Blueberries are delicious, have considerable nutritional value, and require little effort to grow. They can grow all over the continental U.S. Farmers in about 26 states produce them for commercial purposes, with ten states accounting for over 98% of this production.
Figuring out how to grow blueberries can help you enjoy many benefits. Your cultivating efforts will produce a healthy fruit that also improves your landscape. This article will help you discover everything you should know about how to plant a blueberry bush and care for your blueberries in order to enjoy sizable harvests.
Why You Should Consider Growing Blueberries
You may consider growing blueberries for these three reasons:
- Improve your landscape: Blueberries can be an attractive specimen in your landscape. They can provide scarlet fall foliage and bell-shaped, creamy-white spring flowers that will enhance the look of your backyard or garden.
- Nutritional value: Blueberries are among nature’s superfoods. Blueberries have a very high nutritional value with essential minerals, nutrients, and health-boosting polyphenols. You’ll also enjoy them as they are delicious.
- Easy to grow: Growing blueberries isn’t a complicated process. They can grow in all zones of the continental U.S. and need basic care to flourish.
There are five main varieties of blueberries grown in America.
This blueberry has two species (Vaccinium myrtilloides and Vaccinium angustifolium). It is Maine’s state fruit and grows up to two feet. People also call it “dwarf blueberry” because of its tiny nature. This variety prospers in the northeast U.S. and central and eastern Canada. This species spreads by underground stems. The cultivar “Burgundy” has dark red leaves during fall and grows about three feet wide and about a foot high, while “Top Hat” grows under two feet wide and tall.
This blueberry variety’s scientific name is Vaccinium corymbosum, and it grows 5–9 feet tall and wide. It is native to northeastern and eastern U.S. Popular cultivars include mid-season blooming “Bluecrop,” “Blueray,” and “Berkeley,” early-blooming “Collins” and “Earliblue,” and late-blooming “Patriot” and “Jersey.”
This blueberry type’s scientific name is Vaccinium virgatum, and it grows 6–10 feet tall. They are native to southeastern U.S. Cultivars include early-blooming “Woodward” and “Climax,” standard-blooming “Tifblue,” late-blooming “Delite,” and mid-season blooming “Southland” and “Briteblue.”
This variety grows 6–8 feet high. It’s suited for areas with mild winters, like California, Florida, and the coastal southeast. Cultivars include early to mid-season blooming “Windsor,” “Star,” and “Santa Fe,” and mid-season to late-season blooming “Pamlico,” “Bladen,” and “O’Neal.”
This variety is a cross between lowbush and highbush blueberries, and it grows 3–4 feet tall. Cultivars include mid-season blooming “Sunshine Blue” and “Jubilee,” and early-blooming “Southblue” and “O’Neal.”
When to Plant Blueberry Bushes
You can plant blueberry bushes in late fall and spring in most areas. The coldest regions may not have ideal conditions for the bushes to thrive during these periods. In Zones 5 and below, you should plant them in early to mid-spring.
Choose plants that are 1–3 years old to plant. You can buy them from reputable sites or nurseries in containers or bare foot. Older bushes can suffer transplant shock and take more years before producing large harvests.
Where To Plant Your Blueberry Bushes
Consider these factors to find the best place to plant your blueberry bushes:
Blueberries thrive in acidic soils with a pH of 4.0–5.5. Blueberries grow slowly, have discolored leaves, and may die if the pH is too high. Test your soil’s pH via your local extension service.
Add 4–6 inches of sphagnum peat moss to the top 6–8 inches of soil if the pH is 5.5–6.5. This approach can lower the soil’s pH if you wish to plant immediately. You may need more peat (1–3 more inches) if the soil’s pH is close to 7. You may also focus on the surrounding areas as the plants’ roots will grow beyond the planting hole.
The soil should also be loose, well-drained, and have a high concentration of organic matter.
Choose a sunny, sheltered area. Blueberries are tolerant of shade, but you can get more yield in the sun. Plant blueberries further from trees, as trees can block out sunlight and suck up moisture in the soil. Don’t expose blueberries to harsh, drying winds.
Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants. Therefore, they need soil that holds moisture, drains well, and doesn’t remain wet. Avoid planting blueberries in areas with heavy, clay soils that are wet.
Space blueberries in a row about 4–5 feet apart. Space adjacent rows 9–10 feet apart to get adequate room during the harvesting season.
Spread bare root plants’ roots out into the planting hole and cover them with soil. Make sure the root ball is no more than half an inch below the soil surface.
You may plant container-grown blueberries about an inch deeper than the plants were in the nursery container pot.
Temperature and humidity
Different blueberry species have varying temperature needs. The traditional highbush varieties thrive in humid air and cold winter climates, while the species bred for southern gardens can’t withstand freezing temperatures. Most blueberry types need protection from drying winds.
Choosing Which Blueberry Varieties To Plant
Consider these factors to choose the suitable blueberry varieties to plant:
Blueberry species grow to different heights and widths. Choose types that can thrive in the available space. For example, highbush blueberries can grow up to eight feet tall, so they aren’t ideal for growing indoors. Lowbush berries only reach heights of around two feet.
Blueberry varieties grow in different gardening regions. Some rabbiteye and highbush plants grow in warmer climates, while lowbush species tolerate cooler climates. Half-high plants grow in areas with medium temperatures. Lowbush varieties thrive in Zones 2–7, highbush bushes grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 4–8, and half-high plants thrive in Zones 3–7.
You may get specific cultivars that thrive beyond these ranges.
Blueberries are self-pollinating. They don’t require other plants to pollinate. Plant two or more blueberry bushes of the same type, but different species, to promote cross-pollination. This will increase your harvest.
Plant various species that produce fruit and mature at different times of the season. You’ll extend the harvest time to between July and September (the end of the season).
How to Plant Your Blueberry Bushes
Here’s a step by step guide on how to plant blueberry bushes:
- You can use blueberry seeds after 90 days. Plant them immediately or preserve them in a freezer until you plant them. Start the planting in the spring in northern climates and the fall in warm areas.
- Plant blueberry seeds in dampened sphagnum peat moss in seed trays and cover them with a quarter-inch of soil. Ensure the medium is always moist. Blueberry seeds can take 6–12 weeks to germinate. Hybrid highbush seeds sprout more unreliably than wild lowbush plants.
- Keep the blueberry seeds in a warm, sunny spot with a temperature of 60–70°F. Suspend a fluorescent light around 14 inches above the seeds if the area lacks sunlight. The seeds will resemble grass and have tiny leaves at their tops as they germinate. They’ll grow 5–6 inches tall during the first year.
- Move the blueberry seedlings into containers in a sunny, warm spot once they are 2-3 inches tall. Keep the area moist and use about half cup of organic fertilizer to fertilize the plants after 2–3 weeks in their jars. The plants can bear fruits after two years. However, it may take slightly longer for them to produce sizable fruits. They’ll provide these harvests for years or decades once they reach this point.
Fertilizing Your Blueberry Bush
It is best to fertilize blueberries in the spring. Use the fertilizers sparingly to get the best outcomes. Amendments ideal for acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and camellias, may be suitable for blueberry bushes.
Be careful as you use high-nitrogen fertilizers. While these products can enhance vegetative growth, they can inhibit fruit production. You may also plant cover crops, like clover, under blueberry plants to increase the soil’s nitrogen content naturally and prevent weeds.
Maintain about 4 to 6 inches of wood mulch around blueberry plants throughout their lifespan.
Growing Blueberry Bushes in a Pot
You can grow blueberries in a pot. These plants are easier to harvest, move, and protect from birds. You can also tailor the pH of the container’s soil easily if you live in a place without acidic soil.
You can grow blueberries in a pot this way:
- Use a large pot with drainage holes.
- Mix sandy soil with compost and peat moss or use a potting mix for acid-loving plants, like rhododendrons and azaleas.
- Plant the blueberry in the pot and water it well.
- Add mulch above the soil to retain moisture.
- Put the container in a sunny area.
- Keep the soil moist.
- Wrap the blueberry in burlap or cover the jar with straw in northern regions.
The varieties that can thrive in a container include “Top Hat,” “Pink Lemonade,” and “Pink Champagne.”
Growing Blueberry Bushes Indoors
You can grow blueberries indoors if harsh winters in your area don’t support perennials, or you don’t have adequate space in your yard to produce them. It is easy to grow and take care of this houseplant throughout the year.
Choose the suitable species to plant indoors. Place the blueberry in a nice, sunny area, such as right on your windowsill. The plant will flourish if you provide it with the essential requirements, such as sunlight, water, nutrients, and temperature conditions.
The best types to grow indoors are dwarf varieties or lowbush blueberries. These plants don’t grow too tall or wide, and won’t take a lot of space in your home, and are easy to maintain. Some dwarf species to plant include “Top Hat,” “Northsky,” and “Sunshine Blue.”
You’ll wait 2–3 years to enjoy your indoor blueberries’ fruits if you grow them with seeds. Many people propagate it from one-year-old plants or cuttings from nurseries. Plant a different blueberry type that blooms at almost the same time as the other pot and place them near each other to increase your yield by promoting cross-pollination.
Use pots that are 15–18 inches in depth to grow the blueberries indoors. You may start with a smaller size pot and transplant to larger sizes as the plant grows. Indoor blueberries don’t have extensive roots. Therefore, they’ll fit these containers and grow into medium size plants. Make sure the container has proper drainage holes before filling it with soil.
How To Prune Blueberries
Pruning blueberries may not be necessary the first few years after planting them. However, it will be essential from around the fourth year to promote growth to bear fruit in the next season.
Prune the blueberries in late winter or early spring before they have new growth. Remove broken, dead, weak, short, and spindly shoots.
When and How To Harvest Your Blueberries
Blueberries aren’t ripe once they turn blue. This coloring shows that the blueberries are almost ripe. Therefore, leave the blueberries on the plant for a few days after turning blue to give them ample time to ripen.
How will you know if they are at their ripeness peak?
You’ll know if it is time to harvest the blueberries by gently tickling the blueberry clusters. The perfectly ripe blueberries will fall from the stem with this gentle touch, while the unripe ones remain attached. The fallen blueberries are ripe, and they will have the ideal flavor.
Check your blueberries daily during summer’s warm days. You don’t want any ripened berries to fall to the ground when you’re not around to collect and enjoy them.
Don’t leave the blueberries in the sun after harvesting them. The fruit can heat up rapidly and start decaying. Decay is often an issue with blueberries harvested late when most fruits are overripe.
Refrigeration is the best way to retain blueberry quality after harvesting them. Low temperatures can slow ripening and extend the fruit’s longevity.
Store blueberries at around 32°F and about 85% relative humidity. You can keep freshly harvested blueberries viable for up to two weeks at 32°F. By comparison, blueberries only stay in good condition for a few days at 70°F.
Place blueberries in a tight jar in the refrigerator immediately after harvesting them. Avoid layering them more than a few inches deep to stop the lower blueberries from being damaged.
Wash the blueberries only when you are ready to eat them. Washing them earlier can make them susceptible to developing molds while in storage. Blueberries can last longer than most berries if you store them well.
To learn more about when to harvest blueberries, visit this link.
Blueberry Bushes During Winter Months
Various blueberry types and cultivars are susceptible to winter cold. Their susceptibility also depends on the stage of plant dormancy and the temperature during and before the cold event.
You can test for cold damage to the plant by slicing flower buds lengthwise 7–21 days after the cold event or in late winter. Look for dead or brown tissue.
Some previous whips or laterals can die from the tip downward during some cold events. These parts can blacken and should be pruned to help the plant recover. The cold events damage vegetative buds in rare cases.
Blueberry Pests and Diseases
Blueberries can often fall victim to pests, wildlife, and diseases that you should be aware of. They include:
Blueberry Pests and Wildlife Concerns
Watch out for these pests and wildlife that can ruin your shrub’s harvest:
Birds love blueberries. Bird netting can protect your blueberries from birds. String the mesh over the plants once the first fruits turn blue from green.
You may also control birds with grape-flavored Kool-Aid or sugar. Grape Kool-Aid contains methyl anthranilate that birds don’t like. Mix a gallon of water with four packs of the unsweetened stuff. Spray the berries with the mixture once they start turning blue. Reapply the mix every few weeks.
You may also spray them with five pounds of sugar mixed with two quarts of water. Spray the fruits with this blend after it rains and after every few weeks. The birds can’t digest the sugar’s disaccharides, so they’ll avoid the fruits. Sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around the plants’ bases to deter ants.
Deer can munch on both blueberry plants and fruits. Fencing and commercial repellents can be helpful to keep these animals away.
These pests are the larvae of Rhagoletis mendax (blueberry fruit fly). They lay their eggs as blueberries start to ripen and are common in America’s eastern half. You can identify the adults through their zigzagging black bands. Catch these adults via red sticky ball traps before they lay eggs.
You should also harvest your ripe blueberries promptly to control their population.
These insects nibble blueberry bushes’ leaves. While blueberries can handle damage of about a fourth of their foliage, you’ll need to act if there’s a bad infestation. You can handpick and drown the beetles in soapy water.
These caterpillars, Datana ministra, are hairy with yellow and black stripes. They show up during the last summer days, and they can strip a plant of all its foliage when in sizable numbers. Spray the infested bushes with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Here are the common diseases that affect blueberries:
Anthracnose fruit rot
Fungi, Colletotrichum gloeosporioides and C. acutatum, cause this disease. It affects all species of blueberries and is more prevalent during warm weather. Severe infections can cause extensive crop loss. Its symptoms become more visible as the fruits ripen. The blueberries can shrivel and have small blisters. They may fall after some time.
You may also notice these signs as the fruits rot in storage. Prevent this disease from catching and spreading through your bushes by spacing, watering, and pruning them well. Harvest the berries once they are ripe.
This fungus, Botrytis cinerea, affects blueberries when plants are blooming in cool, wet weather. It makes fruits rot after you harvest them and makes green growth die back.
Pruning the bushes can manage this disease by improving air circulation and by making sure not to give your blueberries too much nitrogen. Copper-based fungicides may also help you control this disease when the plants have blossomed.
Stem or cane canker
The fungus Botryosphaeria corticis causes this disease. Plants in warmer regions, such as the southern United States, are more susceptible to it.
This disease damages sections of canes, thickening them and forming deep cracks. The canes die eventually. Prune any affected areas and dead canes to prevent this condition.
Rabbiteye may be more suitable for areas that have this issue, as the disease barely affects them. Highbush blueberries are more susceptible to it, however, there are some resistant cultivars to consider.
This disease makes blueberries’ leaves turn red or yellow and is caused by improper growing conditions such as high soil pH, lack of iron, and overfertilization. While it is avoidable, once you notice the signs, spray the bushes with chelated iron to fix the issue in the short term while you fix the soil pH.
The fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi causes this disease. It can make flowers turn brown, die, or wither. Shoots and leaves can also develop black centers, wilt, and die. Infected fruits turn tan or red instead of green, and they fall off the bushes.
Harvest and destroy mummified fruits before they fall. You may have to do this frequently, but the good news is blueberries can recover from this disease. You may also plant resistant species if this disease is common in your region.
Check the common blueberry diseases and resistant cultivars through your local extension office to know what to grow.
Blueberry Recipes To Try
There are various blueberry recipes you can make to enjoy the fruit:
- Blueberry jam
- Lemon blueberry muffins
- Blueberry Steusel Cake
- Blueberry jelly roll
- Blueberry crumble
- Creme Fraiche-blueberry ice cream
- Chilled blueberry soup
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about blueberries:
1. Should I Use Coffee Grounds as a pH Amendment?
It is not advisable to use coffee grounds for pH amendment, as they aren’t always acidic. You may also need sizable quantities of acidic coffee grounds to change the soil pH. There are no guarantees that the soil’s pH will be ideal for blueberries after adding coffee grounds.
2. Is There a Difference Between Huckleberries and Blueberries?
While these berries have many similarities, huckleberries are more tart than blueberries. Their seeds are also hard when you bite them, unlike those for blueberries.
3. What Are the Common Mistakes When Planting and Growing Blueberries?
The common mistakes with blueberries include planting the roots too shallow or too deep, packing soil firmly, planting near wild plants, watering every day, and fertilizing before the plants are established.
How To Grow Blueberries, In Summary
If you take the time to do your research in advance, blueberries are easy to grow, offer excellent nutritional value, and make an attractive addition to your landscape. There are many varieties to choose from that thrive in different soils, weather, and spacing conditions. Consult your local extension office to know the best cultivars for your area.
Prune shrubs properly and harvest fruits to ensure the plants are healthy. Be aware of the various diseases, pests, and wildlife in your area that can affect blueberries.
Blueberries will mature and produce sizable harvests if you take care of them. The results will yield ripe, delicious blueberries you can use in various recipes, such as blueberry jam and blueberry crumble. If you have a tip to share about growing blueberries, feel free to leave it in the comments section below.
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