Growing Blueberries


I’VE BEEN AROUND BLUEBERRIES ALL MY LIFE, so when it came time to plant my first batch of blueberry bushes you’d think I wouldn’t have had any problems. But I did. Here’s all the things I wish I had known when I first started growing blueberries.

Getting started growing blueberries

Blueberries take five or six years before they are mature enough for full production. You can speed up the process by buying two- or three-year old plants at a nursery.  There are three types of blueberry plants: low bush, high bush and rabbiteye.

  1. Low bush. These varieties have a reputation for having sweeter fruit than the others. The berries are smaller than high bush berries and plants usually grow to be less than two feet tall. Low bush berries are very winter hardy and will handle cold winters especially when covered by snow.
  2. High bush. These berries are larger and the bushes grow to be six to 12 feet tall. They are less hardy than low bush, but still do pretty well in winter if in a sheltered spot. Get high bush if you want more and bigger berries.
  3. Rabbiteye. These bushes are primarily for warmer climates, so I won’t talk too much about them here. Rabbiteye bushes can grow to 25 feet and can tolerate dryer soils, but they are only hardy enough for Zone 7 and above.

Growing Blueberries

I grow Northland* and Patriot* high bush varieties. I find that they are heavy producers, but are not as sweet as the berries from low bush varieties.

You should plant blueberries as you would any other shrub or bush, keeping in mind that they need moist, well drained soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.2. If your soil tests indicate a pH above this, you should seriously consider if it is worth maintaining a lower pH year after year. It’s probably not worth the trouble. Leaves turning red before the fall are an early indication that the pH may be too high.

Some kitchen gardeners with soil pH that is too high for blueberries grow them in larger pots so they can successfully amend the soil. If you try this, be sure to put the pots in a very sheltered spot during the winter because pots don’t protect the roots from cold. Some people even put the pots inside their hoop house for the winter.

Another important point is that you should plant at least two different varieties in order to get the optimum production. Most blueberry varieties are not self fertile. Three or more varieties are better. Also, avoid the mistake that I made in my first planting: I planted early, middle and late bearing varieties as many of the experts advise. The problem was the flowers of the different varieties didn’t bloom at the same time so cross pollination wasn’t as successful as I would have liked.

Another mistake that I made was planting the bushes too close together and too close to large trees. The bushes ended up fighting each other and the trees for nutrients in the soil. Make sure that you plant the bushes at least five feet apart. But not too much further, because you want them to be close enough to each other to cross pollinate. And plant them in full sun if possible.

Maintaining blueberries

Growing blueberries is pretty darn easy. You want to keep the area around the plants as weed free as possible. Do not dig into the soil to cultivate because the roots are right on top. It’s best the keep the weeds down by mulching heavily. Pine needles, oak leaves and wood shavings from pine, oak and hemlock trees make great mulch because they keep the soil acidic. I added large quantities of pine and oak mulch from some trees that I cut down one year. The blueberries enjoyed this enormously, turning a very deep shade of green.

Annual pruning of established, high bush blueberries will help increase production. The very best time to prune is late winter. You don’t really need to prune until the plants are full grown. After that, prune any dead or broken canes, or any branches that rub against each other. After the plants are about 20 years old, you’ll want to gradually renew the plant by cutting the older wood and letting the new growth take over.

Pruning low bush blueberry plants involves cutting up to half of the older canes to the ground each year. Since new canes don’t produce berries, you’ll be harvesting from the leftover older canes. Next year, remove the other half and harvest from the rejuvenated canes.

The only other area of maintenance is encouraging pollinators. In my area, wild bees seem to do the bulk of the work. This is probably because blueberries are native to this area and native bees have been feeding off blueberry blossoms for a very long time.

When to pick

Determining when blueberries are ripe is more difficult than it seems. They often turn blue a week or so before they are ripe. It’s best to wait a week after they turn blue before you pick them. When it comes to hundreds of blueberries per bush all ripening at different times, this is easier said than done. If the blueberry has even a tiny spec of red by the stem, it is not ripe.

Are you growing blueberries? If you are, let us know what varieties and if you like them.

Related articles you might enjoy:

1. Growing Organic Apple Trees
2. Six Beginner Gardening Tips

* If you purchase using this Amazon link, I make a small amount of money that helps me continue to publish Suburban Hobby Farmer. 

Tags:

Subscribe

Don't miss an article. Enter your e-mail for FREE updates. NO SPAM. I promise.

10 Responses to “Growing Blueberries”

  1. May 21, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    We have five rabbiteye blueberry bushes planted 8 feet or more apart, all loaded with berries almost ready to start picking.

    Ours grow in zone 8b in loamy sand in full sun. The ones with ‘Tif’ in the name are the sweetest and best, bred at nearby Tifton, GA.

    They require oceans of water in this sandy soil. We mulch with pine straw.

    • May 21, 2011 at 10:47 am #

      Nell — Thanks for adding to the discussion about blueberries. I’ve heard that rabbiteye are very popular in warmer climates. I really appreciate the tip on which kinds of rabbiteye are the sweetest.

  2. May 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    great advice and much needed ..thx

  3. May 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    Can high bush blueberries reproduce from “slips?” Or is it better to start from commercial greenhouse transplants? I wanted to experiment with planting cuttings from my earliblue once I get a bush big enough. I have done this successfully with tomatoes, but I don’t know much about blueberries.

    • May 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      Tim — Great question. I know that professional blueberry growers propagate plants from cuttings, but that is all I know. You should contact your local extension office to see if they can give you the details on propagating your earliblue from cuttings.

  4. June 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Excellent article. Thanks!

  5. AJ
    March 30, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Bill,

    I can tell you from personal experience that Delite is probably the sweetest rabbiteye blueberry. Climax, Premier and Delite are the sweetest rabbiteyes. Climax is often a favorite of you-pick farms and nursery owners. Delite will be sweet even if it is not entirely blue.

    • March 30, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      This is great information. It’s always good to have someone with experience provide their opinion.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Soil Improvement Using the Chop and Drop Method - January 3, 2012

    […] Don’t Count Your Strawberries … 2. Growing Blueberries 3. Comfrey Mulch for […]

Leave a Reply

*