Blueberries are easy and rewarding to grow and with a few growing tips, it won’t be long before you can produce a bountiful harvest of blueberries! Growing your own blueberry bushes make a wonderful addition to the productive edible home garden and the many varieties of blueberries mean they can be grown across different climates. Find out how to grow blueberries at home with this blueberry growing guide covering planting, caring and harvesting of blueberries.
Considered a superfood, blueberries are full of antioxidants, they’re high in vitamin C, vitamin A and fibre. And buying them from the grocery store can be expensive. So they make an excellent choice for growing at home.
Three Varieties of Blueberry Bushes
There are three main varieties of blueberry bushes (genus Vaccinium), know as Highbush, Lowbush and Rabbiteye. Lowbush is the blueberry that grows wild in North America from where the blueberry bush originated. While Highbush varieties can be further categorized into Southern Highbush and Northern Highbush.
From these varieties, there have been many cultivators bred. There is likely to be one just perfect for your climate. Local nurseries and garden centers stock the varieties that do best in your local area. That’s because some blueberries are more drought tolerant than others, some are more cold hardy and others still are self-fertile while others require two plants to ensure pollination for fruit.
Although many blueberries these days are bred to be self-fertile, many growers still recommend having at least two blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time to cross-pollinate and provide you with a bigger harvest. And two bushes to harvest berries from is better than one – you’ll have more blueberries, yum!
Blueberries can be evergreen or deciduous bushes. The deciduous bush will put on a very pretty fall display of colour before dropping its leaves for the winter.
There are also a number of blueberry varieties that are not farmed commercially due to their delicate fruit or the sensitive nature of the plant. They do, however, produce a very tasty blueberry fruit and the good news is they are available to the home grower.
They include the following varieties:
How Big Do Blueberries Grow
Lowbush blueberries are a low growing bush ranging from 4-24 inches (10-60cm) tall by 1-2 feet (30-60cm) wide, depending on the variety.
Highbush blueberries grow 3-6 feet (90cm-1.8mtrs) tall and some commercially grown blueberries can even grow up to 12 ft (3.6mtrs).
Ideal Growing Conditions For Blueberries
Although there are many different blueberry cultivators, there are also many similarities to the growing conditions blueberries prefer.
Blueberries love full sun but they will grow in partial shade. At least 6-8 hours of sunlight is required for optimum growth, health and blueberry fruit production.
Blueberry Soil Requirements
For blueberries to thrive, they need acidic soil, with a pH of 4.0-5.5. You can test your soil with this soil tester here. The acidity of the soil required is similar to that of Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons.
If the pH of the soil is too high for your blueberry bush, you can adjust the soil with an organic soil acidifier here. Free alternatives to create more acid soil are the addition of spent coffee grounds and pine needles.
Soil should also be free draining.
Water blueberries so the soil is moist but can freely drain away. Blueberries do best with consistent watering, so they do well with a drip system irrigation in order to provide regular moisture.
Fertilizing Blueberry Bushes
Blueberry bushes will love fertilizing in early spring, again when fruit sets and in fall. You can use any acid-loving fertilizer, for example, those formulated for Azaleas, or you can use one especially for blueberries like this one here.
How to Grow Blueberries in a Pot or Container
Because blueberries grow best in acidic soil, growing them in pots and containers is a great idea. Managing the acidity in the soil as well as ensuring excellent drainage can be achieved really well in pots and containers.
And there are other benefits to growing blueberries in containers. If you live in a small space then you can maximize the number of food growing plants with pots on a porch or patio.
Choose a pot at least 20 inches (50 cm) wide with enough depth (height of the pot) to give the blueberry bush plenty of room to grow. A large pot will also allow for enough soil to help protect the blueberry plants roots from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
Choose an acidic potting mix, designed for Azaleas. Plant the blueberry bush to the original pot level and mulch well with pine needles, or other organic mulch, to protect the plant’s roots and keep the soil moist.
How to Plant Blueberry Bushes in the Ground
You can grow blueberries directly in the ground. Blueberry bushes are best planted in early spring or fall. Attention to the soil will ensure a happy plant.
Soil can be mounded up to help provide good drainage which is particularly important for growing blueberries. This is technique is known as ‘hilling’ the soil and simply means to raise the soil level. You can do this in mounds 12-18” (30-45cm) high. Then plant the blueberry into the mound up to the same level as the original level of the pot.
Keep the blueberry bush free from weeds and mulch with pine needles, or other organic mulch, around the bush to help retain soil moisture.
Blueberry Bush Plant Spacing
How far apart you plant blueberry bushes will depend on the blueberry variety but generally plant blueberry bushes 6 ft (2.4m) apart.
For a hedge of blueberries, bushes can be planted 2-2.4 ft (60cm-75cm) apart. Blueberries make an excellent edible hedge.
How Long Does It Take For A Blueberry Bush To Bear Fruit?
It takes around 3 years for blueberries to start producing fruit. At 3 years the blueberry bush will produce a small number of berries and by 5-6 years the bush will reach maturity to produce a great harvest. Blueberry bushes will then continue to fruit for 40-50 years.
At maturity, when the blueberry bush is 6 years old, one plant can yield 4.5-15 pounds (2-7kilos) of fruit per season. Plenty of fruit to make pies or jam!
As a guideline, plant two blueberry bushes per person to be well supplied in blueberries for the season. I know this sounds like a lot of blueberry bushes for one garden, after all, a family of 4 would need 8 plants and gardening on a suburban block, as I do, space might be limited. So start with just one or two plants and then decide if you want to plant more. Even two blueberry bushes per household will provide an indulgent blueberry treat.
When Do Blueberries Fruit?
Generally, small white bell-shaped flowers form in spring and fruit develops soon after for a summer harvest. However, there are many cultivators of blueberries providing early, mid and late-season harvest varieties. You can plant one of each variety and extend your harvest season by many months.
Flowers turn into small green fruit that ripen to reddish-purple and then blue. The blueberry is covered in a powdery white coating called the bloom. This coating helps to protect the fruit. The bloom provides a longer shelf life once the blueberry is picked but in my household, this is not a problem as berries are eaten straight off the bushes!
Related reading: Why Blueberry Bush Flowers But No Fruit (With Solutions)
When blueberries have fully ripened, you can begin harvesting them. Look for fully developed color and then do a taste test of a blueberry or two. If they taste too sour, leave the remaining blueberries on the bush for a few days to sweeten up and develop delicious flavor.
To collect your harvest of blueberries, gently twist the fruit off the branch. When fruit is ready, they should come away easily.
Blueberries can be stored in the fridge to be eaten within the next few days or freeze them to store a larger harvest. Do this by laying blueberries on trays lined with baking paper, freeze them on the trays before transferring the frozen blueberries to freezer bags.
If you’re looking for ways to use blueberries, have a look at this delicious Blueberry Almond Cake recipe.
How And When To Prune A Blueberry
In the first few years, you won’t need to prune your blueberry bush, except if you notice any dead or diseased branches. Simply remove these.
Once the plant is 3-4 years old, pruning is required to remove unproductive canes and improve the blueberry fruit harvest.
For the best results, pruning should be done in late winter or early spring.
If you wait for the bush to start budding, you’ll be able to see any canes that don’t produce fruit buds and they are the ones to remove. Cut them back to the base of the plant.
As blueberry bushes mature, it’s ideal to remove a few branches from the middle of the bush to ensure adequate light reaches the rest of the bush and fruit will be able to ripen. Remove branches that cross.
Should I Start Blueberries From Seed or Purchase an Established Plant?
Yes, you can grow blueberries from seed, however, given they take 5-6 years to reach maturity, I would recommend purchasing a plant that is already 2-3 years old if possible. And a 3-year-old blueberry bush will start bearing fruit at this time so you can enjoy harvesting fruit sooner.
Blueberry bushes are also grown from cuttings, which is something you can do with your own established plants.
Pests And Problems
Many blueberries varieties are bred with improved resistance to disease. The biggest problem will generally be birds wanting to eat your harvest of blueberries. The easiest solution here is to use a bird net over the blueberry bush well before the fruit ripens.
You can purchase bird netting here.
Blueberries are perfect for the home gardener and an excellent addition to the edible garden. And once you grow one blueberry bush, you’ll want to add to your collection to prolong the growing season and your harvest of delicious blueberries. So why not pay a visit to your local garden center and find the perfect blueberry variety for your garden?
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