How to Grow Blueberries - dummies

By Ann Whitman, Suzanne DeJohn, The National Gardening Association

You can grow blueberries in USDA Zones 3 to 10. The blueberry plant (Vaccinium species) offers small white flowers in spring, glossy green leaves in summer, and spectacular crimson foliage in fall. As an edible fruit, blueberries can’t be beat for fresh eating, pies, pancakes, dessert sauce, and jam.

Choose one of these three species to suit your climate:

  • Lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium) is the hardiest for Zones 3 to 6. These 8- to 18-inch-tall plants form spreading mats and produce small, intensely flavored berries. Grow them as ground-covering landscape plants in well-drained acidic soil, and enjoy the fruits as a bonus or leave them for wildlife. Prune only to remove dead, damaged, or diseased plants. Varieties include Northsky and Putte.

  • Highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum and hybrids) can grow from Zones 4 to 10, but some varieties are better suited to either extreme. If you want plenty of large, flavorful, easy-to-pick fruit, choose highbush blueberries. Shrubs grow 2 to 6 feet tall and produce more fruit when you plant at least two different varieties. In the northern United States, try Bluecrop, Blueray, Earliblue, Northblue, Patriot, and Northland. In the South, plant Gulf Coast, Misty, O’Neill, and Reveille.

    Flower buds, which appear larger and rounder than leaf buds, form in the summer the year before the plants bloom and are most abundant on the 2- to 5-year-old woody stems, called canes. Prune in late winter to remove the oldest and most unproductive canes, leaving the most vigorous 15 to 18 canes.

  • Rabbiteye blueberry (V. ashei) grows in the warmer Zones 7 through 9. Growing up to 10 feet tall, the varieties of this species have thicker-skinned berries. You need to plant two different but compatible varieties to get fruit. Good companions include Beckyblue and Bonitablue or Powderblue and Tifblue.

Blueberries have very specific soil needs, including lots of decomposed organic matter and an acidic pH of 4.5 to 5.2. They grow where azaleas and rhododendrons naturally thrive, but you can also alter your soil with acidifying peat moss and sulfur to accommodate their needs. It takes at least 6 months to a year or more for amendments to significantly lower soil pH, so plan ahead, and test the soil before planting.

All blueberries have shallow roots and need moist, well-drained soil. Mix 1/2 cubic foot of peat moss per plant into the soil at planting time. Cover the soil around the shrubs with organic mulch to maintain the soil moisture and control weeds. Keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Avoid deep cultivation, which can damage the shrubs’ roots.

Blueberries have relatively few serious pests or diseases, but good sanitation practices are a must. Mummy berry fungus causes trouble in some areas, spreading from fallen fruit. You can prevent other fungus diseases by pruning, to encourage air circulation through the plants, and by keeping the foliage dry. Birds are the most serious pests; cover the plants completely with bird netting before the berries turn blue.