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Growing Blueberries

How to Grow Blueberries in the Home Garden

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Ripening Blueberries.

Ripening Blueberries.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Blueberries are popular in home gardens because they can grow in a small space, even in containers. There are three main types of blueberries: highbush, rabbiteye, and southern highbush, with different varieties doing better or worse in various areas.

Latin Name / Common Name:

  • Vaccinium corymbosum - Highbush Blueberry,
  • Vaccinium ashei - Rabbiteye Blueberry
  • Vaccinium formosum - Southern Highbush Blueberry

USDA Hardiness Zones:

  • Highbush - Zones 3 - 7
  • Rabbiteye - Zones 7 - 9
  • Southern Highbush - Zones 7 - 10

Exposure:

Full Sun

Mature Size:

  • Highbush: 8-10' (h) x 6-8' (w)
  • Rabbiteye: 15' (h) x 10' (w)
  • Southern Highbush: 3-6' (h) x 4-5' (w)

Days to Harvest:

Most blueberry plants will produce a small harvest by their 3rd year, but won’t really begin to produce fully until about their 6th year.

The only reliable way to know if blueberries are ready to pick is to taste one or two. Blueberries are their sweetest if allowed to stay on the plant at least a week after turning blue.

Mature blueberry bushes produce about 8 quarts of berries per bush.

Description:

Blueberries are a large species of flowering and fruiting shrubs, that are native to North America. Relatives within the Vaccinium genus include the bilberry, cranberry, huckleberry and lingonberry.

Cultivated blueberries are continually being bred for higher yields, heat and cold tolerance and better pest resistance. Still, some people prefer the blueberries that grow wild in forests and fields. The berries are smaller and it will take you awhile to pick enough for a pie, but many people find them the sweetest to eat. Perhaps it’s the result of the plants growing where they’re happy.

Flowers: Small, white, bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters in late spring.

Berries: The berries ripen over time, from green to a deep purple-blue.

Leaves: Leaves are a pointed oblong, oval shape and substantial and almost leathery to the touch. They turn a brilliant, red in the fall.


Suggested Varieties:

They keep improving the vigor and disease resistance of fruit trees, so it’s hard to recommend varieties without updating them every season. It’s possible to extend your blueberry harvest by planting early, mid- and late season varieties. The varieties mentioned here are old favorites. Check with you local Extension for the most current recommendations for your area.

Note: Although blueberries are self-fertile, you will get larger berries and more of them if you have two different cultivars to cross pollinate.

  1. Highbush (or Northern Highbush): Usually recommended for colder climates. Will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination.

    • Early: 'Earliblue', 'Collins'; Mid: 'Blueray', 'Bluecrop', 'Berkeley'; Late: 'Jersery', 'Patriot'

  2. Rabbiteye: Native to the southern U.S. Not self-fertile. Requires 2 varieties for pollination. Extends the harvest into August. Virtually pest free.

    • 'Tifblue' is the standard. Early: 'Climax', 'Woodard'; Mid: 'Briteblue', 'Southland'; Late: 'Delite'

  3. Southern Highbush: A cross between Highbush and Rabbiteye. As with Highbush, these will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination. Requires 2 varieties for pollination.

    • Early: 'Oneal', 'Southblue'; Mid: 'Jubliee', 'Sunshine Blue'

  4. Dwarf Varieties for Containers:

    • Mid: 'Dwarf Northblue' (20-24"); Late: 'Dwarf Tophat' (18 - 20", No pollinator Required)

Growing Tips:

Soil:

Blueberries like a very acidic soil, with a soil pH in the rage of 4.0 to 4.5. They also like a soil rich in organic matter. In heavy clay soil, blueberries will fare better in raised beds.

To get the right soil pH for growing blueberries, it’s best to amend the soil the season before you intend to plant. Garden sulfur or aluminum sulfur can be mixed into the top 6 inches of soil, to lower the pH as needed. The lab where you have your soil tested or your local extension office will be able to tell you how much sulfur you’ll need.

It’s wise to retest your soil before actually planting, to make sure you’ve achieved the results you were after. Continue amending and tweaking the soil as necessary.

Planting

Look for bare root plants that are 2-3 years old. Older plants suffer more transplant shock.

Plant in early spring. You can mix some peat moss into your planting hole, so keep the soil loose, acidic and well-draining.

If you have only one or two plants, space them about 4-5 feet apart. To plant rows of blueberries, space plants about 4-5 feet apart in rows that are 9-10 feet apart.

Plant so that the roots are spread out in the hole and completely covered in soil. If they were container grown plants, plant about 1" deeper than they were in the pot. Mulch after planting. Evergreen wood chips, like pine or cedar, sawdust and pine needles will help keep the soil acidified.

Water in well and be sure they get a deep watering at least once per week. Blueberries tend to be shallow rooted and need at least a couple of inches of water each week, more during dry spells.

Fertilizers Don’t fertilize your blueberries their first year. The roots are sensitive to salt, until established. Ammonium sulfate is usually used as a fertilizer for blueberries, as opposed to the aluminum sulfur used to lower the pH. But you can use any fertilizer for acid loving plants, including blueberry food and azalea food.

Read More: Pruning Blueberries
Read More: Pests & Diseases of Blueberries

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