PRODUCTION

Growing Blueberries


June 18, 2021

Popping a blueberry into your mouth in the summer is a treat many of us look forward to. Native to North America, blueberries only grew in the wild until the 20th century when scientists created their own varieties for people to plant and enjoy. One of the few naturally blue fruits, blueberries are not only a sweet, portable snack, they are also at the top of almost any list of superfoods.

Ripe Blueberries on Bush - Growing Blueberries Blog

The Basics

Blueberries are an acid-loving bush that blooms in the late spring, gives berries in the summer, turns brilliant reds in the fall, and goes dormant in the winter. They love full sun, organic, well-drained acidic soil and can produce for forty to fifty years!

Varieties

There are four main varieties of blueberry plant – highbush, lowbush, half-high hybrid, and rabbiteye.

Highbush are:

  • The most common
  • The most productive
  • Grow to be a six-foot shrub
  • Examples include Bluecrop, Blueray, Jersey, and Darrow

Lowbush are:

  • Made for the coldest climate
  • Grow more like a creeper at only one foot tall
  • Are native to the Northeastern United States
  • Are what we consider “wild” blueberries

Half-high Hybrid are:

  • Cross breed between high- and low- bush varieties
  • Less sweet than highbush
  • Great for jellies, jams, and pies
  • Examples include North Country, Northblue, and Northland

Rabbiteye are:

  • A variety only grown in the Southeastern United States
  • Can grow to fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide

Soil

One of the biggest tricks to blueberries is the soil. If you can, you are best off amending your soil the season before you are going to plant. If you can’t wait, make sure to test your soil using Wilco’s pro at home soil test kit. You’ll receive lab results with recommendations so you can give your blueberries the nutrients and great start it needs, rather than simply a blanket fertilizer.

Read more: Wilco Professional Results Easy Soil Test Kit with Mike Darcy

Blueberries like soil that has a pH of 4.0 to 5.2. You can’t tell just by looking what your pH is, so testing is the only accurate way to adjust the pH of your soil. You can lower your soil pH with Espoma Soil Acidifier or raise your pH with Espoma Garden Lime.

Espoma Soil Acidifier, 6 lb.

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Espoma Garden Lime, 6.75 lb.

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Planting & Spacing

Blueberries are best planted in early spring or late fall. Choose two- to three- year-old plants in the nursery. It may take a few more years for a good harvest, but if the plant is too old, it may suffer from transplant shock.

Planting more than one blueberry plant will increase production so it’s wise to plant a few. While blueberries are self-fertile (they can pollinate themselves), they prefer to have a buddy to pollinate with. Make sure that you leave at least six feet between plants and eight to ten feet between rows.

Choose a space that is in full sun most of the day and sheltered from harsh, dry winds. Blueberries have shallow roots so they need to be watered consistently, but they don’t like wet feet. Make sure you have good drainage wherever you choose to plant.

Prepare the planting space by digging a hole twice the size of the potted plant and fill the bottom of the hole with a layer of peat moss or sawdust. Place the plant into the hole, spreading the roots out, and pack with a rich potting soil like G&B Raised Bed and Potting Mix .

Fertilizer

Wait to fertilize your plants in the first year as the roots are sensitive to salt. If you can’t wait, make sure to use a balanced fertilizer like Down to Earth Premium Acid Mix Fertilizer. If the leaves turn yellow, it probably means the plant isn’t getting enough iron. You can usually fix this problem because the pH is too high (too alkaline).

Down to Earth Premium Acid Mix Fertilizer 25lb

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After the first year, a good plan is to fertilize in early spring and just after pruning with an acid-lover fertilizer like Lilly Miller 10-5-4 Rhododendron, Evergreen & Azalea Food. Even though it doesn’t say “blueberry” on the bag, it’s a great choice for feeding your bushes.

Harvest

Blueberry Blooms on Bush - Growing Blueberries Blog

While it’s painful to do, the best option is to remove all of the flowers for the first two years you have it and let the plant focus on growing and establishing its roots. After that, you should be able to harvest something each year. Of course, that is, if the birds don’t get them first. Make sure you drape some bird netting over your bushes or you might be surprised to come out one morning and find your bushes picked clean.

Do not wash your blueberries until you are ready to eat them. The natural coating on them will help avoid mold. Of course, blueberries freeze exceptionally well. Extend your harvest season by choosing early, mid, and late varieties.

Pruning

Pruning is important for production. Do not prune your blueberry bushes for the first four years. When you are ready to prune, choose late winter to early spring, first cutting dead, broken, or weak shoots. Use a strong, sharp hand pruner like the Felco #8 hand pruner Make clean cuts to avoid disease.

With highbush, remove wood that is more than six years old or is touching the ground. For lowbush (or wild), cut all stems to ground level, forcing the bush to spread. Your blueberries will not produce much at all the following year…another reason to plant more bushes and prune half of them every two years.

So grab your spade and a bit of soil, dig a big hole, and drop in a few blueberry bushes this year. While you may have to wait for the payoff, there is nothing as sweet as picking those little blue gems in your own backyard and popping them in your mouth.

 


We would love to see your planting projects, use #mywilcolife on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag Wilco Stores.


ROBYN ROGERS, THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG IS LOCATED ON THE KITSAP PENINSULA IN WASHINGTON AND HER ADVICE IS CONSISTENT WITH THE CLIMATE THERE.