Blueberries: The Ultimate Growing Guide
Nothing is more satisfying for the mind, body, and soul than a fresh blueberry. Native Americans introduced this super fruit centuries ago to European colonists, and the blueberry is now produced around the world for both its impeccable taste and health benefits. More species of blueberries are native to North America than anywhere else on Earth. The U.S. alone produces 275 million pounds a year, half of what’s grown worldwide.
So, why should you add a blueberry bush to your already busy garden? Consider this: the blueberry has one of the highest antioxidant properties among fruits and vegetables.
- Blueberries can improve memory.
- Blueberries can be frozen for up to six months without losing its antioxidant properties.
- Lowers blood sugar.
- Good source of dietary fiber.
- Great source of Vitamin C.
Now that you know its superfood status, it’s time to get a bush or two or three in the ground.
Ready, Set, Plant
Blueberries are one of the easiest plants to grow. Most U.S. varieties are extremely hardy (typically growing zone 4-8), and they have colorful appeal in every season. Blueberries are self-fertile, but they produce heavier bushels (up to 15 lbs a year) with group plantings. It’s optimal to plant different varieties that pollinate at the same time (see below).
The fruits and foliage undergo numerous color changes in the season, giving your garden that extra appeal. Winter can bring out the doldrums, but native birds will flock to the bush in winter if you leave berries on the bush.
Once you get your plant from the nursery and into the ground, follow these basic guidelines.
Blueberries love an acidic, organic, well-drained soil. If you’re not sure what your soil or potting mix’s pH is (blueberries prefer a pH of 4.0-5.2), talk to someone at the nursery to get your soil to your plant’s liking. The easiest way to amend your soil’s acidity is with peat moss and pine needles.
Feed your blueberries in the spring with an organic 10-10-10 fertilizer. Once the buds open, give it another feeding, and then apply once more a month later. Water up to an inch per week in the spring, and water up to four inches a week when the berries appear.
You’re probably groaning at this subject. Not to worry. Trimming a blueberry bush is simple and takes all of five minutes.. Don’t prune at all in the first 2-3 years except to remove damaged or diseased canes. Once your baby is mature, remove older center branches and any growth that’s growing inward. Prune only in late winter or early spring. The rest of the year, you can watch the bush grow and leave the pruners on the shelf.
Leave it to the Bees…and not the Birds
Bees are your friends. Birds (in the growing season) are not. Bumblebees are the best pollinators for blueberries with honey bees a close second. Plant a variety of flowers around your bushes to attract the most pollinators possible. And while birds are great for upping your wildlife count in the backyard, they love blueberries just as much as you. Consider purchasing some netting for your bushes to protect the berries from winged nibblers.
This is one time that you’ll love feeling blue. Once your berries are completely ripened, wait 3-7 days before picking. The stem should also be blue and detach easily. A mature plant can have up to 15 lbs of delicious fruits each year. You can refrigerate for up to 7 days or freeze right after harvest. Remember: don’t wear your Sunday best when picking blueberries since they easily stain clothing!
While one blueberry bush can give you years of harvests, it’s best to plant several different varieties each year that have the same ripening times. Plus, each blueberry has its own unique taste, giving you numerous inspirations for recipes.
Or you can simply gorge yourself on berries straight from the bush.
Below you’ll find four varieties of blueberries. The first two are early ripening and the last two are late ripening.
Early Ripening: Rabbiteye Blueberry
The Rabbiteye is the traditional blueberry bush seen on hiking trails and yards all over the U.S. This heavy producer doubles beautifully as a hedge. Pink spring blooms give way to delicious plump berries that ripen quicker than any other variety.
Early Ripening and Late Ripening: Sweetheart Blueberry
Are you ready for 30 lbs of fruit a year? This hybrid marvel is the result of ten years of meticulous work by expert growers. The SweetHeart Blueberry is a mix between the Northern Highbush variety and the Southern Highbush variety. Plus, this is the only blueberry bush that yields twice a year, once in the summer and then in the fall.
Late Ripening: Toro Blueberry
The Toro Blueberry Plant is perhaps the most charming blueberry bush for its vast array of foliage and fruit colors. Pink flowers transform to creamy white blossoms before the show of fruits appear. The fruits grow in large clusters very similar to grapes. Plus, the foliage is perfect for leaf lovers. Bronze leaves in the spring change to green in the summer before going fire engine red in the fall. Oh yeah.
Late Ripening: Pink Lemonade Blueberry
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. There is actually a pink version of the beloved blueberry. And the taste is as sublime as its blue cousins. Fragrant white flowers contrast beautifully with the glossy green foliage before giving way to pink berries. And, like the Toro, the Pink Lemonade Blueberry struts its foliage stuff throughout the growing season. Green goes to yellow in the summer before surrendering to red and bronze in the fall.