Native to North America, the gorgeous flower petals of a blueberry bush add a lush texture to any backyard garden. These delicious berries are also one of the best sources of antioxidants nature can provide. What’s more, blueberries are easy to grow and produce an excellent yield. Because blueberry bushes take a few years to produce fruit, many people buy a blueberry bush that is already producing fruit. Here’s how to grow blueberries to get the best results:
Blueberries come in four basic varieties: lowbush, highbush, half-high and rabbiteye. Highbush grow 6 – 8 feet tall and produce the large, dark berries most common in grocery stores. Lowbush varieties grow only 6 – 18 inches off the ground but they are a hardy plant that will survive the harsh, cold winters of northern growing zones. Half-high blueberries are bred to have the large berries of the highbush and the cold weather tolerance of lowbush varieties. Rabbiteye grow tall, are good for southern regions and are less particular about the soil conditions.
Select a variety of blueberry that is well suited for your climate. Cross-pollination also benefits blueberries. Grow at least two different cultivars near each other and they will produce more, larger berries. You can grow multiple types of blueberries with different maturity dates and you’ll have a long, continual harvest.
Local nurseries should only carry starter plants that are known to grow in your area. Be sure to consult and purchase from reputable growers and you should have little trouble growing a successful crop.
Best Soil For Growing Blueberries
Blueberries need rich, humus soil. More importantly, the soil needs to be acidic. The pH should be 4.0 – 5.5. Sulfur can be added to soil the season before to get the acidity you need. Fortify the soil with composted leaves and pine needles before planting.
Blueberries should be planted in the early spring and do best in zones 3 – 10.
Blueberries are best if grown from bare root plants purchased from a reputable nursery. They should be 2 or 3 years old. Older or younger plants will suffer from transplant shock and may not survive or go on to bear fruit.
Depending on the variety of blueberries you decide to grow, you may need a space as wide as 10 feet and equally as high. Lowbush blueberries should be set two feet apart while highbush varieties can be spaced 6 feet apart. Rabbiteyes should be set 15 feet apart.
Dig holes about twice the size of the roots and add a layer of compost. Set each plant equal to slightly deeper than they were grown at the nursery.
Blueberries have shallow, sensitive root structures that can be easily damaged by weeding. Use about 3 inches of organic mulch immediately after planting. This will help to maintain soil moisture and temperature while also limiting root competition from weeds. Wood chips, pine needles, shredded leaves and sawdust work great.
Watering & Care
Blueberries need 1 – 2 inches of water per week. They do best with deep watering and usually need more water than most other fruits.
Blueberries do not usually need feeding. Do not fertilize at all the first year. However, if annual growth is less than a foot for highbush varieties (less than 4 inches for lowbush), give them a little compost tea or balanced, organic fertilizer in the early spring to help them along.
Aside from removing any flowers that appear, blueberries do not need to be pruned for the first three years. In the 4th year, prune out dead, injured, weak and crossed branches so that light hits the center of the bush. Lowbush varieties can be pruned to ground level every 3 years. Remove any stems 6 years old (or older) in highbush and rabbiteye varieties.
Most types of blueberries begin producing fruit in their third year but don’t hit their full potential until their 6th year. Blueberries reach their peak flavor a few days after they turn blue. The most perfectly ripe blueberries will fall off the branches into your hands if you give them a gentle shake.
Tips & Advice
Beware of birds. They will strip blueberry bushes clean before they even ripen. Bird proof netting is the only effective means of deterring birds if they become persistent.
Do you have tips on how to grow blueberries? Let us know in the comments section below!