We love our blueberry bushes…especially this time of year when they’re busting with berries. Britt and I love how having them teaches our girls where food comes from…beyond from a carton at the grocery store. We love the daily family-berry-picking sessions. We love casually snacking on them while we’re playing or working outside. We all love the amazing desserts Britt fixes with them. I love having a shrub in our yard that offers more than just its looks. And we also love that blueberries are really good for you…high in anti-oxidants…so they’re also very trendy!
But growing blueberries isn’t without its challenges. Although this post won’t be an exhaustive explanation of how to grow blueberries at home, it will hopefully give you a leg up when trying.
Pick the Right PlantS (Yes…Plural)
I grow blueberries, but I’m no horticulturist…so much of this section is simply going to be words I’ve been told or read…i.e., I don’t really understand them all. That said, it’s my understanding that there are several different groups or species of blueberries: highbush, lowbush, hybrids (or half-high…clever), and rabbiteye. There are a ton of varieties or cultivars of each…all grown for fairly specific growing requirements…and all having varied plant and fruit characteristics.
I mention all of this because when you pick which blueberry bushes to plant in your yard, it is best that you pick 2-3 different varieties or cultivars within the same species. This aids in cross-pollination…which promotes flower production…which results in more berries…which is most likely the point of your having blueberry bushes to begin with. I understand that cross-pollination can’t happen between species…but I’m not certain why having multiple cultivars or varieties of the same species helps…but I’m trusting the pros on this one.
Lastly, you’ll want to read the labels and pick the right plants that suit your region, the space you plan to grow them, and your other berry desires. But if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask one of the gritty-handed nursery employees – that’s largely why they’re there and they typically love to talk about plants.
Pick the Right Spot & Amend the Soil As Needed
You need to make sure to plant your blueberry bushes in the right spot…with:
- Full sun (at least ¾ of the day)
- Well-drained soil so their roots won’t rot, and…
- A good amount of organic material
They also love acidic soil…which is great for me, since our red Georgia clay is highly acidic. If your soil is neutral or slightly alkaline, you can add peat or sulphur to bring the pH down (making it more acidic). But if your soil is highly alkaline, it may not be worth the trouble giving your blueberries what they need. Instead, you might want to try blackberries…which like alkaline soil.
Again, you’ll also want to read the label to see how you should space your plants…because different types require different spacing. For example: lowbush can be planted closer together (2-3 feet); highbush should be planted farther apart (5-7 feet); and rabbiteye, even farther apart (15 feet). Regardless of how you space them, you’ll want to plant them in the same vicinity so that the bees can more effectively do their job as pollinators.
Lastly, you can give your blueberries a boost of fertilizer in early spring and perhaps again in late June. Since they like acidic soil, you could use an azalea or holly fertilizer or one that reads 5-3-4 or 10-5-5. If these #s are Greek to you, go back to my “Fertilizing Basics: The ABCs and NPKs of Fertilizing” post to get a quick lesson in chemistry.
Beware of Birds
The first year we started to get a decent amount of berries from our 6 blueberry bushes we were foiled by those pesky birds. They always seemed to get to the ripe berries before we did. So the next year we fully netted our blueberry hedge. It wasn’t very pretty…but we did get a good amount of berries that year. The last couple of years, however, I didn’t make the time to put out the bird netting…but for some reason the birds haven’t been interested in our blueberries. Go figure. But I’m good with that.
We purchased our bird netting from our local nursery…but as with most things, you can find options online as well. Click here or on the picture to the right to see some bird netting by Dalen Gardeneer that’s similar to what we’ve used.
Prune After Established
Except for the occasional errant branch that sticks out into your walking path or any other broken or diseased branches, you don’t want to prune your blueberry bushes for the first 3 years. But once established, you’ll want to heavily prune your blueberries annually…in the winter. Doing so will result in healthier plants and a more prolific harvest. (Note, for the first two years, to encourage plant and root growth, you will want to strip off the fruit buds.)
Here are a few rules of thumb when pruning your blueberry bushes:
- Cut out all dead or diseased (discolored leaves) branches.
- Remove the wimpy lower growth at the base.
- Then prune about 1/3 to 1/2 of the remaining wood…focusing on the older branches, branches that cross each other and opening up the interior of the plant…which will let in air and sun.
Although blueberry bushes need to be planted in well-drained soil so that their roots don’t rot, being shallow rooted they need more water than the average plant…or even the average fruit. That said, a couple of deep waterings (1-2 inches a week) is better than many shallow waterings. This will allow the water to sink deep into the soil and then rise to the surface over time.
Don’t make plans to make a blueberry pie with your homegrown berries if you just put your plants in the ground this year. If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It takes a good 4 to 6 years to start getting a healthy yield of berries…so you have to be patient. This is also why you might want to go ahead and start out with larger plants (i.e., older)…it will speed up the time you’ll be able to serve that blueberry pie.
Speaking of blueberry pie, make sure to check back on RYGblog tomorrow for a post Britt’s doing on Blueberry Spice Pie. It will be a great way to celebrate the Fourth!
There you have it…what I know about growing blueberries. I hope you found it helpful.
Oh…and by the way, if you like the small lime green collander Littlest One is collecting the blueberries in…click here to get one for yourself. Britt loves how it adds a bit of nostalgia to our picking efforts. Me…I’m good with just about anything…and my favorite is hand to mouth!