Success With Blueberries
Consider blueberries as you contemplate adding an edible plant to your yard. Easy-growing and strong yielding, these berried shrubs also enhance a landscape with seasonal beauty. White, bell-shaped spring blooms are pretty and eye-catching. Bushes blaze with striking fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, red or bronze, depending on variety.
A Healthy Choice
Why grow blueberries? Ease of growing aside, these purple-blue berries excel in health benefits – whether consumed fresh, dried or frozen. Blueberries:
- Are antioxidant-rich and packed with immune-boosting vitamin C
- May help lower blood pressure
- Fight cancer
- Offer high fiber content
- Contribute to improved brain health
- Boast a low-glycemic index, which makes them an excellent carbohydrate choice for diabetics
What To Know Before You Grow
Blueberries need highly acidic soil to grow and produce. Soil pH should range from 4.0 to 5.5; the ideal pH is 4.5 to 4.8.
While some soils possess this low pH, typically you’ll need to amend soil to shift the pH. Do this by adding peat moss, cottonseed meal, iron sulfate or slow-acting soil sulfur to planting areas. Using acid compost or mulch, such as oak leaf compost, pine needles or pine bark, can help maintain soil acidity.
Blueberries have shallow root systems, which makes them an ideal choice for raised beds or containers, especially in areas with naturally alkaline soil.
Other Keys to Success
Once you address soil pH, it’s not difficult to keep blueberry bushes healthy and productive. Plants need a well-drained site in full sun. Ensure a healthy crop by mulching, providing consistent moisture and removing weeds at the base of the plant. Use netting to protect ripening berries from birds. Learn about annual pruning from your local extension office.
Types of Blueberry Bushes
Northern Highbush: Naturally occurring in USDA zones 4–7. Many hybrids available. Plants typically maintained 4–7 feet tall.
Southern Highbush: Hybrid of Northern highbush and native Southern blueberry species. Hardiness varies by cultivar; typically hardy in USDA zones 6–10.
Lowbush: Naturally occurring in USDA zones 3-6. This is the wild blueberry found in Maine. Plants grow 1–2 feet high.
Rabbiteye: Best adapted to Southern climates. Plants grow 10–15 feet tall.
Half-high: Crosses of northern highbush and lowbush types from the wild. Hardy in Zones 3–5. Plants grow 3–4 feet tall. Reportedly the best wild blueberry flavor – less sweet.
Different blueberry types ripen at different times during the growing season. Flowering times for the different types occur within roughly one week of one another, but fruits ripen from early to late summer. If you garden in regions with hard frosts, choose blueberries that:
- flower after your last spring frost
- ripen before your first fall frost
Pollination: From Flower to Fruit
Blueberries are technically self-pollinating, but you’ll get more consistent and better yields when you plant more than one type for cross-pollination. Choose types with overlapping flowering times. Check with your extension office for best locally adapted recommendations.
When will harvests start?
Shrubs start bearing in the third year and should bear strongly the fourth year after planting. Purchase 2- to 3-year-old plants. With all plants, during the first growing season, remove all flowers to encourage plants to establish a strong root system.
How many berries?
Yields vary by blueberry type, but generally – at maturity (8 to 10 years old) – you can expect eight quarts of berries per bush.
How many plants?
Plant two bushes per person to provide sufficient berries.
Should I plant in rows?
With smaller numbers of plants, you’ll get better yields by planting in groups or blocks.