Growing Blueberry BushesFruits and Berries Last Updated On 01/14/2022
Blueberries are very healthy and tasty. They contain high doses of antioxidants and other beneficial elements. The plant itself is relatively easy to grow and harvest. After all, it doesn't have thorns so you don't have to worry about hurting yourself on it. Blueberries are a great choice for an organic garden.
Many people love blueberries, but not all gardeners think about growing them. It's probably because many people don't even think about the possibility. Blueberries are actually a great choice for the garden so it's a good thing to think about growing them. It's healthy, very tasty and sweet, especially when you allow it to become fully ripen on the shrub. Also, blueberry shrubs are great landscape plants. They look very beautiful, which is not surprising since they have the same lineage as the mountain laurel, rhododendron, and azalea. Blueberries have delicate, beautiful bell-shaped flowers in the spring and rich, blue-tinged foliage in the summer. The foliage turns red in the fall, so the shrubs look great all year round.
Of course, the main reason to grow blueberries is because of their tasty fruit. Blueberries not only taste great but are very healthy and contain more cancer-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable.
To be successful at growing blueberries it's crucial to choose the right variety to grow in your garden. Your chosen variety will depend on numerous factors, first and foremost the climate. Another important thing to keep in mind is that blueberries like some company. It's proven that they produce more fruit and bigger fruit when they are planted with at least one other variety. This allows for cross-pollination. This is why it's always recommended to plant more than one variety of blueberries in your garden. When doing this, it's best to choose varieties with different maturity dates. This will help you stretch out the harvest season.
There are many different variety types to choose from. It is vital to pick a variety that will grow nicely in your region. You may choose between highbush, lowbush, half-high, or rabbiteye varieties. Keep in mind that you'll probably be able to find a blueberry variety you can successfully grow in your garden.
Keep in mind that all blueberry varieties will give tasty fruit, but you need to choose the best variety for your climate. All four types of blueberries need a period of prolonged chilling to set flowers. However, some need less cold time than the others. Also, keep in mind that planting different varieties of the same type will give you bigger berries and more fruit to harvest.
The four types of blueberries include:
- Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum). These blueberry varieties are the most common ones you can find in supermarkets. They have large, dark berries. The bush itself is 6 to 8 feet high. The northern varieties will usually grow in the USDA hardiness zones 4-7. Some of the popular northern varieties are: "Blueray", "Bluecrop", "Jersey", and "Patriot". When it comes to southern types will thrive in zones 7-10. Popular southern varieties include "Cape Fear", "Gulfcoast", "O'Neal", and "Blue Ridge" (V. pallidium). Southern varieties have a low chilling requirement so they are ideal for warmer climates.
- Lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium). These varieties thrive in zones 3-6. They are very hardy, so they are ideal for colder climates. Unlike highbush varieties, these blueberry varieties grow about 6 to 18 inches in height. They spread by underground runners, so it's one thing to keep in mind. Their fruit is small and sweet and has a characteristic powdery sky blue bloom. One of the most popular varieties is "Top Hat". Keep in mind that for lowbush varieties, the fruit appearance and flavor, as well as fruit size, will vary depending on the seedling.
- Half-High. These varieties are made when growers cultivated the large berry sized high-bush varieties with the cold-hardy low-bush varieties. These plants won't grow as tall as the high-bush blueberries and they won't spread by underground runners. Popular half-high varieties include :"Friendship", "Polaris", "Northland", and "North-blue".
- Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei). These blueberries thrive in zones 7 to 9. They make another good choice for people in warmer climates. These blueberry varieties are smaller than high-bush varieties and they ripen later in the season. Some of the newer varieties (for example, "Bonita" and "Climax") have delectable flavor. They can also cross-pollinate each other nicely. Rabbiteye bushes will grow about ten or more feet in height. Another advantage to this variety of blueberries is that they are less picky about their soil than the other varieties.
Another thing to keep in mind is that soil is very important for your blueberries. It's crucial to choose the most appropriate soil that will make your blueberries thrive. Keep in mind that blueberries demand a specific type of soil different than the one most of the other garden plants like.
Blueberries thrive in very acidic soil. Ideal soil for blueberries is moist, well aerated, high in humus and acidic. Most of the other plants don't like acidic soil so chances are that your garden soil is not suitable for blueberries on its own. This is why you need to make it more acidic to grow blueberries. However, this is not difficult to do. The first thing you need to do is to test your soil to see its current acid content, and then add more acidic content, if necessary. Keep in mind that blueberries need a pH of the soil between 4 and 5.5. To achieve this, you might need to mix in sulfur with the soil the season before you want to plant your blueberries.
The amount of sulfur you need to use will depend on the initial pH of your soil and its texture. It's best to ask experts performing the soil text about how to amend your soil to make it more acidic and suitable for blueberries. When mixing in the sulfur, make sure to mix it into the top six inches of the soil and across the entire area you want to use for blueberries.
Here are some tips on how to amend your soil and make it more suitable for blueberries. If your garden soil is alkaline, don't despair! It's relatively easy to make your garden soil more blueberry-friendly and acidic enough to grow blueberry bushes.
Here are some tips on how to amend the soil:
- Dig a hole for each bush you want to plant (the hole should be about two feet deep and about six feet across). Fill it with a mixture of equal proportions of peat moss and sand.
- In case you water blueberries with hard water (which is alkaline), you can acidify the water before applying it to blueberries with two teaspoons of vinegar per gallon.
- Keep the bed mulched with organic material (such as aged sawdust made of non-chemically treated wood). Fertilize once per year using a balanced organic fertilizer.
Planting and Watering
Once you have prepared favorable conditions for blueberries, you are ready to plant. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the distance you need to keep between individual plants. For lowbush varieties, set plants two feet apart and six feet apart for the highbush blueberry varieties. Rabbiteyes need to be planted fifteen feet apart. When planting, make sure to plant slightly deeper than the seedling was in the pot or nursery row.
Another thing you need to do is to enrich the soil in each planting. Mix a bucketful of composted leaves or pine needles in the hole. This will help preserving acidity of the soil and make a good source of humus for your blueberries. This is important for nutrition, aeration and moisture.
After planting, it's important to add some mulch over the ground. Make sure the mulch is fully organic and keep the layer about 3 inches thick. The mulch will serve for keeping weeds away while retaining moisture on the roots. Keep in mind that the most of the root system will lie within the inches of the soil surface, so mulching will keep them moist. Good sources of mulch are straw, pine needles and wood chips. Well-aged sawdust is also a good choice, but make sure the wood is not treated with a preservative.
Newly planted blueberries have to settle into their new home. After this, give them some good watering. They will need about one to two inches of water per week. It can come from rain, drip irrigation system or a hose. Blueberries need about 1/2 to one gallon of water per square foot of root zone per week.
Feeding and Pruning
Generally speaking, blueberries don't enjoy rich soil, but you might want to fertilize if you notice that the annual growth is less than a foot (or four inches for lowbush varieties). It's best to use organic fertilizers because they are less likely to burn blueberries' tender roots. Organic fertilizers supply nitrogen to blueberries in the form these plants can use best. You can use organic meals, such as alfalfa meal or soybean and apply about 1/4 to 2 cups per plant (it will depend on the plant size). It's also a good thing to do a soil test every 2-3 years to see if it's still acidic enough for blueberries. If you need to make the soil more acidic, add more sulfur. Another thing you should do is to replenish mulch on a yearly basis.
When it comes to pruning, keep in mind that the blueberries don't need in the first three years. In the first two years after planting you may remove fruit buds to allow the bush to establish itself properly. After three years, you should perform annual later winter pruning. It will help your plant get rid of the old wood and it will stimulate the new growth of the wood. The new branches will give more fruit. Another good thing about pruning is that it removes crowded, misplaced and unproductive stems and removing them will help the plant focus all of the energy into the fruit producing branches. This will make your berries give larger and sweeter fruit.
When it comes to lowbush varieties, they should be pruned by cutting the plants completely to the ground every 2-3 years. Since this will prevent a bush from giving fruit in the following season, make sure to prune a different half or the third of the planting every second or third year so you always have some berries to eat while the rest of the bushes are recovering.
Highbush varieties have stems giving fruit for about six years, so it's important to remove six year old stems when pruning. Cut them to the ground or to the low side shoots. After this, thin out crowded or weak stems.
For rabbiteye blueberry varieties, do the same as highbush ones, but prune a bit less.
Harvesting and Pests
Birds are the most common pests and the biggest problem because they just love blueberries. They will harvest all of the fruits before they are even ripen and much before you can harvest them. The only effective way to prevent birds from eating your blueberries is to sealing the bushes with bird-proof netting. When the blueberries start to ripen, put a temporary cages or special netting over the bushes. Make sure to put the netting or a cage tightly at the base so the birds can't sneak in.
When it comes to harvesting, you need to wait for fruits to ripen. Keep in mind that blueberries reach their full flavor and aroma a few days after they turn blue. Only the dead ripe blueberries will fall from the bush, so it's another thing to keep in mind.
You may use blueberries in different ways. You can eat them raw or use them for jams and pies. Freezing some blueberries is also a good way to go. This way, you will have healthy, tasty fruit throughout the winter.
Photo credit: Ian Lee