Berries are one of my favorite things to grow. They’re relatively low-maintenance, and even if your harvest is measured by the handful rather than the bushel, it can still be immensely satisfying. After all, berries are delicious, and they’re at their best the moment they’re picked. Plus, those tiny little cartons of berries at the grocery store carry a hefty price tag, so it doesn’t take long to feel like your hard work is literally “paying off”.
This article from Rodale’s has lots of specific growing information to help you choose the right plants for your area, and get them off to a good start. There are several different types of blueberry plants – Highbush blueberries are available in both Northern (zones 4 to 7) & Southern (zones 7 to 10) varieties, Lowbush blueberries are perfect for areas with colder winters (zones 3 to 6), and Rabbiteye blueberries offer another option for growers in warmer climates (zones 7 to 10). If you’re not sure what climate zone you’re in, you can find out here: What Zone am I In?
You will likely need to amend your soil to create the proper conditions for your blueberry plants to thrive. They prefer slightly acidic soil (pH of 4 to 5.5), whereas most other garden vegetables are happiest with a soil pH in the 6 to 7 range. This can be accomplished fairly easily by adding sulfur or another soil acidifier the year prior to planting your new blueberry bushes, but this requires advanced planning.
Another option is to plant your blueberries in pots. This way, you can create the perfect environment for each plant, without the major undertaking of acidifying the soil in an entire section of your garden. The easiest way to do this, is to purchase commercially available potting soil made specifically for acid-loving plants (the bag may say that it’s for hydrangeas or azaleas, as these plants thrive in acidic soil as well). I’m sure you can find this available for a lower price at your local garden center, but I’ll include a link just for reference. You can also create your own by acidifying regular potting soil, but again, this takes some time.
If you decide to grow your blueberries in pots, make sure you choose nice big containers so the plants have plenty of room to grow. You can also choose compact varieties that are more suited to container growing. Plants need 1 to 2 inches of water a week (about the same as tomato plants). A layer of mulch on top of the soil (pine needles, shredded leaves, or wood chips are good choices) will help to minimize evaporation, and keep you from having to water so frequently. I have found feeding each plant about 1/4 cup of complete organic fertilizer (or a plant food specifically formulated for acid-loving plants) in the spring when they’re just coming out of dormancy, and then side dressing again lightly with seed meal once in the early summer, provides adequate nutrition. Be careful not to overfeed with high-nitrogen fertilizers, as this tends to create lots of plant growth and not many berries.
We currently have six blueberry bushes, planted in large pots – 3 each of two different varieties, Misty and Sunshine Blue. They are three year old plants, so this is the first year they are producing fruit (it’s best to remove fruit buds for the first two years, so that plants don’t expend energy on fruit production), and we’ve been enjoying large handfuls of delicious berries every couple of days since mid-June. My original plan was to transplant them into the ground once I had a permanent location prepared for them, but they’re doing so well in their pots that I may just leave them where they are. Why mess with a good thing, right?
Do you grow your own blueberries? In the ground or in containers? What varieties? Tell me about your successes and growing challenges. And, as always, send me your photos – I love to peek at other people’s gardens 😉