Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow at home. They are pretty shrubs in all seasons and virtually pest free. The early spring, urn shaped flowers are white touched with pale pink. The attractive fruit ages from pale green to pink to deep purple blue in the summer. The fall foliage color is a spectacular red shaded with orange and gold. If you don’t have room for a blueberry patch in your yard, they are attractive enough to be incorporated into a shrub border or a flower garden. They like plenty of sun but can take up to a half day’s shade, though fruit production will suffer. Here is everything you need to know about growing blueberries for yourself.
Choosing your Blueberry Plants
Blueberries are easy to grow as long as they their requirements are met. Failure to do so will be punished by sulking, declining health and eventual death. First of all choose blueberries that can tolerate our summer heat. Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei) and Southern Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) are best here. In recent years some other good heat tolerant varieties have been introduced. There are also a selection of varieties that are compact and even ideal for container gardening. There is a list of cultivars at the end of this article.
How Many Blueberry Plants Do I Need?
Most blueberries are not self-fertile. They need another blueberry to trade pollen with. Select at least two different cultivars; three is even better. Even self-fertile cultivars will produce better with another pollinator. Speaking of pollinators, Love your bees. There will be no blueberries without them. Stay away from insecticides. If you must use them on other plants in your yard, apply them when bees are not active and don’t use powdered insecticides. The bees gather it like pollen and take it home to the hive. You can also attract more bees to your yard with beautiful blooming flowers. Mason bee houses also attract the fruit loving, docile bee species that do more pollinating work than honey bees ever could.
Blueberries thrive in well drained very acidic soil with a PH of 4.5 to 5. Our soil is usually pretty acid here, but when you plant your shrubs it should be amended with about a gallon of peat and a cubic foot of pine bark fines per hole. If your soil is very heavy clay, consider making a raised bed or mounding up the soil above the clay. Blueberries are very shallow rooted so a bed need only be 6 to 8 inches deep. Mulch with pine bark or pine straw to further acidify the soil.
Blueberries require one to two inches of rain a week in order to form proper berries. If rainfall is not adequate, water your shrubs every 3 to 4 days, even after the berries have been harvested. This helps fortify the plant for the next year. Watering is usually not necessary after the shrubs lose their leaves in the winter.
Blueberries do not need a lot of fertilizer. Newly planted bushes should be fertilized about a month after planting. Established plants can be fertilized once a year in early spring, before the leaves appear. Use a fertilizer for high acid plants such as Holly Tone, or an azalea/ rhododendron fertilizer. Composted manures are less than ideal for blueberries as they can burn the roots and do not necessarily release nutrients when the plants need them.
There is no need to prune blueberries for the first 4 or 5 years. After about 6 years, start removing the oldest branches to encourage new growth. Thin out the center of the plant to let in light. Rabbiteyes get quite large eventually but can be kept at 5 to 6 feet for easy picking.
Blueberries start ripening here in June. There are early, mid and late season varieties to extend your season over many weeks. The berries should be picked when they are fully ripe, as they will not ripen further off the bush. They will be deep purple and drop off into your hand. If you have to tug on them they are not ready yet. Be sure to taste a few, just to make sure. Birds, squirrels and deer love blueberries too, so consider using bird netting when the berries start to turn color.
How to Freeze Blueberries
The berries freeze beautifully. To avoid freezing blueberries in a large chunk in a bag, just throw them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put them in the freezer. Once they frozen, then dump them in a freezer bag and take them out as needed for breakfasts, smoothies or desserts!
Some good Cultivars for the Raleigh Area
We have a wide selection of blueberry plants ready to go home to your garden! We have many varieties of good sized plants with blooms ready to produce blueberries for your this season. Below are some of our favorites.
O’Neal (Southern Highbush): Ripens Mid May to Mid June. Reaches 4 to 6 feet. Self Fertile
Duke: Ripens Late May to Mid June. Needs a pollinator
Reveille: Ripens Late May to Mid June Firm fruit keeps well. Needs a pollinator
Legacy: Ripens in June. Reaches 4 to 5 feet. Needs a pollinator.
Rabbiteye: These get big. Keep pruned to 5 to 6 feet
Premier: Ripens Mid June to Mid July Needs a pollinator.
Tifblue: Ripens July to Early August. Needs a pollinator.
Powderblue: Ripens Mid July to Late August. Needs a pollinator.
Tophat: Ripens in August. Dwarf variety reaching only 18 inches. Self fertile. Very prolific. Ideal for containers.
Peach Sorbet: Brazelberry brand dwarf. Perfect for containers.
Sunshine Blue: Ripens in July Semi dwarf variety reaching about 3 feet. Self fertile
Pink Lemonade: Ripens July to August. Reaches 4 to 5 feet. Self Fertile Pink Berries!