Blueberry plants, or bushes, make a wonderful addition to the home garden. The many varieties of blueberries mean they can grow across many different climates. From cold to hot climate, you too can grow blueberries. Here is our guide on how to grow blueberries at home.
Blueberries do have unique growing conditions and once you learn them, you’ll find they are easy and rewarding to grow. It won’t be long before you too can produce a bountiful harvest of blueberries!
Considered a superfood, blueberries are full of antioxidants, they’re also high in vitamin C, vitamin A and fibre. And buying them fresh 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. The Lowbush is the blueberry that grows wild in North America from where the blueberry bush originated. The 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 centres 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.
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 fruit and the good news is they are available to the home grower.
Among others, they include:
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.
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 by adding sulphur or peat moss. Free alternatives are spent coffee grounds and pine needles or you can purchase an organic soil acidifier here.
Mulching with pine needles helps make the soil acidic.
Soil should be moist but also free draining. Blueberry roots can rot if the water sits around the roots for too long. They do well with a drip system irrigation in order to provide consistent moisture.
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 because you’ll have more blueberries, yum!
Blueberries Grown In Pots And Containers
Because of the blueberry plants unique soil requirements, they do really well grown in pots. Of course, you can still grow them in the ground. However, managing the acidity in the soil as well as ensuring excellent drainage can be managed very well in pots and containers.
Before growing blueberries myself, I visited a blueberry farm and was fortunate to meet the farmer. He explained he had experimented with his blueberry bushes over the years by planting them directly into the soil as well as growing them in pots. He was convinced his container-grown blueberry bushes were superior to his ground-grown blueberries. So he recommends home gardeners grow blueberries in pots.
There are many 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.
It’s a good idea to 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 roots from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
Choose an acidic potting mix, designed for Azaleas. Plant the blueberry bush only up to the original pot level and mulch with pine needles to protect the soil moisture.
Garden Grown Blueberries
You can grow blueberries successfully in the ground. Attention to the soil will ensure a happy plant.
Bushes are ideally planted in early spring or fall.
Soil can be mounded to help provide good drainage. This is also 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 free from weeds and mulch with pine needles around the bush to help retain moisture.
For a hedge of blueberries, bushes can be planted 2-2.4 ft (60cm-75cm) apart.
For individual plants, up to 6 ft (2.4m) spacing is ideal, depending on the variety.
Feeding your Blueberry
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 Long Does It Take For A Blueberry Bush To Bear Fruit?
After 3 years your blueberry bush will be producing some berries. At 5-6 years the bush will be producing a good harvest and will 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. But even two per household will be a special 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 which ripens to reddish-purple and then blue. The berry is covered in a powdery white coating which is called the bloom. This coating helps to protect the fruit. The bloom provides a longer shelf life once the berry is picked but in my household, this is not a problem as berries are eaten within hours of picking!
Even when the berry turns the right shade, it may still need to be left on the bush for another week to fully develop in flavor. You can taste test of a berry or two. If the taste is too sour, your fruit will benefit remaining on the bush to sweeten up.
To collect your harvest of blueberries, gently twist the fruit off the branch. When fruit is ready, they should easily come away from the branch.
Store blueberries in the fridge to be eaten within the next few days or blueberries can be easily frozen for eating later. Simply lay the berries on baking paper on a tray and freeze them before transferring them to freezer bags or containers.
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 your 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.
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.
It’s hard to resist these attractive looking blueberry bushes and once you perfect the soil conditions, growing them is easy. Blueberries are perfect for the home gardener as they can be kept in pots, grown as an edible hedge or simply grown as a feature plant in the garden, big or small. Once you grow one, you’ll want to add to your collection to prolong the growing season and your harvest of delicious berries. So why not pay a visit to your local garden centre and find the perfect blueberry variety for your garden?
Would you like to grow more fruit at home? Check out our article all about Pepino Melon: How To Grow The Plant And Eat The Fruit.