Blueberries are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. These delicious fruits are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber. They are perfect for healthy snacks, making into preserves and pies, or canning and freezing for winter. Growing your own plants is easy provided you keep a few things in mind while selecting your plants and placing them in the right location.
There are several types of blueberry plants: highbush, half-high, lowbush, and rabbiteye. Highbush blueberries reach five to six feet tall and will spread an equal amount (zones 4-8).
Here in North Carolina we grow highbush blueberries. But if you are south of this area, or if you live in the west, you’ll want to grow rabbiteye blueberry plants (zones 6-9). These will reach 15 to 18 feet tall and spread five or six feet. Rabbiteye plants are known for their heat and drought tolerance. In New England, lowbush blueberries predominate. These are the smaller “wild blueberries,” that reach one to three feet high with a five to eight foot spread (zones 3-8) and are tolerant of colder climates.
For maximum fruit production, site your plants in full sun. A key requirement for happy blueberry plants is a low soil pH, meaning it should be on the acidic side. For the best results obtain a soil analysis from your local County Extension Service. Highbush and lowbush blueberries need a very acid soil (pH 4.0 to 5.0) that drains freely and is high in organic matter. Rabbiteye plants will tolerate a slightly higher pH (5.5).
If necessary, increase the soil acidity before planting by incorporating sulfur based on the results of your soil test. However, sulfur has both fungicidal and insecticidal properties and can detrimentally affect soil biology if overused. I prefer well-rotted organic matter, such as peat moss, pine bark, pine needles, oak leaves, or well-composted sawdust. If drainage is poor in the area, consider planting them in a raised bed or even in containers. If the soil is well managed with plenty of organic amendments supplemental fertilizers are usually not necessary. Feed your blueberry plants in the spring by applying one pound of bloodmeal on top of the mulch for every 10 feet of row. This will provide them with adequate nitrogen for the season.
For best results plant blueberries in spring or fall. Highbush, half-high, and lowbush plants should be planted about five feet apart in a row, with eight feet between rows. Plant rabbiteye bushes eight feet apart in a row, with eight to ten feet between rows. Make sure to mulch your plants with three or four inches of acidic organic mulch such as partially rotted leaves or rotted pine needles. Remove and compost the mulch each fall, replacing it with a new layer.
For better production and yield, use several varieties of blueberries for cross-pollination. Start with at least two different varieties, three if possible, to ensure sufficient pollination and fruit set. A good rule of thumb is to plant two plants per family member. To extend the harvest season, consider planting early, midseason and later varieties, and you’ll be picking fresh blueberries for weeks.
For example, plant the cultivar ‘Cabot’ with ‘Greenfield’. Both are reliable and productive cultivars. Other great cultivars include: ‘Northblue’ which yields well even on small bushes, and is tough and cold hardy. This high-yielding hybrid cross of highbush and lowbush plants only reaches a height of two feet. ‘Northsky’ is a suitable pollinator for ‘Northblue’.
Blueberries are easy to grow, require little care and are seldom bothered by pests. But keep in mind that our feathered friends often get to the harvest before you do! A good solution is to secure netting around the plants well before the berries begin to ripen.
Besides bearing delicious fruit, blueberries are also quite ornamental in the landscape. Most blueberry plants show beautiful reddish or reddish-orange fall foliage. And, they are increasingly popular with the trend towards “edible landscapes.”
For more information:
Find a County Extension Agent in your area