Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, tasty and good for your health. There are many gardeners who wonder about growing blueberry bushes and all it takes is a little preparation in order to plant them in your own garden. These juicy berries are easy to grow in your backyard on bushes which are resistant to many diseases and pests, and can produce for up to twenty years.
There are three types of blueberries: lowbush, highbush and hybrid half-high. However, highbush is the most commonly planted blueberry. Most blueberry breeding has focused on this species, and there are a lot of varieties which range widely in cold hardiness and fruit season, size, and flavor.
When to plant
Early spring or late winter, during the 6 weeks prior to your last spring frost, is the best time for planting these delicious berries. Young plants grown in containers may be set out later, however, they need time to grow roots before hot weather. You will have to grow at least 3 plants of compatible varieties, since blueberries are only marginally self-fertile.
How to plant
In order to grow blueberry bushes, you’ll have to choose a site with an acidic pH, that is sunny and well-drained. Young plants require an abundance of organic matter in the shallowest layers of soil. Most soils should be amended with four inches of acidic organic matter, like leaf compost or rotted sawdust. If you prepare the site in fall it will help the organic matter to settle into the soil. As a result, it will enhance transplant survival in spring.
However, if the pH of the soil naturally ranges between 5.5 and 6, you can further acidify it by top-dressing with soil sulfur two times during a year. On the other hand, in areas with soil pH levels above six, grow these berries in large containers filled with a bark-based planting mixture. Spacing recommendations range from twelve feet between saskatoons to twelve inches between plants for lowbush blueberries.
Allow six feet between rabbiteyes and four feet between highbush blueberry plants. Make sure to set plants at the same depth they grew in pots. Mulch the surface of the soil with at least two inches of acidic mulch, such as wood chips, and water thoroughly. Cut back to ground level all except for the 2 most vigorous upright shoots.
How to grow and prune blueberry bushes
During the first year, pick off all flowers that form on blueberry bushes. Renew mulch as needed to maintain a layer, which is two inches deep, and water new blueberry plantings during dry spells. Fertilize plants in spring with a light application of a balanced organic fertilizer, after they are established. In late summer, fertilize blueberries to help plants set plenty of flower buds. During droughts, watering should be priority.
The bushes have extensive surface roots, and for that reason you should watch the wetting pattern of watering equipment to ensure a thorough soaking to six inches deep. Learning how to grow these berries includes balancing new growth with old and employing proper pruning technique. Pruning is very important to keep production high, berry size large and plants at a manageable height. Healthy rabbiteyes and highbush blueberries should produce at least 1 new cane every year.
However, there may be even more. Count the number of new canes in late winter, and cut off an equal number of old ones at ground level. In order to encourage branching, cut back the tips of the new canes, and snip out dead branches as well as low limbs which would touch the ground if fruit-laden. In case you do not see any new canes, check the soil’s pH and step up fertilization.
You’ll get the best taste if you leave blueberries on the plant for a few days after they turn blue. Once they are ripe, pick blueberries at least twice each week. In order to have fresh blueberries for more than a month, choose a mix of early- and late-maturing varieties.