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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Blueberries

Blueberries are best grown where summers are cool and the soil is acidic. There are varieties that will grow in warm, dry summer regions.

Blueberries are long-lived. Plant them where they can grow undisturbed for 10 or more years.

Blueberries flower in the spring; flowers are white or pink and urn-shaped. In summer berries turn from green to pink or red and finally blue. In fall, leaves turn crimson. In winter, young twigs and branches seem to glow red.

How to grow blueberriesBest Climate and Site for Growing Blueberries

  • Blueberries grow best in full sun; they will tolerate shade, but the yield may suffer.
  • Blueberries require acidic soil and soil rich in organic matter. The soil must be well-drained.
  • Test the soil pH. Blueberries grow best in a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.0. Add sulfur to lower the pH.
  • Add a bucket of aged compost or peat moss to each planting hole.
  • Where the soil is alkaline add equal parts sand and peat moss to a hole 2 feet deep and wide before planting.
  • Blueberries will not grow well in heavy clay soil.

Choosing the Right Blueberry Plant

  • Blueberries can be purchased as bare-root or container-grown plants.
  • Choose certified disease-free plants that are 2 or 3 years old in containers. These will establish themselves more quickly than bare-root plants.

There are three species of blueberries and hybrids to choose from:

  • Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) grows best in Zone 4 to 7. Highbush is a shrubby plant that grows to 6 to 12 feet tall; it is native to eastern states along the coast. These plants produce large berries.
  • Rabbiteye ( ashei) is native to the Southeast and can grow as far north as Zone 7. It is heat- and drought-tolerant and can grow to 10 to 20 feet tall. These plants produce pink berries that turn blue when ripe.
  • Lowbush ( angustifolium) is cold hardy and grows in Zones 3 to 7. Lowbush varieties grow 12 to 18 inches tall. These plants creep near the ground. They produce sweet, small berries.
  • Midhigh hybrids are hybrid plants with the best qualities of highbush and lowbush plants. Mid-high blueberries grow 18 inches to 3 feet tall. Midhigh plants combine the hardiness and flavor of lowbush varieties with the bigger berries of highbush blueberries.

Learn more: Easy to Grow Blueberries

Yield and How Much to Plant

  • Check the berry size of the blueberry variety or cultivar you choose. Large berries are best for fresh eating. Small berries are good for cooking—pancakes and muffins.
  • Each blueberry bush will yield 5 to 20 pounds of fruit each year depending on the size of the bush.
  • Plants reach full production in 6 to 10 years.

Blueberry Pollination

  • Some blueberries require cross-pollination; others are self-fertile (self-fertile varieties are not always reliable). Make sure to check which you are planting. If a variety requires cross-pollination, plant two or more plants.
  • Plant more than one cultivar to ensure a good fruit set. Planting three different varieties is likely to ensure pollination. Planting more than one cultivar will also extend the harvest.
  • Not all blueberry varieties flower at the same time; some flower in early spring, some flower in late spring. To ensure pollination choose varieties that flower at about the same time.

Spacing Blueberries

  • Highbush blueberries should be planted 6 feet apart.
  • Rabbiteye blueberries should be spaced 8 feet apart.
  • Lowbush blueberries should be planted 2 feet apart.
  • Mid-high, also called half-high, blueberries should be planted 2 to 3 feet apart.

Planting blueberries how to grow blueberriesPlanting Blueberries

  • Plant bare-root or container-grown blueberries in fall or spring. Do not plant if the ground is frozen or waterlogged.
  • Plant blueberries in a sheltered location, out of strong winds.
  • If the soil is neutral or naturally alkaline; consider planting blueberries in a raised bed rich in acidic soil.
  • Water young plants thoroughly before you transplant.
  • Prepare a hole half again as deep as the root ball of the transplant and twice as wide. Moisten the hole.
  • Add a cup of bone meal or slow-release organic fertilizer to the bottom of the hole. Cover fertilizer with a thin layer of soil.
  • Massage the root ball to separate roots before setting the plant in the hole.
  • Set the plant in the hole so that the soil around the crown of the transplant is level with the surrounding soil.
  • Firm in the soil around the transplanted root ball ensuring there are no air pockets among the roots. Make sure the crown of the plant is not lower than the surrounding soil.
  • Create a basin around the newly planted plant to hold water during irrigation. The basin should be about a foot away from the stem of the plant in all directions.
  • Water the newly planted plant with compost tea or a weak solution of fish emulsion.
  • After planting apply 3 to 5 inches of aged compost or organic mulch—composted sawdust, leafmold, or pine bark–around each plant. This will keep the soil evenly moist and protect shallow roots from temperature changes.

Container Growing Blueberries

  • Mid-high blueberries are a good choice for growing in containers. Plant them in a 5-gallon pot or a pot 12 to 14 inches in diameter.
  • Use an acid potting mix with at least 50 percent peat moss or another acidifying soil amendment.
  • Container-grown blueberries can be potted up at any time during the growing season; spring is the best time. Avoid repotting in hot, dry weather.
  • Feed container-grown blueberries with an acidic fertilizer or seed meal fertilizer; do not overfertilize. Use a lime-free general fertilizer in spring.
  • Mulch the surface of potted blueberries with acidic, organic materials such as aged compost or commercial organic planting mix.
  • Never let potted blueberries dry out and do not let the container sit in water.
  • In hot summer regions, place containers growing blueberries in partial shade.
  • Repot plants every few years during the dormant season.

planting a blueberryBlueberry Care, Nutrients, and Water

  • Blueberries demand constant moisture and excellent drainage.
  • Blueberry roots are shallow and should not be disturbed.
  • Apply a thick mulch to the base of plants; this will keep down weeds, retain soil moisture, and keep the soil cool.
  • Add organic mulch around blueberries at least once or twice a year. As the mulch breaks down the blueberry roots will grow into it.
  • Feed plants no more than ¼ pound of nitrogen per year. Top dress plants with bloodmeal in spring.
  • Avoid fertilizers that contain lime or calcium. (Do not use tomato or general vegetable fertilizers.)
  • Keep the soil evenly moist; consistent even moisture will ensure the largest berries.
  • Spreading aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix around blueberries once or twice a year should provide the nutrients blueberries require.
  • Early flowering varieties may need to be protected from frost with a floating row cover; cover budded or flowering plants if frost is predicted.

Pruning and Training Blueberries

  • Blueberries do not lend themselves to formal training. Highbush and rabbiteye blueberries are pruned as informal, upright bushes. Lowbush varieties are low, spreading plants that need only old-growth removed.
  • Pinch off flowers and young berries the first year; this will allow the plant to establish its roots and grow strong.
  • Remove dead and damaged wood each year as necessary.
  • Prune blueberries in winter or spring; remove old wood, damaged branches, and spindly branches. This will allow sunlight to reach the interior of the bush and will encourage new growth.
  • If shoots are too crowded, remove some older shoots entirely.
  • To increase fruit size, head back shoots that have an abundance of flower buds.
  • Allow two new shoots to emerge and grow from the base of the plant each year if you live in northern cold winter regions; allow three or four new shoots to grow in warm-winter southern regions.
  • Lowbush blueberry stems can be but to the ground in spring; however, pruned plants will not bear fruit the season following pruning.

Propagating Blueberries

  • Blueberries are commonly propagated with hardwood or softwood cutting.
  • Lowbush blueberries can be divided when dormant.
  • Take softwood cuttings in midsummer; select a healthy shoot that is 4 inches long; cut it above a leaf joint and insert the cutting in acidic potting mix; keep the potting mix just moist.

Grow BlueberriesHarvesting and Storing Blueberries

  • Blueberry bushes will begin to produce fruit between the second and fourth year after planting.
  • Blueberries ripen over a period of 6 to 7 weeks. Not all berries in a cluster ripen at the same time.
  • Harvest berries that have turned blue and taste sweet. Leave unripe berries for later harvest.
  • Ripe berries will fall readily from the plant when gently tickled.
  • Underripe berries will not ripen off the plant; leave them to ripen on the plant.
  • Ripe berries will hold on the bush for about a week; after that they will deteriorate and drop.
  • Berries are very tender and should be handled with care.
  • Ripe blueberries are best eaten right away. They will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Preserve blueberries by freezing, canning, or making jams or jellies.

Also of interest:  How to Freeze Blueberries and Other Berries

Try these easy recipes:  Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes and Blueberry Crumble

Blueberry Problems and Control

  • Birds can be kept away from blueberries by placing netting over plants bearing fruit. Nets will also frustrate small squirrels and rodents.
  • Blueberry maggots will tunnel into ripening berries. Set stick red ball apple maggot traps in each bush before the berries start to turn blue.
  • Stems with cracks or cankers should be cut back to healthy tissue. Plant crack resistant varieties.
  • Mummy berry disease will cause berries to turn white, shrivel, and drop. You can prevent this fungal disease by keeping the mulch around the plants fluffed and airy.

Fall and Winter Blueberry Care

  • Remove loose mulch in winter.
  • Clean up berries on the ground. Rotten or mummified berries on the ground can harbor pests and disease.
  • Add a fresh layer of mulch before winter cold sets in.
  • Prune plants in winter or early spring just before growth begins.
  • Prune highbush blueberries removing wood that is more than four years old, stems that are drooping to the ground, or stem that crowd the center of the plant.
  • Prune rabbiteye cultivars similar to highbush varieties, but less severely.
  • Prune lowbush varieties by cutting stems to the ground; bushes cut to the ground will not bear fruit the same season. Alternate pruning lowbush varieties so that some plants are producing fruit each year.
  • Repel rabbits that will chew on stems in winter; sprinkle bonemeal or blood meal on the plants. Reapply repellant after rain.
  • Apply dormant oil in winter if aphids or scale have been a problem in the past.

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