How to Grow Organic Blueberries
One of the most easy-to-grow fruits or vegetables is the blueberry. Even better news is that you can pretty much grow them anywhere.
Blueberries are hardy in zones 2 through 8 but every locale usually has their own strain of blueberry that will grow best there.
The best place to check for blueberry plants or purchase them is your local nursery. Stores like Lowe's, Home Depot, or even grocery stores like Fred Meyer sell them as well.
That said, make sure if you purchase from one of the above stores (not a nursery) that you ask or check to be sure where the blueberry bushes are from.
For instance, we live in Central Oregon but many stores in the area receive their plant shipments from Portland, which is on the west side of the mountains. Plants that grow there are not necessarily indigenous to this region and can't tolerate the hard freezes we get. I've lost many a plant only to discover that they were hardy to Portland's weather, not mine.
On the other hand, when I've purchased plants from local nurseries, the plants have come through the winters flawlessly--because they were the right plants for this area.
Starting out with the right blueberry bushes will ensure you an easy time of growing organic fruit for years to come.
Because blueberries are so easy to grow and so resistant to the elements and disease, they are a perfect choice for organic gardening. They require no pesticides and are one of the best organic fruits to grow with the least amount of fuss.
How Hard is it To Grow Blueberries?
Most everyone can have a green thumb when it comes to growing blueberries. They require little work and if tended properly, they will continue to provide fruit year after year.
There are some things you should know though about growing your own organic blueberries:
- They grow best in full sun
- You need at least 2 different varieties if you want them to be prolific and have abundant berries--so 1 bush of "Top Hat" variety and 1 bush of "Jersey"--whatever specific types are best for your area
- Plant within a reasonable distance from each other so that they can cross pollinate--for instance within the same backyard and not an acre apart
- Blueberries come in several different heights so make sure you know which type of bush you'll want to plant (more on that below)
- You can plant blueberries in fall or spring
- They require very acidic soil--that is their only unusual requirement--adding things like pine needles or coffee grounds around the plant or within the planting area (not touching the roots) can help feed the soil
- They require very little fertilizing--maybe once per year in the spring
- Blueberries are pretty plants that have small flowers before they bloom and in fall, some varieties sport red canes making a pretty addition to a dull garden
- Usually pest-free, the only threat to blueberry plants and harvesting is winged--birds love blueberries and oftentimes netting will need to be used in order to have some to enjoy
- Use good organic compost material when planting them--in the hole and around the top of the plant and keep them supplied throughout the year with more, adding in the acidic components as well
- Water well when planting, in fact, soak to encourage the root system to take hold; keep adequately moist for several days after planting and then make sure the plants never dry out. In Central Oregon, that means watering in warm parts of the fall and winter to assure that they do not dry out and break
- Pruning is relatively simple and usually can go every 2 years though it depends on the variety--removing old canes or pruning in spring just to where new branches are coming on
- No pesticides are required and blueberries are not prone to any kinds of diseases though they may drop their leaves naturally when done blooming
- Use organic fertilizers because they stay in the soil longer--see the great YouTube video below
Growing Blueberries in Containers
You can also grow blueberries in containers. Select a dwarf or a low bush variety.
A major consideration with this planting method is the weather.
If you get hard frosts, it's best to plant blueberries in the ground. This is because containers contract and expand with the freeze-thaw-freeze process and any plant in containers runs the risk of breaking and dying.
It's also very hard to control the amount of water and dryness in the summertime. Gardening in containers is always a delicate balance of keeping the soil from drying out or being overwatered.
Four Types of Blueberry Plants
These are as the name suggests--very tall. They can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and produce the kinds of blueberries you see most often in the market.
Some popular varieties:
- Cape Fear
- Blue Ridge
These super hardy berries like subzero temperatures. They only grow 6 to 18 inches high and spread through underground runners. They are not as cultivated as high bush blueberries so every nursery may have local starts that grow indigenous to that area. These produce small, sweet berries.
Some varieties to choose from:
- Top Hat
This is a mixture of the high bush blueberry and the low bush variety. The berries are large like the high bush varieties but are more cold resistant, like the low bush varieties. They consequently don't grow as tall (about half the size) as the high bush. They also don't spread by underground runners (like the low bush).
Some great varieties to try:
- North Blue
This is a variety mostly grown in the south in zones 7 to 9. These are also typically smaller than high bush varieties but they also ripen later in the season than the other kinds. These plants can actually top out at 10 or so feet tall and they also cross pollinate each other well. These plants also don't care much about the kind of soil they're planted in, making them a super choice for the gardener with a brown thumb.
Some varieties to pick from:
For a real treat, try the pink lemonade blueberry--instead of blue, it's actually deep pink.
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