Growing blueberries takes planning, but it pays off with yummy, good-for-you
fruits. Learn how to grow juicy, delicious berries no matter where you live.
Growing blueberries has become popular in home gardens. They can be challenging
to grow, but you'll be successful if you meet their needs. Follow our tips to
growing lush, juicy blueberries that beat the store-bought stuff.
Soil is one of the biggest factors in growing
blueberries. Blueberries require a soil that is acidic, with a pH
between 4.5 and 5.0. Test your soil first so you know exactly what type
of amendments are needed and in what amounts. Test again after you've
made adjustments. Blueberries need well-drained soil rich with organic
Blueberries should be grown in full sun.
Choose the Right Blueberry Bush
Some people call them blueberry trees, but
blueberry plants grow as bushes. Variations of wild North American
natives can grow in a wide variety of climates and conditions.
When you grow blueberries, begin by choosing the
right plant. Consider its chill hours, the number of hours it takes for
plants to stay in cold dormancy below 45 degrees F; how cold/heat
tolerant it is; how you want to use the berries (fresh, baking,
landscaping, etc.); and how many days it takes to set and mature fruit.
Although most people grow blueberries for the
fruits, the bushes are terrific landscape plants with outstanding red
fall leaf color.
Here are the four basic types of blueberry shrubs,
with many choices within each type:
Vaccinium corymbosum plants grow 4 to 12 feet tall
and wide, depending on the type. Many cultivated varieties accent
specific traits, such as how many days the fruits need to mature, size
of the fruits, and size of the mature bush. They're generally less
cold-hardy than lowbush blueberries but are more heat-tolerant.
Northern highbush blueberry plants grow best in
colder climates and need 800 to 1,000 chill hours. There are more than
100 named varieties, including 'Aurora', 'Bluecrop', 'Bluetta',
'Bluegold', 'Bluejay', 'Blueray', 'Chandler', 'Darrow', 'Draper',
'Duke', 'Elliott', 'Earliblue', 'Hardyblue', 'Jersey', 'Legacy',
'Liberty', 'Northland', 'Patriot', 'Reka', 'Rubel', 'Spartan', and
Southern highbush blueberry plants include breeding
from a blueberry species native to the southeast United States. They
need 150 to 800 chill hours to set fruits. Named varieties include
'Emerald', 'Jewel', 'Jubilee', 'Misty', 'Southmoon', 'Oneal',
'Sharpblue', 'Star', and 'Sunshine Blue'.
Vaccinium angustifolium species are native in the
northeastern United States. As their name implies, they're a short
groundcover plant that grows from underground rhizomes. They reach 6
inches to 2 feet tall and need 1,000 to 1,200 chill hours. Their petite
size makes them a good choice for containers. Named varieties include
'Brunswick', 'Burgundy', 'Ruby Carpet', and 'Top Hat'..
Vaccinium corymbosum x V. angustifolium plants are
exactly what they sound like: a cross of highbush and lowbush
blueberries. They're also called high-low blueberries. Half-high
blueberries are extremely cold-hardy and grow about 4 feet tall. They
need 1,000 to 1,200 chill hours. Named varieties include 'Bluegold',
'Chippewa', 'Northblue', 'Northcountry', 'Northsky', and 'Polaris'.
Vaccinium ashei plants are popular selections for
Southern gardens as they need few chill hours. They get their name
because the early fruits are whitish-pink, like the color of a rabbit's
eye. They're the largest and most vigorous of blueberry types, growing
15 feet tall and 10 feet wide or larger. Rabbiteye blueberries are more
heat- and drought-tolerant than other types and adapt to more soil pH
ranges. Named varieties include 'Brightwell', 'Briteblue', 'Climax',
'Delite', 'Garden Blue', 'Premier', 'Sharpblue', 'Tifblue', and
Buy two- to three-year-old blueberry plants from a
reputable nursery. Some varieties are self-pollinating, but many need a
different blueberry cultivar planted nearby for cross-pollination to
ensure a better harvest. It's a good idea to plant two different kinds
even with self-pollinating types.
Spacing between plants varies by type. Highbush
blueberries need 4 to 6 feet between plants. Lowbush types are spaced 1
to 2 feet apart. Plant half-high blueberries 3 to 4 feet apart.
Rabbiteye blueberries should be spaced 6 feet apart or closer if you
want them to form a hedge.
Blueberries have shallow root systems and need 1 to
3 inches of rain or water each week, enough to moisten the soil 12 to 16
inches deep throughout the growing season. It's best to water deeply
less frequently than to water often but lightly.
To conserve moisture and reduce weeds, mulch with a
4- to 6-inch-deep layer of pine needles, sawdust, composted leaves,
bark, or other organic materials. If you use sawdust or bark, apply
extra nitrogen fertilizer, because the mulch depletes the nitrogen in
Although you should avoid placing fertilizer in the
planting hole, blueberries can benefit from fertilizers suitable for
azaleas or rhododendrons. Apply in early spring according to package
directions in a circle 15 to 18 inches away from the base of the plant.
Or apply half in early spring and the rest four to six weeks later.
Organic gardeners can use cottonseed meal, which
has low pH and high nitrogen levels, bloodmeal, or well-composted
Blueberries should not be overfertilized, which can
lead to excess growth, or fertilized after spring. Increase the amount
of fertilizer used every year until the plant is four years old.
Blueberry bush care includes pruning. Hold off on
pruning the first two years, and -- as hard as this may seem -- pick off
all fruit blossoms. This allows the blueberry bush to put all of its
energies into new growth instead of fruit production.
In late winter, just before spring growth begins,
prune weak or dead branches. Make the cut where the branch meets a
Remove any lower limbs that might touch the ground
when bearing heavy fruit.
Check the center of the plant and remove vertical upshoots to allow more sunlight and air circulation to reach the center
of the plant. It also encourages the growth of side limbs that are
easier to reach.
Once plants are six years old, remove the oldest
few stems. Avoid overpruning or your harvest will be much lighter.
Mature blueberry plants should have a variety of healthy stems (also
called canes) varying in age from one to six years old.
Blueberries begin to produce fruit in their third
year (remember, you are removing the blossoms during the first two
years) and increase production every year until they're five years old.
They take eight to 10 years to mature.
Pick blueberries when they're fully ripe on the
plant; they don't ripen after picking. Watch the ripening fruit
carefully, and harvest berries one to two days after they begin to turn
blue. Not all of the fruits in each cluster ripen at the same pace, so
use care in moving off the ripe berries and leaving the immature ones.
Refrigerate blueberries immediately after picking
to keep them at their freshest. Keep the berries dry; to prevent mold,
don't wash them until immediately before eating.
Growing Blueberries in Containers
Many of the smallest varieties of blueberries
perform very well in containers, where it's easy to control the soil pH