How to Grow Blueberries
Happy Independence Day my Gnomie Friends!
I hope all of you Americans get to enjoy a fun day with friends and family. I am up at the cabin with my family in Salmon Arm BC Canada enjoying a few relaxing days at the lake. I hope you have a safe and fun Independence Day!
Today we are talking about blueberries. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits and one of the few foods that my three year old daughter will eat an endless supply of. A couple of seasons ago I planted some blueberry bushes in my yard and they are yielding some great crops this year. Blueberries are easy to grow and have lovely foliage all the way from spring to fall. The colors of the leaves change with the seasons! Best of all, they produce tasty fruit. What’s not to love? Read on to learn how to grow blueberries in your garden.
What Kind Will You Grow?
The first thing you need to decide is what type of blueberry bush to plant. There are three main types:
1) Lowbush blueberry which grows best in Maine and Eastern Canada
2) Rabbiteye Blueberry which grows best in southern United States
3) Highbush blueberry which grows best in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Pacific Northwest of the United States.
You should choose the correct type of bush according to where you live. Knowing which hardiness zone you live in is crucial to in choosing the right type of bush to plant. Some blueberries need a specific number of cold hours each winter to regulate their growth and if they don’t experience enough cold the flower buds may not open in the spring. In general, the blueberry plants for sale at your local garden center should do well in your area but make sure you do a little research on your hardy zone and use the guidelines above about the three types of blueberry bushes when selecting your plants. Pick two or three different varieties for cross pollination to occur. Most blueberry bushes will need another variety nearby to bear a lot of fruit and having more than one variety will extend your growing season.
How Do You Plant Them?
Once you have selected your plants its time to plant them. In cool climates plant blueberries in the late winter or early spring and late fall in mild climates. Dig holes that are 18 inches deep and wide, add compost to the soil and mix thoroughly. Then, place plants inside the holes. Apply a thick layer of mulch around the plant.
Blueberries need a lot of sunlight so make sure you plant them in an area that receives direct sunlight for 6-8 hours a day. Blueberries are acid lovers. You need to make the soil where you plant your blueberry bushes is very acidic. You can have your soil tested to check the PH. An easy way to make your soil more acidic is to add coffee grounds to your soil. Check out my post on ways to use coffee in the garden for more ideas.
When Should You Fertilize?
Once a year give your plants a nitrogen fertilizer. The first year use a watered down nitrogen to prevent the plant’s shallow roots from burning. After that, fertilize with ammonium sulfate in March or April. Apply 4 oz. of ammonium sulfate in the second year, 5 oz. in the third year. 6 oz. in the fourth year until year 6 when you will apply 8oz annually.
A mature blueberry plant will produce 7-10 lbs. of fruit every year. Berries turn blue 3-4 days before they are at maximum sweetness and flavor so let them stay on the branches until a few berries begin to fall from the bush. Then you know it’s time to harvest! If placed immediately in the refrigerator they will store well for 7-10 days. They can also be put directly into the freezer and made into jam or pies at a later date. Or, use them in one of my favorite cocktails: Blueberry Mint Mojitos
Yes, You Can Plant Blueberry Bushes in Containers
Blueberries do very well as container plants. This is great if you want to have the flexibility to move them around the garden or don’t want to dig those giant 18” deep holes. Because blueberries are acid lovers you can amend the soil in the container so that it is super acidic. You can made the soil very friendly for your blueberries without compromising the soil for other plants in the garden that don’t need acidic soil. Plant your blueberries in a container at least 18” wide.
How to Prune
Pruning blueberries is slightly different than pruning fruit trees though the principles are similar. In order to get more fruit you need to cut off branches. Since blueberries are fairly slow growing wait until the plant is more than two years old in order to for the roots to get established. You want to prune the blueberries when the fruit buds are showing. Usually this is in mid- late winter. First trim off any dead branches. You want the middle of the bush to have good circulation. if it’s too compacted the berries in the center won’t receive much light and won’t ripen well. Remove any branches in the middle that don’t have any new fruit buds. There is no point in keeping any branches that won’t produce fruit. Each fruit bud will produce plenty of berries. Trim any branches that are long and leggy with no buds until the end. The goal is to keep the branches with lots of new red growth and fruit buds you also want to cut off any small shoots coming up at the very base of the plant to encourage upright growth
After you have pruned your plant add some new mulch and fertilizer and then a layer of manure.
Are you growing blueberries this season? Tell me your favorite tips and tricks!