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Ruby saltbush with masses of red berries
Ruby saltbush is a striking native shrub with silver-grey foliage and brightly coloured fruit. The vibrant red, salty-sweet berries are popular bush tucker, and can be eaten fresh or made into a refreshing tea. Ruby saltbush is very hardy once established and can withstand extended periods of heat and drought. 


What you need to know about ruby saltbush

Name: ruby saltbush, barrier saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa).

Height: 0.5–1m.

Plant type: perennial shrub.

Climate: cool and warm temperate, sub-tropical, tropical, semi-arid, arid.

Soil: well-drained, tolerant of slightly saline soils.

Position: full sun to part shade.

Foliage: small, cylindrical and fleshy, covered with fine white hairs.

Flowering and fruiting: insignificant flowers appear from spring to autumn, followed by berries that mature from green to yellow, and finally turn red when ripe.

Feeding: feed in spring and autumn with an organic-based fertiliser.

Watering: water regularly when first planted. Once established, it can tolerate long periods without water.

Appearance and characteristics of ruby saltbush

Ruby saltbush is a low-growing, semi-woody shrub with silvery-grey succulent leaves. It can grow to 1m tall, however, generally reaches 0.5–1m high and wide. Prostrate forms are also available. The leaves are small, cylindrical and fleshy with fine white hairs on the surfaces and undersides, giving the plant a silvery-grey appearance. Tiny, insignificant flowers appear from spring to autumn and are followed by fleshy berries that mature from green to yellow, before finally turning red when ripe. Interestingly, the fruit ripens at different times during the season, so you will often see green, yellow and red berries on the plant at the same time – quite a decorative feature!

Ruby saltbush grows well in all climates, from arid through to tropical, and is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, even growing in slightly saline soils. Once established, it is drought-hardy and tolerant of cold conditions, including frosts.

Ruby saltbush with red fruit

How to use ruby saltbush

This low-growing shrub is ideal for growing in garden beds or pots in native or low-maintenance gardens, as it thrives with little care. Its sweet and salty berries can be eaten fresh or steeped in water for a refreshingly sweet brew. The succulent leaves are also edible, but rich in oxalates, so should be cooked before eating. 

How to grow ruby saltbush

Choose a spot in full sun to part shade with well-drained soil. While ruby saltbush can survive in poor sandy soil, it will benefit from the addition of compost and organic matter prior to planting. To plant, dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, loosen the mix to free the roots and place in the centre of the hole. Backfill with soil, firm down and water well.

Mulch around the base of the plant with an organic mulch like pine bark to help retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth.  

Caring for ruby saltbush

Once established, ruby saltbush is a hardy shrub. It tends to grow more slowly in poor soil, but growth can be boosted with occasional feeding and watering.

This native shrub isn’t bothered by many pests or diseases.

How often should you water and feed ruby saltbush?

Water regularly when first planted. Once established, it is highly tolerant of hot, dry periods and can survive with little water. In fact, it is sensitive to overwatering and can rot if the soil is waterlogged or moist for an extended time. 

Feed in spring and autumn with a complete organic-based fertiliser formulated for native plants.

How and when to harvest ruby saltbush

Pick and eat the berries when they are red. The leaves can be harvested for use at any time of the year. 

How to propagate ruby saltbush

Ruby saltbush grows from seed or cuttings. To grow from seed, remove the flesh from the seed and sow in a punnet filled with seed-raising mix. Gently water to keep the soil moist. Germination can take 1–4 weeks.

To propagate cuttings, use stems 8–10cm long. Remove the lower leaves, dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone and insert into a tray filled with propagating mix. Position in a warm spot and keep the mix moist.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.

If you like this then try

Blueberry lily: a hardy, strappy-leafed native with edible bright-blue berries.

Midyim berry: an attractive sprawling shrub with sweet white, purple-speckled berries.

Queensland Davidson’s plum: a slender tree with edible blue-black plum-like fruit that form on the trunk.

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Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo


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