- Planting Blueberries
- Soil preparation
- Spacing and planting blueberries
- Fertilizing blueberry plants
- Mulching blueberry plants
- How to Grow Blueberries
- How to avoid a common blueberry planting error
- Introduction to Growing Blueberries
- Table of Contents
- Steps to Success
- Video Guides
- Quick Tips
- Growing Blueberry Bushes In The Home Garden
- What Does a Blueberry Bush Look Like?
- Tips for Planting Blueberry Bushes
- Blueberries: Origins – Consumption – Nutrition Facts – Health Benefits
- Geographic Origins and Regions Grown
- History of Consumption
- Common Consumption Today
- Nutrition Facts: Vitamins, Minerals and Phytochemical Components
- Health Benefits: Medicinal Uses Based on Scientific Studies
- Didn’t find what you were looking for? Search here…
- Where Blueberries Grow
- Blueberries in season
- Blueberry growing regions
- Blueberry forms
- Food Articles, News & Features Section
- BLUEBERRY HISTORY
- HISTORYNative American Tradition
- Choose the Right Blueberry for Your Area
- Pick the Right Time and Place to Plant Them
- A Little Bit about the Soil Being More Acidic
- Maintain Healthy, Productive Plants for Years
- Harvesting the Blueberries
- Growing Blueberries at Home
- Blueberry Seed Planting: Tips For Growing Blueberry Seed
- How to Grow Blueberries from Seeds
- Blueberry Seed Planting
- My Blueberries Are Sour: How To Sweeten Sour Blueberries
- What Makes Blueberries Sour?
- What to Do With Sour Berries
Planting blueberries can be easy in the right conditions. Before you begin, read up on how to plant blueberries and stop by your local garden center to ask an expert about the best blueberry varieties for your region.
Once you’ve selected your blueberry plants, keep these tips in mind to ensure success in growing blueberries.
Select a sunny location with well-drained soil for your blueberry bed. It’s best to grow blueberries in an area where water is readily available so you can keep their roots moist throughout the growing season. Raised beds or patio containers are good options for planting blueberries in areas where the soil is not ideal.
Soil preparation is crucial to the health of blueberry plants. Blueberries prefer acidic soil. Talk to your local garden center about the best way to make soil adjustments. If changes in the pH are needed, it’s best to make them a year before planting blueberries.
Spacing and planting blueberries
In most areas, it’s ideal to plant blueberries in the fall or spring. You can plant blueberry bushes as close as 2 or 2.5 feet apart to form solid hedgerows, or space them up to 6 feet apart so they grow individually. If you plant in rows, allow 8 to 10 feet between the rows.
Fertilizing blueberry plants
Once your blueberry plants are established, they will respond well to acid fertilizers such as rhododendron or azalea formulations. Ask your local garden center for fertilizer recommendations and follow the instructions on the label. Blueberries are sensitive to over-fertilization, so be careful!
For best results, fertilize your blueberry plants once in early spring and again in late spring. Be sure to always water thoroughly after fertilizing.
Mulching blueberry plants
Blueberries do best with 2-4 inches of mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and add organic matter. Bark mulch, acid compost, sawdust and grass clippings all work well.
For additional guidance on planting blueberries in your home garden, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office.
Oh, and don’t worry, all the hard work will pay off when you serve homemade and homegrown blueberry muffins for breakfast!
How to Grow Blueberries
Blueberries bring a unique combination of delicious fruit and striking, year round ornamental beauty to the garden and landscape. They’re relatively easy to grow and require minimal care. By following just a few basic steps, your blueberry plants will thrive for many decades and provide you with abundant fruit every year. We highly recommend you read the Blueberries Simplifed section of our site for a primer on selecting varieties. Below are some basic tips to help ensure your success with blueberries:
Site Selection and Preparation
Select a sunny location with well-drained soil that is free of weeds and is well-worked. It’s best to locate your blueberry plants in an area where irrigation is readily available as best results will be achieved by keeping the root zone moist throughout the growing season.
Where the soil is not ideal or marginally-drained, raised beds are an excellent option. Blueberries also do well in patio containers and offer a great way for apartment and condo dwellers and those with little or no yard to enjoy blueberries.
Blueberries prefer acidic soils. A fail-safe way to grow blueberries in almost any soil is to incorporate peat moss into the planting medium. For planting directly in the ground, work up a planting area approximately 2½ feet in diameter and 1 foot deep for each plant. Remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soil. Add an equal amount of pre-moistened peat moss and mix well. (One 4 cubic foot compressed bale will usually be sufficient for 4-5 plants.) For raised beds mix equal volumes peat moss with bark (not cedar or redwood), compost or planting mix. Talk to your local garden center. They’re experts in your area and can best advise you on soil amendments.
Blueberries can be planted as close as 2 – 2½ feet apart to form solid hedgerows or spaced up to 6 feet apart and grown individually. If planted in rows, allow 8 to 10 feet between the rows depending on equipment used for mowing or cultivating.
In most areas, it is ideal to plant in the fall or spring although in many regions you can plant year round.
If you purchased containerized blueberry plants, remove from pot and lightly roughen up the outside surface of the root ball. Mound the plant’s top soil about 1/2 inch higher than the existing ground and firm around root ball. Then mound soil up along sides of exposed root mass and water in well.
Blueberries do best with 2-4 inches of mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and add organic matter. Bark O Mulch, acid compost, sawdust and grass clippings all work well. Repeat every other year. Do not use bark or sawdust from cedar or redwood trees.
It’s a good idea to allow blueberries to get established before allowing them to bear fruit. If you start with smaller plants, simply remove most of the flower blooms as they appear. In future years, blueberry plants should be heavily pruned each year to avoid over-fruiting which results in small fruit or poor growth.
In our three decades of experience at Fall Creek, we know that one of the biggest mistakes home gardeners make with their blueberries is lack of pruning. We assure you that aggressive, annual pruning will result in healthier, more vigorous plants and more prolific fruit production. Here are some simple tips:
Remove low growth around the base.
Remove the dead wood, leaving bright colored lateral branches. Cut out any short, discolored branches.
Continue pruning until you have removed 1/3 to 1/2 of the wood out of your plants each year. Remember, this will promote growth and berry production so prune away!
Once established, blueberries like acid fertilizers such as rhododendron or azalea formulations. (Ask your local garden center for recommendations.) Take care when fertilizing, since blueberries are very sensitive to over-fertilization. Follow label instructions.
It’s ideal to fertilize once in early spring and again in late spring. Be sure to always water thoroughly after fertilizing. For organic fertilizers, blood meal and cottonseed meal work well. Avoid using manures as they can damage the plants.
A NOTE TO HOME GARDENERS: We regret that we don’t have staff available to respond to home gardening questions on the phone or by email. If you have more questions, please contact your local garden center or extension agents. They’re the experts in your area.
How to avoid a common blueberry planting error
I am often called to look at new blueberry plantings to determine what is wrong because of poor growth. Many times the field was planted before the soil was tested and the soil pH was too high for blueberries. Blueberries prefer a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.5.
Sometimes the soil pH is fine, but the plants stopped growing early or dried up during the first dry weather of the summer, even in fields that have irrigation. When this is the case, I can often walk up to the plant and easily pull it out of the soil. The plant’s roots never moved out of the peat soil that they grew in when they were raised in the nursery. This is especially true when the soil texture in the field is different than the potting medium the plant grew in before.
The peat mixtures used to grow blueberry plants hold water very well, but the sandy soils in many blueberry plantings do not. As the soil water drains away, there is little reason for the plant roots to grow into the relatively dry sand. This results in a small, restricted root system supporting a relatively large plant. This problem is not apparent early in the season when there are few leaves and the soils are moist. Later as the plant develops leaves, it starts to use more and more water until the day comes when the plant sucks all the water out of the little pocket of peat soil where its roots are.
I see this problem usually in sandy soils, but I also see it in heavier soils. I often see it in young plants where they just are not growing. They get off to a good start in the spring and then just stop and sit there for the rest of the year because the small root system just cannot supply enough water to the leaves to allow the shoots to grow for very long in the spring before they run out of water and stop. These plants just sit there year after year. They grow a little bit every spring and then shut down and hang on for the rest of the growing season. Often, people think the plant needs more fertilizer and sometimes fertilize them to death by giving them more and more fertilizer to get them to grow. The solution is to dig up these stunted, root-bound plants in the spring or fall and replant them. Be sure to break up the root ball and replant them.
This 3-year-old plant looked good in the field after planting. It was planted in a trench that was soil
and peat. During the hot summer, the leaves dried out and it came out of the ground easily. This bush thrived after the root ball was ripped open and replaced.
Don’t sacrifice a year or more of growth by being in a hurry at planting time. Be sure to thoroughly break up the root ball when you plant the plant. When you pop it out of the pot, don’t just cut the edges or shake a little dirt off; pull it apart. Pull the bottom of the root ball apart so the root system is twice as wide and half as deep as it was and spread the root system out in the hole. Let the loose peat fall into the planting hole. Almost all the roots are around the outside of the soil mass where the aeration in the pot was best and this is where all the new roots will come from.
If there is a real difference in soil texture between the potting medium and the native soil, add some peat. This is especially true if the soil is mostly sand or clay. Compost or composted manures are not usually good to add to the planting hole since these materials have a higher, more neutral pH. These materials will raise the soil pH higher than blueberries like in the soil.
When you plant blueberries, your objective is to grow a big productive bush in eight to 12 years, and that bush requires a big root system. Make every effort to get the roots off to a good start so they can support vigorous growth for years to come. If the root system is restricted, that plant will always be small.
Introduction to Growing Blueberries
Do you want to begin growing blueberries? Or, have you been growing blueberries for a long time and simply want to get fresh ideas or helpful suggestions? This growing corner will teach you how to grow blueberries.
Table of Contents
- Steps to Success
- Planting Summary
- Video Guides
- Quick Tips
- View our Blueberry plants
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Blueberries are a great investment for health and happiness, and Nourse Farms can show you how they are one of the easiest fruits to produce. With proper attention to soil pH, and choosing your planting area wisely, you can reap harvests for 20-30 years or more!
Studies show that eating plenty of blueberries can improve your memory and eyesight. But don’t forget to order early and make sure the pH goes below 5.0 for sure success. Our 18-inch, dormant bare-root plants are now cell grown for the highest quality and unifomity available.
Steps to Success
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Step 1 – Plan your Space
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Step 2 – Prepare your Planting Area
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Step 3 – Plant your Blueberries
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Step 4 – Harvest your Blueberries
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Step 5 – Maintain your Blueberry Plants
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- 4’–5’ between plants
- 8’–12’ between rows
- Be careful not to plant too deeply
- Keep soil moist throughout the establishment period
- For best results, amend pH levels before planting, however, plants can be successfully established without prior pH adjustments if you follow our instructions
- Measure/maintain pH levels regularly for best success
- Adding sulfur may be necessary to adjust pH: 4.5–4.8 this is very important
- Wait4–6 weeks after planting before fertilizing to avoid burning roots
- Year 1– 1oz ammonium sulfate in a circular band around each plant
- Following years – 2oz per plant at bloom time and again 1 month later
- Don’t fertilize after July
- Avoid fertilizers containing potassium chloride
- Mulch with 3″–4″ wood chips
- Avoid treated or colored bark mulch
- Regular manual weeding is necessary
- For best production at least 2 blueberry varieties should be used for cross-pollination
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Our videos are written and produced by Nate Nourse and are aimed at your success. You’ll find all our Video Learning Guides in our Video Library.
Planting and Growing our Strawberry Plant Nursery
Digging and Packing Strawberry Plants
How to Plant
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Healthy berry plants require these important elements:
- Early planting! Plant as early as possible in the spring. Snow or occasional frost will not hurt most new plants (green tissue culture plants excepted), and spring rains will foster growth. Planting in the fall is not recommended in the Northeast and Midwest.
- A sunny, weed-free location with at least a half-day of sunlight.
- Clean beds that are frequently weeded.
- Well-drained soil. For poor drainage conditions, consider raised beds.
- Proper soil pH. Matching soil pH to plant requirements can be a huge factor in your success. Sample the soil before planting and contact your local cooperative extension office for assistance.
- Crop rotation. Avoid planting strawberries or raspberries in soils where previous crops have included strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant or peppers. These crops may harbor the soil pathogens Verticillium, Phytophthora and nematodes and may affect your new plants.
- Irrigation. Maintain proper moisture levels throughout the season and, most importantly, during the establishment period. Drip irrigation is imperative when planting in raised beds.
Avoid Common Mistakes
- Read free planting guide 1-3 months before planting.
- Plants will fail to flourish if roots are too deep or too shallow.
- Pack soil firmly around the roots.
- Do not plant near wild plants or plants whose origins are unknown.
- Water well one to three times a week, not every day.
- Avoid fertilizer burn by fertilizing only after plants are established.
- Do not soak plants in water more than 1 hour!
Growing Blueberry Bushes In The Home Garden
Blueberries have been in health news a lot lately. Packed with antioxidants and tasty as well, many gardeners are wondering about growing blueberry bushes in their own garden. Planting blueberry bushes in your garden is possible with a little preparation.
What Does a Blueberry Bush Look Like?
While these are popular fruits, many people are unsure as to what a blueberry bush looks like. It looks like a typical shrub with shiny, oval shaped green leaves. The height can vary, depending on the variety, from a few feet tall to 12 or more feet tall. They, of course, have the tell tale blue berries.
Tips for Planting Blueberry Bushes
The most important thing to remember when growing blueberry plants is that they need a very low pH balance to grow well. Most home gardeners will need to prepare special high acid soil in order to provide the proper blueberry plant care.
The problem with this is that the acid in the soil can quickly leach away, leaving the blueberry bushes without enough and harming nearby plants with too much. For care of blueberry bushes, you may want to consider growing blueberry bushes in containers, or at the very least, in tubs buried in the ground. This will provide containment for the high acid soil the blueberry plants need.
Another factor to consider when planting blueberry bushes is the length of time it takes for them to grow to a fruiting age. How long does it take a blueberry to grow big enough to produce fruit? It can take three to four years before they will produce fruit.
Blueberries also produce better if they are cross pollinated. This means that growing blueberry bushes of different varieties will help with their production. Before growing blueberry plants, you need to choose a type of blueberry to grow. There are three basic varieties:
- Northern highbush
- Southern highbush
Each are suited for different climates and you should research which is best for your climate. Once you know the type you can grow, there are dozens of varieties to choose from.
Many people also wonder when do you plant blueberry bushes. The right time for planting blueberry bushes is early to mid spring.
Some final notes on proper care of blueberry bushes. Remember that they need full sun to do well. They also need consistent watering to fruit well. For good blueberry plant care, you may also want to consider pruning your bushes as needed.
Growing blueberry plants in your garden can be rewarding. With a little tender, loving blueberry plant care, you can be serving your very own homegrown blueberries in no time.
Blueberries: Origins – Consumption – Nutrition Facts – Health Benefits
- Geographic origin and regions grown
- History of consumption
- Common consumption today
- Nutrition Facts: Vitamins, minerals and phytochemical components
- Health Benefits: Medicinal uses based on scientific studies
Geographic Origins and Regions Grown
Blueberries are flowering plants from the genus Vaccinium. This plant species is native to North America, most of Asia, and Scandinavia. Blueberry shrubs grow in a variety of sizes that vary from a few inches to 10 feet. The plant also makes colored flowers which may be one of many colors like white, pale pink, red, and sometimes light green. The plant bares small blueberry fruits that have a dark purple color.
They have a sweet taste when ripe and the plants produce fruit once a year during the summer months. Vaccinium is the name for the entire blueberry family and includes hundreds of other related plants. Other names by which the blueberry is known include: cowberry, cranberry, farkleberry, lingonberry, partridgeberry, whortleberry, and sparkleberry.
North America is the number one producer of blueberries, with an astounding nearly 90 percent of world’s blueberries being grown in the US currently. Although the USA and Canada are the largest producers and consumers of blueberries, the market around the world is on the rise with Japan in particular becoming a blueberry loving nation.
History of Consumption
The blueberry has been consumed by the native North American Indians for hundreds of years. Surprisingly, the blueberry plant is associated with more folklore than most American fruits. Many years ago after the Europeans arrived in North America, they began to cultivate blueberry farms and took the blueberry plant back to Europe with them. Soon after that, blueberries became popular in many European countries and were no longer a popular fruit in just North America. Today the fruit is well recognized for its sweetness and is sold worldwide.
Besides the fruit, the berries are also crushed and the juice is extracted. The North American Indians have used blueberry juices for years to treat numerous medical ailments as well as a dying agent for their clothes. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat for flavor.
As the centuries progressed, blueberries became an important food source and were preserved, and later canned. In addition, a beverage made with blueberries was an important staple for soldiers during the Civil War. In the 1880s a blueberry canning industry began in the Northeast of the USA. The leaves and roots of blueberry plants were also used quite often in combination with the fruit for medicinal purposes.
Common Consumption Today
Delicious fresh blueberries are a summertime treat and tradition in North America. About 50 percent of all blueberries produced are dedicated to the fresh fruit market. Blueberry season takes place in the summer when the berry has a deep blue color. During this season the blueberries are carefully handpicked and immediately packaged. To preserve their flavor, they are chilled and rushed to markets in the nearby cities and shipped by air freight around the world.
Blueberries are usually sold fresh or first processed and then sold as frozen fruits, juice, purée or dried fruits. Regardless of the way blueberries are purchased, they are typically used in a variety of foods such as pies, jams, snacks, muffins and cereals.
Nutrition Facts: Vitamins, Minerals and Phytochemical Components
Blueberries have earned the reputation of a super fruit and evidence indicates that the fruit is rich in nutrients like fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, and large amounts of manganese. Blueberries also contain resveratrol, which is a phytoalexin that is produced by plants when they are experiencing a bacterial or fungal infection. Phytoalexins are antibacterial and anti-fungal chemicals that are produced by plants as a means of protection against pathogens.
In 1997, it was discovered that resveratrol also has anti-inflammatory properties (2). Recently resveratrol has been labeled as a nutraceutical because its chemical properties provide protection against chronic diseases (1). In addition to resveratrol, blueberries contain anthocyanins and polyphenol antioxidant pigments that have been shown to help reduce the risk of getting some diseases such as certain types of cancers (4).
Health Benefits: Medicinal Uses Based on Scientific Studies
Laboratory studies with blueberries have revealed that its phytochemicals like tannins, flavonols, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins inhibit some of the ways by which cancer cells grow and develop (4). Blueberries have also been shown to diminish the signs of dementia and improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients (3).
Other preliminary research has determined that blueberries can lower the amount of damage after a stroke (6). Blueberries also improve symptoms caused by urinary tract or bladder infections, improve skin tone and turgor, and lower cholesterol (5).
Current studies are being performed to determine which compounds in blueberries are most beneficial for heart disease. As of now, the blueberry can be simply enjoyed as a delicious fruit and all the other medical benefits are just a bonus.
1. Health Canada. (1998) Policy Paper on Nutraceuticals/Functional Foods and Health Claims on Foods. Health protection branch, 1-29.
5. Sumner, Judith (2004). American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants, 1620-1900. Timber Press, 125.
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Where Blueberries Grow
Ever wonder where blueberries grow? You’re not alone! Many people are interested in learning where their produce comes from, and discovering where blueberries grow near you can help you make the most of their year-round availability.
Most of the blueberries you find in the supermarket are highbush blueberries. They are plump, juicy and sweet, with vibrant colors ranging from deep purple-blue to blue-black, and highlighted by a silvery sheen called a bloom.
Dr. Frederick Coville and Elizabeth White first cultivated highbush blueberries in the early 20th Century, and today, dozens of commercial highbush varieties are thriving across the United States, Canada, South America and around the world.
Blueberries in season
Fresh blueberries are now available year-round. You can buy North American blueberries from April through October, and South American blueberries from November through March. The peak season for fresh blueberries in North America runs from mid-June to mid-August, with the earliest harvest in the southern states and west coast and the latest harvest in the northern states and Canada. Learn more about how blueberries grow.
Blueberry growing regions
Blueberry bushes can pop up all over the U.S., and while 38 states grow blueberries commercially, ten states account for more than 98% of U.S. commercial production: California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington. In Canada, British Columbia is the primary producing region for highbush blueberries. In South America Chile is the largest producing country, followed by Argentina, Peru and Uruguay.
More than half of all highbush blueberries are shipped to the fresh market, to keep pace with the ever-increasing demand. The rest are frozen, pureed, concentrated, canned or dried to be used in a wide range of food products, including yogurt, pastries, muffins, cereals and health bars. That way, blueberry goodness is available just about anywhere you look. Watch this video to learn more about where blueberries grow and to see how blueberries travel from farm to table.
Food Articles, News & Features Section
SEE ALSO: Blueberry Terminology & Names
The blueberry of the genus Vaccinium, is a native American species. In fact the blueberry is one of the few fruits native to North America.
Native American Tradition
For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent “star berries” to relieve the children’s hunger during a famine.
Parts of the blueberry plant were also used as medicine. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs. The juice also made an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. In food preparation, dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat for flavor. Blueberries were also used for medicinal purposes along with the leaves and roots. A beef jerky called Sautauthig (pronounced saw’-taw-teeg), was made with dried blueberries and meat and was consumed year round.
During the seventeenth century, settlers from England arrived in the New World to begin colonies. Immediately, they set about clearing the land and establishing farms for they could not rely solely on supplies from England. But the land and the climate were far different from what they left behind. Many early attempts at farming failed.
In the winter of 1620, the Pilgrims established a settlement at Plimoth (spelled Plymouth today). Many perished during the first few months, but those that survived went on to build homes and establish farms. Their neighbors, the Wampanoag Indians taught the settlers new skills that helped them survive. They showed them how to plant corn and how to gather and use native plants to supplement their food supply. One important native crop was blueberries!! The colonists learned from Native Americans how to gather blueberries, dry them under the summer’s sun and store them for the winter.
In time, blueberries became an important food source and were preserved, and later canned. A beverage made with blueberries was an important staple for Civil War Soldiers. In the 1880s a blueberry canning industry began in the Northeast USA.
Vacinnium is the family of all blueberries and includes more than 450 plants. This plant grows wild around the world and there are many names given to different blueberries.
For practical and commercial purposes we concentrate on three different varieties:
Vacinnium corymbosum. (Northern Highbush) Grow in the forests wild in North America and were used to cultivate the modern highbush or cultivated blueberry industry along with the V. Ashei.
Vacinnium ashei. (Southern Rabbiteye). You may be suprised to learn that blueberries thrive in the Southern USA. A variety called the Rabbiteye is named this because the calyx on the berry resembles the eye of the rabbit!
Vacinnium angustifolium. (Lowbush or also called “Wild blueberries.” These dwarf bushes are very cold hardy, surviving in the wild as far north as Arctic North America. These Blueberries only reach a height of 1 or 2 feet. and include the low sweet Blueberry (V. angustifolium), which is found from the Arctic to Minnesota and the mountains of New York and New Hampshire, and the sour-tasting velvet-leaf Blueberry (V. myrtilloides), which is found wild throughout New England and west.
Many different names have been given to the numerous varieties of Vacinnium that produce edible fruits, such as Blueberry, Bilberry, Cowberry, Cranberry, Crowberry; Farkleberry, Lingonberry, Partridgeberry, Huckleberry (not the true Huckleberry, which is Gaylussacia), Whortleberry, and Sparkleberry to mention a few.
THE IMPROVED BLUEBERRY
For years, blueberries maintained popularity in the USA, with a thriving commercial business in the Northeast USA and Canada. An important step in the development of the highbush blueberry industry came in the turn of the century. Efforts in the early 1900’s by Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick Coville to domesticate the wild highbush blueberry resulted in today’s cultivated highbush blueberry industry. They selected desirable plants from the wild forests of the Northeast USA and cultivated them to develop blueberries that could be commercially grown by farmers. Their initial breeding work has resulted in the plump, juicy, sweet and easy to pick cultivated blueberry we enjoy today. Without this cultivation work we would not have fresh blueberries in the markeplace as we do today.
Over the decades, plant breeders and pathologists have worked to identify and enhance the desirable features of various cultivars of highbush blueberries. For decades “cultivated” or “highbush” blueberries have been improved through natural selection and plant breeding programs to produce an optimal blueberry with desirable flavor, texture and color for fresh and processed markets. Cultivated varieties have been enhanced to offer magnificent plump berries with deep, rich color and a delicious fruity flavor. These plant breeding programs have resulted in the development of superior berries both for the consumer and the food processing industry. Our industry owes a great gratitude to the many agriculturalists in the USA and abroad who have pioneered the development of the US Highbush Blueberry industry!
The Modern Highbush Blueberry Industry
Today, the highbush blueberry is grown commercially in more than 38 states and provinces of Canada. Highbush blueberry industries have also developed in South America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe and according to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization, more than 42,000 metric tons are harvested each year. Although the USA and Canada are the largest producers and consumers of blueberries, the market around the world is also on the rise with Japan in particular becoming a blueberry loving nation.
Courtesy of the US Highbush Blueberry Council
The fact that berries are crazy healthy for us is no news flash. Blueberries, in particular, are worthy of raving about. They are good for the brain, reduce the risk of cancer, help the cardiovascular system, and the list goes on. They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals. Not to mention, they are delicious and add great flavor to smoothies, pies, pancakes, and more. They even store well in the freezer.
Luckily, for those of us into producing our own food, with the right information, blueberries can be fairly easy to grow, and they are a long-lasting plant that will provide us with nutrition for years. As well, blueberries have varieties suited to all sorts of climates, from the hot and humid to frigid winters. Or, they can even be grown in containers, allowing them us to shift them around into the areas most climatically conducive to them.
Choose the Right Blueberry for Your Area
Blueberries are not all the same. Like peaches, nectarines, apples, and every other fruit, they come in a multitude of varieties, many of which have adapted to growing in certain climates. For example, lowbush blueberries are from the colder regions and are compact plants that hold berries for a long time. Northern high bush blueberries dig the climate in the mountainous parts of the Eastern U.S., while southern high bush prefer their chills to be a little milder. Rabbiteye blueberries are a native plant to the Southeastern U.S. and tolerate the humidity and heat of those states. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Saskatoons can survive temperatures that dip well below freezing, into the negatives.
Pick the Right Time and Place to Plant Them
In general, blueberries respond best when they are planted in the late winter/early spring, while the mornings still have frost. Blueberries require a little time to get their roots established before temperatures escalate in the summer. Even a plant started in a container should be put in the soil in time for the roots to adjust before the summer swelter takes over.
Then, there is choosing the right spot. That begins with sunshine. Go with a sunny place if possible. Beyond that, as most plants do, blueberries like a well-drained soil, such as found in container gardens or raised beds. The young plants also demand a lot of organic matter to feed on, and they are particular to acidic stuff. Soil between pH 5.5 and 6.0 is the ideal. Above 6.0 will probably require some serious amending. The spacing depends on the varietal, with lowbush somewhere around 12 inches and Saskatoon up to 12 feet apart.
A Little Bit about the Soil Being More Acidic
Most plants grow will in soils with pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic, but blueberries like a bit more punishment (to each plant its own). Elemental sulfur is used by many organic gardeners to help make their soils more acidic. Other good options are shredding up oak leaves or pine needles and mix them into that thick layer of organic matter that young blueberries need. Sphagnum peat moss also helps with acidity, but it is not the greenest of solutions. A rather peculiar option is to make a very diluted mixture of vinegar and water, about two tablespoons per gallon, for watering the plants, a technique said to work well for container blueberries. In general, the level of acidity blueberries like takes a conscious effort from the grower.
Other edible plants that like highly acidic soil include sweet potatoes, potatoes, peppers, parsley and rhubarb for the vegetables and cranberries, currants, elderberries and gooseberries for the fruits. Think about making a garden guild by mixing some of these plants in the same bed.
Maintain Healthy, Productive Plants for Years
Before we go on, we should probably note that blueberries are not entirely self-fertile, so when planting them, it’s good to have three or more plants around for the birds and the bees type stuff. During the first year, however, it’s best to pick off the flowers so that the plants put all their energy into establishing themselves rather than fruiting and flirting. Also, especially at the beginning, keep the plants mulched well, at least two inches deep, then toss in a little compost or compost tea (add some acidity to it if possible) as summer starts to close.
Pruning the plants correctly is the other important element to growing blueberries at home. The idea is to keep the number of canes balanced, new to old. Healthy plants will produce at least one new cane a year. To prune away old canes, cut them off at ground level. This helps to keep the plants, especially the highbush, at a manageable height and to create larger berries. Snipping the tips off of new canes will encourage them to branch out more, creating more area for berry production.
Harvesting the Blueberries
Of course, the point of all this acidic soil production and pruning is to pick some blueberries to eat. The best way to do that is to let them turn blue on the plant, and they can stay there for a few days to develop fully. It’s as simple as that. When the blueberry is blue, it is ready to be eaten. And, they are so worth the effort.
Lead image source: Baisa/
Growing Blueberries at Home
Where to grow blueberries
When you’re ready to plant your blueberries, select a sunny location with well-drained soil that is weed-free and well-worked. It’s best to grow blueberries in an area where water is readily available so you can keep their roots moist throughout the growing season. Raised beds or patio containers are good options for areas where the soil is not ideal. Visit our planting blueberries section for more tips on preparing soil for blueberries.
In most areas, it’s ideal to plant blueberries in the fall or spring. You can plant blueberry bushes as close as 2 or 2.5 feet apart to form solid hedgerows, or space them up to 6 feet apart so they grow individually. If you plant in rows, allow 8 to 10 feet between the rows. Visit our planting blueberries section for more tips on how to plant blueberry bushes.
Pruning blueberry bushes
It’s best to give your blueberry plants time to get established before you let them bear fruit. Remove any plant blossoms the first year of growing blueberries in order to stimulate hardy new growth. In future years, it’s important that you prune your blueberry plants each year to keep them healthy.
Follow these tips for growing blueberries, and soon you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor. When the blueberries are ripe, they will roll right into your bowl or hand. Whether you eat your blueberries fresh, freeze them or use them in your favorite recipe, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of having fresh blueberries that you grew with your own two hands.
For additional guidance on planting and caring for blueberry plants in your home garden, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office.
Blueberry Seed Planting: Tips For Growing Blueberry Seed
Blueberries are heralded as a super food — extremely nutritious, but also high in flavanoids which have been shown to reduce the damaging effects of oxidation and inflammation, allowing the body to fight off disease. Most home growers purchase cuttings, but did you know that blueberry seed planting will result in a plant as well?
How to Grow Blueberries from Seeds
First off, is a blueberry a seed? No, the seeds are inside the fruit, and it takes a little work to separate them from the pulp. You can use fruit from an existing bush or from those purchased at the grocers, but the results may be poor or non-existent. Blueberries do not self pollinate, which means they are rather unpredictable and their offspring do not duplicate the parent. It is better to purchase viable blueberry seeds for planting from a nursery, but if you would like to experiment, here is how to prepare blueberry seeds for planting.
To prepare blueberry seeds for planting, the fruit will need to be macerated. This can be done in a food processor, blender or mashed in a
bowl. Add a little water to the berries as you do this. Once the fruit is mashed, remove the floating pulp. Seeds will sink to the bottom. You may need to add water several times to remove the pulp completely.
Once you have gathered the blueberry bush seeds, they must be scarified. Place them in some damp paper towels and put them in the freezer for 90 days. Cold stratification will break the seeds’ rest period so they are ready for planting.
Blueberry Seed Planting
Once the 90 days have elapsed, the seeds can be used immediately or kept in the freezer until you are ready to plant them. Blueberry seed planting should commence in the fall in warm climates and in the spring in more northerly climes.
Plant the seed in dampened sphagnum peat moss in seed trays and cover them with ¼ inch of soil. Keep the medium consistently moist. Be patient; blueberry seed planting may take six to eight weeks to germinate, some not for three months. The hybrid high bush seeds germinate more unreliable than their wild low bush relatives.
Keep the seeds in a warm, sunny area (60-70 degrees F/15-21 C). If lacking in sunlight, suspend a fluorescent light about 14 inches above the seedlings. The resulting seedling from the growing blueberry seeds will look like grass with a few tiny leaves atop. During the first year of blueberry seed planting, the seedlings may get no taller than 5-6 inches in height.
Once the blueberry bush seed plants are big enough to transplant, move them into pots in a sunny, warm area and keep moist. The growing blueberry seed plants can be fertilized with a liquid fertilizer after two to three weeks in their pots. The resulting blueberry bush seed plants will bear fruit during year two when the plant is 1-2 feet tall.
It may take several years when growing blueberries from seed before the plant will produce any significant amount of fruit. So, again, be patient, but once established, the plant will keep you supplied with this super food for decades to come.
My Blueberries Are Sour: How To Sweeten Sour Blueberries
When you pop fresh-picked blueberries into your mouth expecting sweet, delicious fruit, then sour blueberry fruit is a great disappointment. Unless you’ve selected tart berry cultivars, altering your care and harvest of blueberries may solve the problem. Read on to learn why blueberries are sour and what to do with sour blueberries.
What Makes Blueberries Sour?
The first thing to do when garden blueberries are sour is to determine the characteristics of the cultivar you have chosen. With hundreds of types of blueberries available, the cultivar fruit taste can vary from tart to sweet. If your bushes are intended to produce tart or sour fruit, you may want to select new cultivars.
A common cause of sour blueberry fruit is over-production on a bush. If your bush is newly planted, you’ll get sweeter, bigger berries if you remove all blossoms for the first year or two to allow the root system to establish. Even mature blueberry bushes can over produce some years and, if left to their own devices, produce abundant but sour fruit. Keep your eye on buds and thin back when needed.
Let your berries ripen on the bush. It is not a good idea to pick berries early. Even if you can get sour blueberry fruit to soften by storing them beside apples or bananas, they will not sweeten any further. If blueberries are sour when picked, they will remain so. You can’t sweeten sour blueberries once you take them from the bush.
Try eating a few berries before beginning your harvest and remember that all berries do not ripen simultaneously. Even in one cluster, some may be ripe and some unripe. Identify unripe berries by the reddish hue, but even solid blue berries need to stay on the bush for a few days before they develop true sweetness.
Waiting is a good way to sweeten sour blueberries. Blueberries can remain on the bush for 10 days after they begin to ripen, so don’t be in a hurry. The fruit size and sweetness increases very quickly as the end of the ripening process.
Ensuring that your blueberry plants are grown in acidic soil and keeping them fertilized annually will also help to sweeten the blueberries.
What to Do With Sour Berries
If you’ve already harvested your blueberry fruit, you may be asking what to do with sour berries that haven’t fully ripened. Placing the berries in a paper bag and storing in a cool place will allow the fruit to ripen. If you add an apple, banana or avocado to the bag, the berries ripen more quickly.
Keep in mind that this will soften immature berries, but it will not sweeten sour berries. If you want to cook with the berries, just add extra sugar or honey.
If there were such a thing, the title Edible Plant of the Year would go to blueberries. Since there isn’t, we’ll take it upon ourselves to award the designation.
Blueberries belong to that cherished group of edibles that play dual roles with aplomb. Whether onstage in the kitchen or the landscape, these shrubs get rave reviews from their dedicated — and increasing — fans.
“They’ve always been one of our best-sellers over the years,” says Jim Gilbert, owner of One Green World nursery. “But in the last few years, their popularity has increased. Everyone wants to have them in their garden.”
The pop-in-your-mouth ease of eating and sweet flavor are only half the story of why blueberries are beyond trendy. People like the way they look and, maybe most of all, how simple they are to grow. Once you’ve got the soil right, the rest is easy. Water regularly, fertilize once a year and snip it into shape in spring. The diseases, pests and complicated pruning that flummox us with so many other fruits aren’t a factor.
“Personally, I love them so much, I eat them all before I get them into the house,” says Gilbert, only half kidding.
With varieties that ripen in early, middle and late season, he can be eating out of his hand for almost three months. You can have fruit from late June into September if you stagger early fruiters such as ‘Duke,’ midseason ‘Toro’ and late-summer bearers like ‘Darrow.’ No need to fret about what to buy. Just ask at someone at the nursery to steer you in the right direction.
“They’re relatively easy to grow and so nutritious,” says Gilbert, who sells 18 varieties..
“If you’re going to garden, why not grow something you can use?” says Sam Benowitz, who sells 28 different blueberries at Raintree Nursery. “Blueberries are a good example because they’re so pretty in all seasons and you can eat them.”
They’re not a bad return on your investment, either. A mature plant can produce 10 pounds or more a season. Benowitz says four or five bear enough berries for two people to eat their fill and freeze dozens of bags.
The shrubs are so varied and versatile, they can fit in any size garden; even a tiny condo balcony has room for a blueberry.
“They fit every niche,” he says. “They’re one of the best of the edible plants because they come in all sizes from 1-footers that can be bonsai’d up to 7 to 8 feet that can be a hedge.”
Size isn’t the only advantage of blueberries. The dainty bells of white, sometimes pink, flowers that hang in chains against a canvas of dark green draw admiration, too, as does the long-lasting yellow, scarlet or burgundy fall color. A minority are even evergreen.
Considering the close-to-perfection nature of the blueberry, don’t you agree it deserves our Edible Plant of the Year award?
FAVORITE EARLY-, MID- AND LATE-SEASON BLUEBERRIES
FROM THREE EXPERTS
Jonn Karsseboom, The Garden Corner
‘Earliblue’: One of the first to ripen. Very sweet.
‘Reka’: Always ranks very high in taste tests. Fast-growing.
‘Bluecrop’: Good standard size, consistently heavy yields and good for cooking.
‘Toro’: Makes a nice hedge. Beautiful flowers and great fall color.
‘Jersey’: Very dependable. Favorite for cooking.
‘Darrow’: Tart fruit are some of the largest.
Jim Gilbert, One Green World
‘Duke’: Sweet, firm, large and delectable fruit.
‘Spartan’: Very large fruit with delicious, sprightly flavor and particularly nice fall color.
‘Chandler’: Huge, firm, juicy and very flavorful fruit with a hint of tartness.
‘Toro’: Very large, sweet berries and striking, bright-red fall foliage.
‘Darrow’: Very large, firm, dark-blue berries with sweet-tart flavor.
‘Brigitta’: Large, light-blue, crisp and juicy, sweet berries with just the right amount of tartness.
Sam Benowitz, Raintree Nursery
‘Bluegold’: Round, compact bush, heavy fruit producer.
‘Hannah’s Choice’: Earliest to ripen, nickel-size, sweet berries.
‘Sunshine Blue’: Evergreen, semi-dwarf, compact shrub with showy, hot-pink flowers.
TIPS FOR GROWING BLUEBERRIES
— Dig a planting hole 3 feet deep and wide. Work in 1/4 bale of peat moss. Plant level with top of soil. Mulch with sawdust, but don’t dig it in. If plants seem to need more nutrition, fertilize in spring with blood meal, cottonseed meal or fish meal. Or use an acid fertilizer such as rhododendron and azalea mixes.
— Blueberries love full sun, but can take half a day of shade.
— In dry season, water deeply once a week.
— Don’t get worked up about pruning. The plants will keep bearing fruit even if you don’t prune, but they’ll have more if you do. After the second or third year, prune the plant in early spring by removing dead branches, crossing branches and weak-looking twigs. Cut out some of the oldest branches at the soil level. This will cause new branches to come up. Fruit is produced on new growth.
— While you need only one plant to get berries, planting two or more will guarantee more fruit.
— Fruit is ready to harvest if you roll your thumb over it and it comes right off. If you have to pluck the berries off, they aren’t quite ripe.
— If birds are eating berries, cover with netting. Some people make a 6-foot cage of netting so they can walk in and pick the fruit.
For blueberries in containers:
— Choose smaller varieties such as ‘Sunshine Blue’ and ‘Misty.’
— Use at least a 15-gallon pot.
— Use a potting soil made specifically for acid-loving plants (rhododendrons, azaleas) or one high in peat or sphagnum moss.
— Keep evenly moist, but not waterlogged.
For more tips, watch
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— Kym Pokorny