Blueberries are delicious fruits filled with antioxidants that are a favorite for many to eat alone, included in salads, or incorporated in various recipes for a sweet twist. The ease at which blueberry bushes grow makes them a popular addition to home gardens. Whether you’re looking to use bushes for landscaping or to decorate your patio, continue reading for tips on how to grow blueberries.
There are several main types of blueberries that have individual cultivars within them. These cultivars exist due to experiments in pollination to create hybrids.
Many grocery stores carry blueberries year-round because cultivated blueberries are bred for additional benefits. These benefits could be higher yields or resistance to warm temperatures and insects.
- Growing Blueberry Varieties
- How to Grow Blueberries
- Caring for Your Blueberry Plant
- Companion Planting for Blueberries
- Caring for Your Blueberry Bush Through the Year
Growing Blueberry Varieties
Most hybrid blueberry plants produce large firm fruits to survive shipments or allow them to ripen mid-season. This latter purpose allows farmers to sell blueberries when fresh, though usually at the cost of their flavor.
Growing blueberry bushes enables you to master growing outside of the growing season and harvest the perfect fruits for your culinary needs.
Blueberries have several cultivars to choose from, whether growing blueberries in containers or in the garden. The four main types are highbush, lowbush, half-high, and rabbiteye. Each varies in size, and breeders cultivate new types for temperature resistance or higher yields.
We recommend basing the variety you select on your climate and soil conditions, like when considering the best time to plant strawberry seeds and other fruit. Contact a local farmer or nursery for advice on which cultivars to grow in your area based on these factors.
How to Grow Blueberries
Blueberry plants are slow-to-moderate growers, so while you can follow the way to grow blueberries from seed, note that growing from seeds means waiting at least three years before receiving any fruit.
Begin by planting bare-root plants around two to three years old in early spring. Plants older than this are more likely to suffer from transplant shock, affecting their harvest. If you plan on uprooting and moving any bushes, you need to transplant blueberry bushes in the springtime when no frost remains on the ground.
Types of Blueberry Bushes
There are several tasty types of blueberries, the most common being Bluecrop, a kind of highbush blueberry that is firm and a little tart, and great for baking, freezing, or using in preserves.
When selecting varieties to grow or wondering how long do blueberries take to grow, it’s important to remember that blueberry varieties tend to grow moderately slowly.
Still, when you grow blueberries and blackberries at home, the variety should be chosen for climate, soil, taste preference, and space limitations if growing indoors.
Rabbiteye varieties are widespread across the southern portion of the United States, and their popularity comes from being one of the insect-resistant varieties.
Most types mature in ten years and produce the typical sweet-tasting blueberry you’d expect.
Half-bush blueberries are the result of hybrid breeding between high and lowbush varieties to improve cold tolerance and fruit size while altering the overall size of the shrub.
Southern highbush blueberries do not require temperatures as low as other varieties and respond to warm temperatures by starting to bloom earlier in spring.
Unfortunately, this openness to warmer temperatures makes Southern highbush more susceptible to damage by lingering spring frosts.
Northern highbush offers large yields once they reach maturity. Within Northern highbush, other more specific varieties vary based on flavor, size, and resistance to disease and insects.
Highbush blueberries are typically more resistant to diseases than other varieties. This resistance and self-fertile properties make highbush varieties a popular choice for growers, commercial or personal.
To help cross-pollination, plant more than one type of blueberry in your garden. While blueberries are self-fertile, meaning they do not require the aid of outside pollinators, adding a variety of cultivars increases the chance of larger fruits and better yields.
Soil Conditions for Growing Blueberries
Planting blueberries starts with the correct location. Dig a planting hole in the best place to plant blueberries – where your plant receives full sun and the soil drains well.
Blueberries do well in soil rich with organic matter, and adding peat moss helps drainage by keeping the ground loose and allowing the soil to hold nutrients better.
Peat moss also helps adjust the soil pH by making it more acidic. Like other acid-loving plants, blueberries enjoy acidic soil (4.0 to 5.2) so adding peat moss helps lower the soil pH.
Add garden sulfur to lower the pH, too. Consult the local Cooperative Extension office or garden center or have your soil tested to know exactly how much sulfur is required.
If your home garden has heavy clay soil, you may want to grow your blueberries in raised beds where you fully control the soil type.
Spacing Blueberry Plants
Whether you are planting blueberries in outdoor beds directly in the ground or raised beds for more control, spacing is crucial to the health of your plants.
When you are planting more than one blueberry plant, prepare holes in the soil four to five feet apart. If you are planting rows, leave at least nine to ten feet of space between each row for foot traffic and harvesting.
After digging the planting hole for bare-root plants, spread the root system out into the hole, then cover it with soil. When filling, ensure the root ball is no more than ½ inch below the surface.
Unlike other berry plants like raspberries, blueberries do not require any support structure, so adding a cage or trellis is unnecessary.
Caring for Your Blueberry Plant
To maintain the moisture in your soil, add a layer of mulch after planting your blueberry bushes. Mulch also helps regulate the temperature of your soil and lessens the appearance of weeds in your garden, creating less maintenance work in the future.
Mulch made of sawdust, wood chips, or pine needles helps with soil acidity, essential for blueberries and companion plants that enjoy acidic soil.
Water your soil once a week to provide the root system with at least two inches of water weekly or more during dry spells.
The Right Temperature for Growing Blueberries
Optimal temperatures for blueberries vary depending on the species, but generally, temperatures between 35 and 55°F provide growing blueberries with the necessary cold hours for promotion growth.
Highbush varieties like northern highbush blueberries do well in humid air and cold winters, while southern highbush blueberries survive temperatures as low as -30°F.
Rabbiteye blueberries are often damaged when exposed to temperatures below 0°F. As with all blueberries, cold tolerance decreases as the swell of the flower bud progresses.
Avoid fertilizing blueberries during their first year, as your newly planted roots need time to establish in the soil. The root system is sensitive after planting, and adding fertilizer too soon may affect your plant’s growth.
Begin feeding your plants an organic blueberry bush fertilizer once the flower buds open and again when berries begin to form. Ammonium sulfate is a standard fertilizer for blueberries, but any fertilizer for acid-loving plants works, including blueberries and azaleas.
How to Grow Blueberries in Containers
If you are hoping to grow blueberries in containers or pots, you’re in luck as they are an easy berry to grow in pots. Growing in pots is an excellent alternative if the soil conditions in your outdoor garden are not adequate for blueberry growth.
When planting in containers or pots, add only one plant per container to allow each blueberry bush adequate room to grow and for ease of harvest. Are huckleberries and blueberries the same thing? While they are related, they are not the same fruit.
We recommend using an unglazed clay pot at least 18 inches deep with holes for drainage. Unglazed clay pots work well as they allow moisture in the soil to escape through the walls.
Plant a smaller variety of blueberry, such as a half-high variety. The size of half-high types makes them ideal for growing in pots.
When growing blueberries in containers, plant them an inch deeper than their depth from their nursery pot.
How Long do Blueberries Take to Grow?
Blueberries are slow growers, and if you watch their progress over the years, there won’t be many signs of growth at first.
On average, blueberries take about ten years to reach their full mature size, but your patience is rewarded with a plant that lives for a long time.
Expect your first harvest two to three years after planting, but this early harvest is nothing compared to the larger yields coming after year five.
You can usually expect to harvest blueberries in the summer between June and August of their fifth or sixth year.
Due to their slow-to-moderate growth rate, you may be able to harvest a small batch during the third year after planting; however, don’t expect an entire harvest until year six.
The best way to ensure your blueberries are ready for harvest is to taste them.
After turning blue, allow your berries to remain on the plant for at least a week to allow them to become even sweeter and let ripe blueberries come off the stem with a gentle pull.
Pruning Your Blueberries
To help with fruiting, it’s best to perform regular maintenance on your plants to keep them producing at their best.
For the first two years after you plant your blueberry bushes, use shears to remove any flowers that start to grow. Removing flowers keeps your plant growing bigger and more healthy toward harvest.
In the third year, as you are not harvesting many berries, leave any flowers that grow intact.
In the fourth year, the way to prune blueberries is to start in early spring or late winter while they are dormant. To encourage new growth, prune about ⅓ of the plant using sharp garden shears.
Remove any dead, broken, or weak branches where they connect to the main stem. Removing these extra branches allows sunlight to reach the middle of the plant without being obscured by unnecessary branches.
After the fourth year, focus all pruning on removing the oldest branches or branches growing too long or thin.
Pests and Diseases for Blueberry Plants
Aside from insects and birds attacking your bushes, there are several diseases, usually fungal, that threaten the life of your plants.
Anthracnose and botrytis are fungal diseases that thrive in damp conditions, so trimming unnecessary branches to provide good air circulation helps keep your plant from being damp.
These diseases affect the developing berries and cause them to wither or grow spores.
Cankers on blueberry plants take on the appearance of lesions on the stems of your shrubs. They begin as small and red but grow more prominent with time, and deep cracks form on the stems.
Cankers are fungal diseases, but fungicides do not resolve the issue. Use sterilized pruners to clip back the bushes 6 to 8 inches below the lowest spotted signs of a stem disease to save your plant.
Phomopsis twig blight is a canker disease for blueberries that can potentially decrease yields for your plants.
Twig blight causes premature ripening of the fruit, the death of stems or rotted fruit. During the dormant season, prune and destroy any infected twigs showing cankers.
Mummy berry is another fungus disease among the more severe conditions for blueberries. The first sign your plant is infected is the blackening of flower clusters that soon die.
Fruit that infected plants produce becomes tan-colored and hard, looking like mummified blueberries.
Because these diseases are fungal, spores linger and infect other blossoms or plants in the area. To prevent the spread of fungal infections, avoid using overhead irrigation systems to avoid splash from other plants spreading the pathogen.
Always sanitize your shears and burn infected branches or stems when removing infected branches.
Companion Planting for Blueberries
When growing blueberries, you help your bushes thrive by adding beneficial plants to your garden.
Companion plants for blueberries enjoy acidic soil just like blueberries do, and adding ground cover crops before planting blueberries improves the yield of your blueberry patch.
Cover crops work best for your blueberries when sown before planting your blueberries in the garden. They improve soil quality by including organic material. Some great cover crops include grasses, grains, and legumes.
The best companion plant for your blueberry bush is a rhododendron because it thrives in acidic soil and full sun. Rhododendrons add ornamental value to your garden and create shade for blueberry plants.
Herbs are good companions to pair with your blueberry bushes, specifically thyme and basil.
Thyme and basil enjoy moderately acidic soil but lack the height of rhododendron. Other acidic plants include yew, grape hyacinth, and pine trees. Gather pine needles from pine trees to use as organic mulch.
Caring for Your Blueberry Bush Through the Year
Your work isn’t done after the fifth or sixth year, once your blueberry bush is producing a hearty amount of fruits for you to harvest.
To ensure you have good harvests each summer, take proper care of your blueberry bush during its off-seasons so that each July brings bounty.
Warm Season Maintenance
Once your harvest is complete in July and you’ve begun work on including your blueberries in desserts as part of your reward, spend the rest of the summer months making amendments to your blueberry’s soil.
Soil amendments may involve correcting any issues you noticed in the soil during the growing season or regular maintenance to improve its conditions or properties.
Typically this involves adding compost or manure, but blueberries are not fond of these, so we suggest adding peat moss to keep the soil loose.
Once fall arrives and your blueberry leaves turn from green to crimson and orange, add layers of winter protection.
Blueberry bushes are dormant in winter and are generally hardy enough to handle the coldest conditions in their respective hardiness zones.
If your blueberries grow in pots or containers, cover them with frost blankets to minimize wind chills. For bushes growing outdoors, add a layer of mulch around them before the temperature drops too much.
Depending on your area, as winter approaches, you may want to add a protective barrier between your bushes and any wildlife that may threaten your plants.
As spring advances and the coldest winter weather has passed, prune your blueberry bushes before new growth comes with spring. Cut the longest branches or branches that may have died; this promotes healthy new growth.
In April and May, as temperatures rise, if you are looking to expand your blueberry garden, this is the time to plant new bushes.
In May and June, reapply mulch to your bushes to maintain soil moisture as temperatures rise for the warm season and you head into your next month of harvesting.
Whether it’s your first time growing blueberries or you’re brushing up before planting another batch, keep our tips in mind for a successful summer harvest and you’ll be enjoying the bounty of sweet blue fruits in no time.
We hope you found our guide on how to grow blueberries helpful and that it inspires you to begin planting your blueberry patch.
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