Blueberries may be the perfect small fruit for home gardeners. The attributes are plentiful: minimal pruning, almost no insect or disease pests, great productivity of valuable fruit, adapted to a wide climate range…the list goes on. Even if you (heaven forbid) don’t like eating blueberries, there are good reasons to have them in your landscape including the fact that they will attract birds and other wildlife for your enjoyment, as well as adding delicate white spring flowers and brilliant red fall foliage to your landscape. Thinking of growing blueberries in your garden? Read on. Growing blueberries is easy, if they are well planted and a few cultural requirements are attended.
Types of Blueberry Plants
There are numerous species of blueberries, as well as hybrids, available commercially. When purchasing blueberry plants, be sure to choose varieties suited to your hardiness zone. As there are varieties suitable from zones 3-9, most areas will have a good selection. It is also helpful to know the required chill hours for the varieties before choosing because this will determine when, and in some cases if, your plants will flower and bear fruit. Be sure to plant at least two different varieties that will pollinize one another for best production. (Some varieties are self-fertile for those who have room for only a single plant, but these will have increased production if another variety is in the area). The final consideration prior to purchasing blueberry plants is size at maturity. Highbush varieties can reach over eight feet tall, while some rabbiteye and lowbush varieties would be only knee-high.
Location & Soil
The best location to plant blueberries is a sunny area (at least 6 hours) in well-drained soil. Blueberries require acidic soil (pH 4.5-5.5) with lots of organic matter. Prepare an area three-times the width of the container the plant came in, by digging in two inch layers of both peat moss and compost. Plant the blueberry in the center of this prepared area with the top of the rootball (the soil surface as it was in the pot) about an inch higher than the surrounding soil. At the outer edge of the prepared area, build a low berm of soil in a ring around the new plant; this will help direct water to the root zone. Add a three inch layer of mulch, being careful not to pile it on the trunk of the plant. Water thoroughly on planting day and whenever the soil is dry at the root zone (stick your finger in the soil a few times a week to check).
Feed blueberries once or twice a year with a plant food for acid loving plants. Granular or dry application fertilizers tend to give a more consistent feed than liquids. Better yet, top dress with compost whenever the mulch seems to be getting thin (this is a sign that the earthworms are doing their job). Prune dead branches and around twenty-percent of the older woody growth annually, immediately after harvest. This will keep the plant growing vigorously and producing new fruiting wood for next year. In dry weather, irrigate blueberries while berries are forming to maintain quality of fruit. Protect the harvest from wildlife with flash tape or netting.
Yield will vary with plant variety, weather conditions, age, care, etc. We collect about a gallon of blueberries per week for about a month from our heaviest producing plant. I don’t know how much the birds, opossums, and squirrels collect from the same plant but they get a fair share. Four highbush blueberries of various ages keep us supplied with cobbler, jam, muffins, scones, pancakes, syrup and more from harvest time in June/July through the end of the year.