
Blooming seasonMay to June
Flower colorsyellow-green
Plant specific featuresPerennial evergreen, or semi deciduous shrub

How to Plant and Grow a Coffeeberry

It is best to use transplanted nursery stock when planting coffeeberry. In addition to the common coffeeberry, there are also subspecies available, including shrubs that mature at a smaller size and that are suitable for different climatic zones.

Where to Plant

In the wild, coffeeberry grows in many types of locations, including coastal scrubland, evergreen and broadleaf woodland, and forests and arid habitats.

Because it will grow on hillsides, slopes, and in sand, it is a useful choice for erosion control purposes.

Coffeeberry is a useful addition to a hedgerow planting scheme, as it attracts bees and other beneficial insects. The fruits in the fall will attract many species of birds.

When to Plant

Best planted in the Fall or Spring, but you will find watering less onerous if you plant in the Autumn. Avoid planting out during periods of extreme weather and during cold or windy spells.

Coffeeberry Shrubs Care and Maintenance


Coffeeberry grows on dry or rocky land and tolerates a wide range of soil types, including sandy and clay. 


Frangula californica is, once established, a drought-tolerant shrub. But, like all new plantings, it is important to keep the plant irrigated during its first growing season. 

This will help it develop a sound root base and increase its chances of survival in subsequent years during periods of drought.


The coffeeberry shrub benefits from an annual application of slow-release, general purpose fertilizer, that is designed for trees and shrubs. Avoid fertilizers with high nitrogen content, as this will encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers and fruits. 

Similarly, avoid fertilizing your coffeeberry late in the growing season. Fertilizer encourages new growth, and at the end of the growing season, such tender growth will not have a chance to toughen up in readiness for the onset of winter.


The more sunlight the shrub receives, the more prolific its flower and fruit production will be. However, a coffeeberry shrub will still thrive with less sunshine. 

Choose a planting spot on a south or west-facing position, as this normally will be the sunniest position.

Pruning and Repotting

Pruning the coffeeberry will be beneficial to the shrub. Removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches will increase air circulation in the center of the plant. 

This will reduce disease problems. Pruning encourages new growth, that will increase flower and fruit production.

Removing old wood can be done in Spring, or when you first spot dead branches. Spring pruning is good because new growth will form quickly and in time for summer flowers/fruits.

If you want to tidy up your coffeeberry, you can prune it in the summer, once the flowers have finished. 

Cut shoots back and remove some older growth. Remove any suckers which have sprouted from the base of the coffeeberry. 

Caliofornian buckthorn (Frangula californica) is a shrub that tolerates fairly severe pruning. Because of this, it is a shrub that can easily be formed to make a hedge.


If you wish to propagate coffeeberry from seed, then pick the berries before they are fully ripe in order to lose the fruit to foraging birds. Clean and allow the seeds to dry somewhere cool and dry.

You can plant the seeds immediately, once dried. Alternatively, if you store the seed before planting, it is necessary to provide a period of cold stratification before planting.

Plant the seeds in a container filled with potting compost, not too deep.  If the seeds are planted more than about ½ inch below the soil surface, they will not germinate.

It will take about six weeks for the seeds to germinate, and they should be kept in a greenhouse or cold frame for a  further two months. 

They then need a period of protection in a shady location before planting out after a further two months. This will provide the seedlings with a period during which they will be prepared for their final, outside conditions.

It will take around 5 years before the coffeeberry shrub will start to flower and bear fruit.

A quicker method of propagation is by root crown division. This is particularly efficient and cost-effective if you wish to cultivate multiple plants for hedging purposes. The shrub will regenerate from the base.

Pests and diseases

Frangula californica is not reported to have many pest problems at all. However, it is a host for rust of certain grasses.

Minor damage can sometimes be caused by aphids and leaf miners.

Temperature and Humidity

Californian buckthorn is relatively cold-hardy in its recommended planting zones. It will tolerate short spells with temperatures falling to -10 in the winter when the plant is not actively growing. 

It will grow best in areas that have hot summers, even if winter temperatures plummet occasionally. 

Other Uses for Coffeeberry

Coffeeberry, or Californian buckthorn is a very versatile plant. From an ornamental viewpoint, it can be kept in a formal shape and tidy, either alone or in a hedge planting. 

Subspecies include spreading, low-growing varieties, and the shrub attracts bees and butterflies.

In the past, the bitter bark and berries were used as a treatment for constipation. The leave was crushed, together with the sap and berries, to make a treatment for skin wounds. 

Some ancient tribes ate the fruit, either fresh or sun-dried, but other tribes considered them to be toxic.

Types of Coffeeberry You Can Grow

F. californica “Eve Case” and “Mound San Bruno” are two available horticultural varieties of coffeeberry. 

“Eve Case” has a somewhat loose habit and will grow to around 8 feet (2.44 m) in both height and spread.

If you want a more tidy, compact plant, then” Mound San Bruno” is a good choice. It grows in a more dense form and matures at 5 feet (1.52 m).

Due to the number of subspecies available, you can find one that best suits your growing location and climatic conditions.


Most gardens benefit from at least one shrub. Being able to choose a native plant is always positive, and the Frangula californica is one of the best shrubs to select if you are in its native region. It is much loved by plantsmen for its evergreen foliage, which is attractively shaped.

*image by seksan44/depositphotos

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