Summer blueberry picking is a memory that will last a lifetime! Planting a blueberry bush in the garden will add both food and fun to your life. These wonderful plants produce so many juicy nuggets of sweet-tasting blueberries that you'll want to plant more and eat all season long. Learning how to grow blueberries will be a boon for your whole life.
In recent years, the demand for blueberries has grown so much that new varieties have been created by the University of Florida at Gainesville. It is now possible to plant these varieties in zones 7 and higher.
In the United States alone, these berries have become so popular over the past 15 years that blueberry consumption has doubled. There is a wide variety of varieties of blueberries to plant. You can try planting a small compact type of bush or a huge type of hedge that can really take up space in your garden.
Blueberries are so wonderful that even your family dog can eat them. A single cup of blueberries contains 80 calories and 25% of your daily vitamin C! The unique compound that gives blueberries their wonderful color, that beautiful deep dark blue, is called anthocyanin. This compound has a variety of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to helping motor function.
Acid-loving blueberries make for a surprisingly beautiful plant, especially when they mature into a large bush. But the dwarf plants are also really beautiful (and also grow great in pots).
Get a cute blueberry bush
Get a peach sorbet blueberry bush
Good Products on Amazon for Growing Blueberries:
Brief instructions for care
Learning how to grow blueberries is easy. Source: Moschell
|Common name (s)||Blueberry|
|Scientific name||Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium darrowii, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium virgatum|
|Days to harvest||2-3 years|
|light||6-8 hours a day|
|water||1 inch per week|
|ground||angry; pH from 4 to 5.5|
|fertilizer||10-5-5 acid-loving plant fertilizer|
|Pests||Spotted winged rosophila, Japanese beetle, Western flower thrips|
Everything about blueberries
Some blueberry plants can grow well in containers. Source: aaronlk
Blueberries have long been eaten in North America; They are native to what is now Canada, where they still grow wild even today. They are devoured around the world, with a number of varieties developed to allow gardeners to enjoy their juiciness in warmer climates. The blueberry bush is not just a type of plant. There are highbush varieties (Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium darrowii), lowbush varieties (Vaccinium angustifolium) and rabbit eyes (Vaccinium virgatum).
Blueberry bushes vary in size depending on the variety. Highbush varieties reach heights of 4 to 8 feet, while lowbush varieties are much bushier and around 2 feet tall. Rabbiteye blueberries are real giants in the garden that can grow up to 4.5 m high – these bushes produce huge harvests for decades!
Blueberry bushes grow from rhizomes underground and send up stems that develop into woody branches and eventually produce fruit. Buds develop on the wood that sprout elongated, pointed leaves or small tubular white or pink flowers. After pollination, the flowers fall off and form small round green berries that take on the characteristic deep blue blueberry color.
Every year blueberry bushes sprout new stems, which grow and develop blueberries after 1-2 years. While no branch will survive the entire life of the plant, it is the rhizomes underground that allow this plant to thrive over the years.
In early spring, new buds appear on the woody growth, eventually forming leaves and flowers. Flowers usually only appear on wood that is at least a year old, so new twigs that thrust out of the ground will need tending but will not bear fruit. Depending on the variety, your flowers will turn into fruits and begin to produce between late spring and early fall. It is the mid-season and late-season varieties that, on average, provide the highest yields.
In autumn, leaves begin to fall (some varieties keep their leaves in winter) and the blueberry bush begins to acclimate or prepare for dormancy. They do not de-acclimate, or do not begin to produce new growth until the following spring, and only if they have had enough cooling hours. Chill hours are non-continuous hours with cold temperatures below 45 degrees. Once the plant has had the number of cooling hours it needs to know that winter is over, it will start its annual flowering cycle all over again.
Types of blueberries
You may only be familiar with one or two types of blueberries depending on where you live, but there are several varieties that grow in different climates.
Lowbush varieties are found in the wild in many parts of the northern United States and Canada. These low growing bushes are great for an afternoon berry picking with family or friends. Although not as common as highbush farms, there are some lowbush patches that are farmed by farmers. These varieties of blueberries grow almost like a ground cover as they reach a height of around 24 inches and produce from Zone 2 to Zone 7. Some people say that these berries are the cutest types of blueberries.
Highbush blueberries are the most common type found on the shelf of your local grocery store. These are large and reliable bushes that typically grow up to 8 feet tall and can grow in a wider variety of zones than Lowbush varieties. Since they can produce in the mid-season and early fall, it is a great idea to plant several types of tall bush plants to extend the harvest. Half-tall blueberries like the Sweetheart Blueberry can produce up to 15 pounds of blueberries in a year and can have multiple harvests – first in early summer and again in fall.
Southern high bush varieties are a new invention from the University of Florida at Gainesville. With so many northerners living in Florida, there has long been a demand for fresh blueberries, but since traditional berry varieties needed a cool rest period to start the growing season, a whole new variety of blueberries had to be invented.
These highbush strains do well in gardens with fewer cooling hours (usually 150-200). There is a wide variety of southern highbush varieties, and planting multiple varieties can mean a month-long harvest. In areas where they can thrive in the soil in acidic soil, they can grow up to 8 feet wide and tall, other varieties that are better suited for the container garden will stay compact and tall for their entire life. Varieties like Bushel and Berry's Peach Sorbet can thrive outdoors year round in warmer regions like California. The peach sorbet berry grows in a more compact bush shape and is perfect for containers where you can control the pH of the soil – both warm regions with clay soils and regions prone to extreme weather events.
Rabbit eye blueberries come from the southeastern states of the USA such as Georgia and South Carolina. They are some of the largest blueberry plants, reaching up to 10 feet tall. They are used to long hot summers and actually take long heat waves to fully mature. They are best for gardeners in zones 8 and above, as they cannot tolerate temperatures well below freezing. Rabbiteye blueberries are a little different from conventionally grown blueberries, they have darker fruits with larger seeds and something that can feel like sand.
Blueberry flowers look like little bells. Source: cold_pinguin1952
Blueberries are best planted as bare-root plants in mid-December to mid-February. Bare-rooted plants are like established plants, but are transported around their roots without dirt. This should make transport significantly cheaper and enable gardeners to bring the roots into the soil at home. Before planting, keep the roots evenly moist, but not wet. Pick an area that gets 6-8 hours of full sun a day and adjust the soil if necessary.
For gardeners planting in areas with highly alkaline or loamy soils, try growing in containers for more control over soil acidity and drainage. Alternatively, if your soil type is more alkaline or neutral, you can supplement your soil with ammonium sulfate to lower the pH of the soil. Soil pH is incredibly important to the blueberry plant, often it won't produce if the soil pH is above 5.5. You can monitor your soil pH by purchasing an inexpensive soil test and reading your soil regularly.
For gardeners growing in the ground, it is best to plant blueberries in rows 3 feet apart for Southern Highbush varieties and 5 feet apart for rabbit eye. It is best to calculate the width of your fully grown bush and add 2-3 feet to its width to determine the row spacing.
To plant, dig a hole twice the size of the unpacked root ball and carefully break the root ball open, distributing the roots evenly in your planting hole, being careful not to let it fall further into the hole. Keep the dirt that you have just removed and supplement it with peat moss and a possible soil acidifier if necessary. When you put your bare-rooted blueberry in the ground, make sure that the roots and above-ground stems have been packaged at the same level as they are; A buried stem or an exposed root can do significant damage to your blueberries. After carefully placing the roots, fill the area with native soil mixed with compost or other mulch high in organic matter.
After planting, add a 2-4 inch layer of mulch like pine needles or wood shavings around the base of the berries. Expand the mulch to at least 4 feet from the base of the plant.
Bare-rooted blueberries are already 1-2 years old. However, it is likely that you will not get a harvest until the blueberry plants are around 3 years old.
One of the easier ways to grow blueberries is to grow them in containers or raised beds, where it's easier to control soil conditions. If you are growing in containers, try to find a container that is at least 18 inches high and wide, although larger is better, then look for a dwarf variety. If growing in raised beds, a bed 18 inches deep is required, although over 24 inches is preferred.
Fill your planting containers with a mixture of acidic potting soil (soil for camellias and azaleas works perfectly) and a supplement to make it well-drained (like perlite). You can also use peat moss, pine bark, or ammonium sulfate in your mix to lower the pH. Make sure your flower beds or containers are in a sunny spot as blueberries need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day and mulch around the base of the plant to retain water.
Unripe blueberries are light green in color. Source: Martin LaBar
While blueberries don't require much maintenance once established, it's important that they are planted in acidic soil and in full sun for the best start to the garden. One of the easiest ways to control the environment around your blueberries can be to plant in containers.
Sun and temperature
Blueberries thrive in the sun, but they can have a problem with scorching temperatures if grown in the desert or anywhere that there might be a severe heat wave. Blueberries need sunlight to turn blue. They grow best with 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.
While they can grow in zones 3 through 10, not all varieties are well suited for every region. Be sure to find a blueberry plant that suits your garden climate. If you are unsure of your gardening needs, contact your local cooperative office for information about your growing area.
All blueberries take a certain number of hours to cool; H. Hours below 45 degrees so these berries know it's time to leave their dormant phase and sprout new shoots and growth for spring.
Depending on the variety, you may need to protect your blueberry plants over the winter. Each variety is different, so be careful what type of berries you are planting and whether they can withstand cold winter temperatures. Blueberries grown in containers can be brought indoors, but recessed berries can be protected from cold spells by placing row covers over the plants and heavily mulching around the base of the plants to keep their roots from freezing.
Water and moisture
Your berries need a decent amount of water and will need even more if grown in sandy soil. Try to give them at least an inch of water per week for the first two years of life and increase it to 2 inches per week once your berries have doubled in size. It's best to water in the morning with a soaking system or drip irrigation and use a mulch to hold in moisture. Avoid watering every day or even every other day as one of the few diseases that affects berries is some form of root rot.
Once your berries enter the dormant phase, reduce watering to once a month, if at all. Depending on the rainfall, try to keep the soil slightly moist, but not bone dry. You may need to monitor and dispense the water to make this happen.
Growing blueberries requires a good amount of organic matter and a soil pH between 4.0 and 5.5. In order for your blueberry plants to thrive, do a soil test to find out how much acid you currently have in the soil and take steps to bring it to optimal soil pH. If you are growing in containers, you don't need to do a soil test, but you do need to choose acidic soil (like soil for camellias or azaleas) that has the correct acid range. If you choose to grow in your home soil, you may need to supplement it with peat moss and apply sulfur or other soil acidulants.
Blueberries need at least 18 inches of soil with good drainage, preferably more. Since they are prone to Phytophthora root rot, any soil that holds water for too long can kill your plants. Make sure you plant blueberries in a medium that continues to have good drainage by supplementing the clay soil with vermiculite, perlite, or any other drainage-enhancing medium.
As insatiable producers of delicacies, blueberries need to be fertilized every year, with the exception of the first year after planting.
Try fertilizing your blueberries in early spring, even before your plants bud, and prepare to crowd out this year's growth. The plant needs sufficient nutrients to produce a healthy harvest of berries. Try a 10-5-5 acid-loving plant fertilizer or berry-specific fertilizer and apply it to the surface of the soil over the entire root system, not just the base of your plants.
Spring is also the right time to mulch the soil of the plant, but only after a granular or liquid fertilizer has been applied. Apply another round of fertilizer in late spring to aid summer growth. Avoid fertilizing in autumn. This can disrupt your plant's natural seasonal rhythm and encourage it to produce leaves and buds in the fall, when it should prepare for dormancy. It can cause permanent damage to your plants if the temperatures drop and your berry bushes are not prepared for cold temperatures.
Pruning blueberries is necessary for large bushes, especially if they are over 3 years old. Since berries do not grow on young stems but on older wood, it is important to know what to look for when the time comes to reduce growth to increase harvest, shape your plants, and disease and rot to avoid. We have an in-depth guide to pruning blueberries if you need additional insight.
To propagate a blueberry bush, try to find a plant near you that is already thriving. Chances are this strain will do well in your home garden too. Wait for the plant to rest and cut off a trunk of annual wood about six to six inches long. If you want, you can use rooting hormones to encourage faster root development. Place the cuttings in a rooting medium such as peat or vermiculite to a depth of 5 cm and wait. Keep the media evenly moist, but not wet. Blueberries take root easily.
Harvest and storage
A cluster of blueberries that ripens slowly. Source: cagrimmett
Blueberries are a treat for children and families, to be picked straight from the garden! Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your harvest!
Blueberries are ripe when they turn a deep blue color. If you still pick them green or light blue, they will not ripen after the harvest. While there are tools that can speed up a harvest, such as a berry picker or a blueberry rake, for most of the people in the home garden, you'll want to handpick.
When you see dark blue berries ready to be picked, gently take your hand and roll the berry between your fingers so it loosens from the stem. It can take a while to pick all of your fruit off your blueberry bushes, but that can be part of the fun! Especially if you have children who would love to help out!
After you've harvested your plants, there are many ways in which to store your berries! If you want to eat them fresh, you can simply wash them and store them in a breathable container in the refrigerator. They should take 2-4 days.
Alternatively, if spread out and not touching, they can be flash frozen on a cookie sheet, where they will freeze in minutes. They're easy to dehydrate to add to oatmeal or energy bites later, and they make wonderful jams and cake fillings!
A look at a blueberry plant with a visible lack of nutrients in the leaves. Source: John and Anni
Blueberries are relatively easy to grow without too many pests and diseases affecting them. There are a few important needs your blueberry bushes have, but as long as they are met, growing blueberries should be a relatively simple endeavor!
The most important care you give your plants starts with soil acidity. While it is possible for blueberry plants to survive without enough soil acidity, they are unlikely to produce fruit in these conditions. If your plants aren't producing, test your soil to find out its pH. If it's too alkaline, add sulfur or another soil acidifier to improve it.
Nutrient deficiencies are possible in all fruits. Make sure your berries have enough fertilizer to produce healthy berries and stay nice and green.
Western flower thrips Attack blueberry plants before harvest. They eat the plants and flower buds that damage the year's harvest. As tiny, golden tube bugs, once identified, these pests can be controlled with an organic insecticide such as insecticidal soap or pyrethrin.
Japanese beetles are large flying beetles that eat the blueberry leaves. Unfortunately, that makes winter damage easy. Try placing a row cover or other barrier between the plants and these flying predators. Applying beneficial nematodes to the soil can reduce the number of beetle larvae that overwinter in the soil around the plants.
Spotted winged rosophila are small golden fruit flies. They damage the berries by laying their eggs in them and making the berries soft and plump. They can be caught with a simple vinegar trap, or they can also benefit from growing under a physical barrier such as a row cover. Spinosad and pyrethrin are approved organic pesticides that can help prevent fruit fly infestations.
Blueberries are victims of a major disease. Phytophthora cinnamon is a fungal root rot that thrives when the soil is too moist. Once this disease occurs, there is no real cure other than pruning dead, rotten root material and transplanting your plant to an area with better drainage, but doing so can risk the spread of the fungal pathogen so it is discouraged. Successfully setting up your garden with well-drained soil is the best way to prevent this disease. Some mycorrhizae and soil bacteria can help plants resist fungal pathogens.
There are other diseases that can affect your berry plants, but usually they are mostly cosmetic damage. Powdery mildew is a bit annoying, but easy to control with neem oil or a copper fungicide. A variety of leaf spots can appear, including anthracnose, but most can also be treated with copper fungicides. With these problems, it's important to treat them so they don't spread to other nearby plants, but the blueberries generally survive them well.
frequently asked Questions
When the flowers fade, the berries form. Source: UGA CAES / extension
Q: Are blueberries easy to grow?
A: Blueberries are a relatively easy addition to the garden. They need acidic soil and regular watering, but in addition to that, they are easy to care for.
Q: How long does it take for a blueberry bush to bear fruit?
A: Blueberry bushes generally produce fruit after 3 years, but produce a full harvest after around 5 years.
Q: Do I need 2 blueberry bushes to get fruit?
A: While many varieties of blueberries are self-fertile and can produce fruit on their own, you can get larger yields per bush by planting multiple bushes.
The green fingers behind this article: