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Growing Your Own Blueberries

Updated on January 28, 2016

Blueberry fruit

Blueberry Shrub
Blueberry Shrub | Source

The Blueberry - An Edible Landscape Plant for All Seasons

Many people enjoy eating nutritious, tasty blueberries, but some may not have thought of growing their own. The blueberry is a North American native that is fairly easy to grow and relatively pest free. There are numerous species that have been cultivated and hybridized making it possible to grow blueberries in most areas of North America and in many other places around the world.

It is fairly easy for those who have a large garden area to plant some blueberries, but even those who don't have enough space for a berry patch can grow blueberries by integrating them into their yard as an ornamental landscape shrub that will also provide nutritious berries for both people and wildlife. Most blueberries only require 4-5 feet of space and grow 4-5 feet tall and there are dwarf varieties that are even smaller that can be grown in containers and still provide a good crop of berries.

With its delicate urn-shaped spring blossoms, the beautiful blue berries in summer, vibrant foliage in autumn and the colorful bare branches in winter, the blueberry is a plant that almost anyone can incorporate into their garden and enjoy through all of the seasons of the year.

All photos by the author, Vicki Green, unless credited otherwise.

Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich

Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise. (A Homeowners Guide)
Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise. (A Homeowners Guide)

I enjoyed this book because instead of relegating fruiting plants to a "garden" area it showed how many edible plants, including blueberries, are ornamental and can be integrated into any landscaping plan doing "double duty" by both beautifying a yard and providing food.

 

Landscaping with Fruiting Plants

Landscaping with plants that bear fruit can be very attractive while maximizing the usefulness of gardening space as a source of food. Fruiting shrubs like blueberries attract birds and wildlife that use the berries as a food source, too. Most people enjoy seeing wildlife, but if you don't want to share your berries, there are tips for how to deter them further down the page. I found the book, Landscaping with Fruit, by Lee Reich a helpful resource for integrating fruiting plants into the landscape.

Distribution Map of Vaccinium corymbosum

Blueberry Distribution Map USDA Plant Database
Blueberry Distribution Map USDA Plant Database | Source

The Blueberry - a North American Native Plant

Blueberries are part of the Vaccinium genus of plants that are found naturally in many places around the world. Some of their relatives include bilberries, huckleberries, lingonberries and cranberries. The commercially cultivated blueberry is commonly known as a "northern highbush blueberry", but it is made up of several closely related North American species that have been hybridized.

The most commonly used botanical name is "Vaccinium corymbosum". The northern highbush blueberry originated from the northeastern portion of North America, but has now been cultivated and naturalized in many other parts of the US and Canada and is grown in many other places around the world. This USDA map shows where it is currently found growing naturally.

The famous "wild Maine" blueberries are another related vaccinium species that are commonly called "lowbush blueberries". Several more vaccinium species naturally occur in the southeastern part of the US and are commonly called "Southern Highbush Blueberries".

All that really matters is that blueberries are sweet, juicy and delicious and with so many hybrids developed from various species, it is possible for many people to find a blueberry shrub that can be successfully grown in their climate.


Growing Blueberries

How to Grow and Care for Blueberry Shrubs

Most blueberries are fairly easy to grow in acid soil with a pH between 4.5-5.5 and have few diseases or insect pests. If your soil is not naturally acid, you can make it acid by adding peat or sulphur. Although most varieties are technically self-fruitful, to have higher fruit yields, it is recommended to plant at least two different varieties for cross pollination. Most blueberries grow 4-5' high and the cultivated "high bush" varieties have either an early, mid-season or late ripening season.

Since blueberries are fairly shallow rooted, use composted manure - not fresh manure to avoid burning the plant roots. They prefer acid soil, so do not add lime to the soil near where blueberries are planted. Normally it is best not to prune for first two years after planting. On the third year and each year after, prune out approximately 1/3 of the branches which should by then be 3 years old or older. Since blueberries are produced on new growth, yearly pruning of older branches will promote new growth and increase fruit yield.

Blueberry shrubs need normal to moist soil so they require fairly frequent watering and benefit from mulch to protect the roots and preserve soil moisture.


See How Easy it is to Grow Blueberries

USDA Plant Hardiness Map - What's Your Zone?

USDA Hardiness Zone Map
USDA Hardiness Zone Map | Source

Winter Chilling Requirements

Many fruit-bearing plants, including blueberries, have a "winter chill" requirement to thrive and set fruit. Northern highbush blueberries have a winter chilling requirement of an accumulation of 300 or more hours of temperatures below 45F and most do best in USDA Plant zones 4-8. Southern highbush blueberries usually require fewer chilling hours so are more suited to growing in warmer climates. Each blueberry variety has recommended USDA zones where it grows best. Be sure that the variety you buy is suitable for the zone where you live.



Blossoms in Spring

Blueberry Flowers
Blueberry Flowers

Attracting Pollinators

The delicate clusters of waxy bell-shaped blueberry flowers make an attractive display on the shrubs in the spring. Depending on the variety, some blueberry blossoms are a red or pinkish color while others are white or creamy colored. Although the flowers can simply be enjoyed for their beauty, if you want fruit, the blossoms need to be pollinated. It is important to plant two different varieties of blueberries for cross pollination and to have something that will do the pollinating. Some good pollinators for blueberries include honey bees, bumblebees, mason bees and hummingbirds. If you're not interested in having a beehive, attracting bumblebees and mason bees are a much lower maintenance option.


Mason or Orchard Bee House

Crown Bees Mason Bee House and 96-Hole Wood Nesting Tray Kit, Spring Tower
Crown Bees Mason Bee House and 96-Hole Wood Nesting Tray Kit, Spring Tower

I purchased one of these Mason bee houses after attending a class about orchard bees. This design allows for easily removing the cocoons with the developing bee larva in the fall, cleaning the trays to remove parasites and then placing the cocoons back into the clean house where they stay until they hatch in the first warm days of spring.

 

Attracting Mason or Orchard Bees

Mason bees, also called orchard bees, are especially good pollinators for blueberries because they become active early in the spring. Orchard bees are native to North America and can be attracted to your garden by providing a special nesting box. Hang the box in a protected but sunny area facing east or southeast and a female orchard bee may lay her eggs in the holes and then seal the hole openings with mud. In there aren't many orchard bees in your area, the cocoons with the hibernating baby bees can be purchased to increase their numbers in your garden.

Attracting Bumblebees for Pollinating Your Berries

Attracting bumblebees is particularly helpful for pollinating early blooming blueberry varieties because bumblebees are usually the first pollinators to become active in the spring.

Bumblebees can be encouraged to make your garden or yard their home by providing a bumblebee nesting box. Hang or attach a bumble bee house to a fence or under the eaves of an outbuilding. Since bumblebees can sting to defend their home against a perceived threat, place the nest box away from doors, decks, patios or other areas where people gather.

From Blossoms to Berries

Blueberries Starting to Form
Blueberries Starting to Form

Soil Test Kit

Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test Kit
Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test Kit

This soil test kit includes testing for pH (acidity), nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and 37 more soil components making it a great all-around test kit to determine what plant nutrients your soil may need.

 

Soil Requirements

Blueberries grow best in acid soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. When blueberries don't grow well, it is often because the dirt is too alkaline. It is easy to test your soil pH with a soil test kit. If your dirt has a high pH, you can add soil conditioners that will make the soil more acid to make it more suitable for blueberry shrubs. Soil test kits are an important gardening tool to help a gardener be successful in growing any plant.

Blueberries Turning from Green to Blue as they Ripen

Growing Blueberries
Growing Blueberries

Ripe Blueberries - a Healthy Treat!

Blueberry Goodness
Blueberry Goodness | Source

Nutritional Value of Blueberries

NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF ONE CUP OF BLUEBERRIES

Calories: 83 (4% of daily recommended amount)

Total Carbohydrates: 21 g (7% of daily recommended amount)

Sugar 14.4 g

Dietary Fiber: 3.5 g (14% of daily recommended amount)

Fat: 0.5 g (100% healty unsaturated fat)

Omega-3: 85.8 mg

Omega-6: 130 mg

Vitamin K: 28.6 mg (36% of recommded daily amount)

Vitamin C: 14.4 mg (24% of recommended daily amount)

Manganese: 0.5 mg (25% of recommded daily amount)

Calcium: 8.7 mg (1% of recommended daily amount)

Phosphorus: 17.8 mg (2% of recommended daily amount)

Potassium: 111.7 mg (3& of recommended daily amount)

Copper: 0.1 mg (4% of recommended daily amout)

Other nutrients found in blueberries include vitamin A, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium and selenium. Blueberries are also ranked as having one of the highest antioxidant levels among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.

Blueberries and blueberry antioxidants have been studied for many years and there is evidence that blueberries can improve memory. Early results from these studies suggest that blueberries may also slow down or postpone the onset of other health problems frequently associated with aging.


Fruiting Seasons

Blueberry shrubs are classified by fruiting season. All produce fruit during the summer months, but are categorized as early, mid or late season. Although the exact fruiting time will vary by local climate and weather conditions, the fruiting season indicated for a particular variety will give you some idea of when to expect blueberries to ripen compared to other varieties. To have a continuous supply of blueberries throughout the summer, plant some early varieties, some mid-seaon varieties and some late season varieties.

Or if you prefer to have all of your blueberries ripen at about the same time in one big crop, plant varieties that all ripen during the same season. It is also important to research the blueberry shrubs before you plant and determine their blooming time compared to other blueberries. Some blueberries that fruit early have a late flowering time which can be advantageous if they are being planted in an area prone to late spring frosts and a short growing season. Remember that blueberries produce more fruit if they are cross pollinated with another blueberry variety that blooms at the same time.

Northern Highbush Blueberries

Duke Blueberry
Duke Blueberry | Source

Early Season Blueberries

Although not a complete list since new varieties are introduced every year, here are the names of some early season blueberry varieties

  • Bluetta: Late blooming, early ripening fruit suited for colder climates. Berries are small, but if you only want it primarily to feed the birds, it is an excellent landscaping shrub with an upright but compact shape. USDA 4-7
  • Duke: Late blooming, early ripening fruit - a good choice for areas with late spring frosts and a short growing season in USDA zones 4 - 8
  • Earliblue - Early spring flowers and early season fruit. USDA zones 5-7
  • Patriot: Late spring flowers with early fruit - the best for the coldest climates and short growing season. Beautiful red fall foliage. USDA zones 3-7
  • Polaris: Low growing variety. USDA 3-7
  • Spartan: Early to mid-season fruit which is very large. USDA zones 5-7


Mid-Season Blueberries

Here is a list of some popular mid-season fruiting blueberries:

  • Berkley: Late mid-season fruit. USDA zones 5-8
  • Bluecrop: More drought tolerant than most blueberry plants. USDA zones 4-7
  • Blue Ray: Early mid-season. USDA zones 4-7
  • Coville: Late mid-season USDA 5-8
  • Draper: White spring blossoms and gold leaves in the autumn. USDA zones 5-8
  • Legacy: Late mid-season USDA zones 5-8
  • Northsky: Low growing variety USDA zones 3-7
  • Rubel: An heirloom species with brilliant red autumn leaves and twigs. Small fruits with a wild berry flavor. USDA zones 4-8.
  • Toro: Pink flowers that fade to white. Tight clusters of large berries. USDA zones 4-8



Jersey Blue Berry
Jersey Blue Berry | Source

Late Season Blueberries

Late Season blueberries ripen later in the summer in late July, August or even early September. Below is a list of some late season blueberry varieties:

  • Chandler: An especially long ripening season providing a steady stream of berries for up to 6 weeks. USDA zones 4-7
  • Darrow: USDA zones 5-7
  • Elliott: Berries ripen very late through Labor Day . USDA zones 5-8
  • Herbert: Large sweet fruits. USDA zones 4-8
  • Jersey: mid-to-late season, white flowers and tolerates a wide range of soil types as an ornmental shrub and has beautiful orange flame colored fall foliage. USDA zones 3-8



Southern Highbush Blueberries

Sunshine Blue Blueberry

Sunshine Blue Blueberry (Vaccinium x 'Sunshine Blue')
Sunshine Blue Blueberry (Vaccinium x 'Sunshine Blue')

Although technically considered a "Southern highbush" blueberry, this great little semi-dwarf blueberry grows in all but the coldest climates and makes a great container plant. It needs only 150 hours of chilling time and grows and produces a nice crop of fruit on the west coast all the way from San Diego to Seattle.

 

Warm Climate Blueberries

Southern highbush blueberries generally require fewer chilling hours with temperatures below 45 F. to flower and bear fruit and with adequate watering will tolerate long hot summers. Here is a list of some popular southern highbush blueberry varieties:

  • Emerald: Mid-season fruit. Needs 250 chilling hours. USDA zones 7-10
  • Jewel: Needs 200 chilling hours. Early to mid-season. USDA zones 4-8
  • Misty: Needs 300 chilling hours. USDA zones 5-10
  • Oneal: Very early fruit. Chiling hour requirement 500-600 hours. USDA Zones 7-10
  • Sunshine Blue: Semi-dwarf variety that grows up to 3 feet tall. Makes a great container plant. Requires only 150 chilling hours. USDA zones 5-10


Attracting Wildlife

Catbird looking for a blueberry
Catbird looking for a blueberry | Source

Wildlife Species Attracted to Blueberries

The catbird is just one of many bird species that eat blueberries. If you want a landscape to attract and benefit wildlife, planting blueberry shrubs is an excellent choice. Here is a list of some of the wildlife species who enjoy the sweet, juicy blueberries:

BIRDS:

Bluebird

Catbird

Chickadee

Crow

Flicker

Grouse

Oriole

Robin

Tanager

Towhee

Turkey

MAMMALS

Bear

Chipmunk

Fox

Rabbit

Raccoon

Squirrel

Mouse

Keeping Some of Your Crop for Yourself

Bird Netting for Berry Bushes
Bird Netting for Berry Bushes

Bird Netting to Protect Your Berry Crop from Birds

Since birds and other wildlife enjoy the juicy, sweet blueberries as much as people, to keep some of the crop for yourself, bird netting does help to prevent birds from eating all of the berries. If possible, build a simple wood frame to support the netting. Supporting the netting on a frame is usually more effective to keep birds from picking berries through the net, but draping the netting over the plants is better than nothing. When you have finished harvesting what you want, remove the netting to share the rest of the berries with the birds.


Bird Repellent Tape

Bird Repellent Scare Tape- Simple Control Device to Keep Away Woodpeckers, Pigeons, Grackles and More. Deterrent Works Great With Netting And Spikes. Stops Damage, Roosting and Mess.
Bird Repellent Scare Tape- Simple Control Device to Keep Away Woodpeckers, Pigeons, Grackles and More. Deterrent Works Great With Netting And Spikes. Stops Damage, Roosting and Mess.

Bird Scare Tape is inexpensive and usually very effective. Cut strips of tape from the roll and hang from branches of the fruit trees, shrubs or fence posts to keep birds away.

 

Bird Scare Tape to Keep Birds Away

Bird scare tape is another effective way to humanely deter birds away from your blueberries and other fruiting trees and shrubs. The shiny mylar tape moves with the slightest breeze and the motion frightens the birds away. It can be left hanging permanently or removed after you've harvested the as much of the crop as you want and are willing to share what remains with the birds.

Bears Like Blueberries

Bear Eating Blueberries
Bear Eating Blueberries | Source

Keeping Larger Wildlife from Eating Your Blueberries

Netting and scare tape doesn't prevent larger species, like bears, from eating blueberries. Sturdy fences may help keep bears and larger animals away. But if they do get into your fruit, stay a safe distance away, take a photo, and consider yourself lucky to have such interesting neighbors!

Blueberry Shrubs in Autumn

Colorful Fall Foliage of a Blueberry Shrub
Colorful Fall Foliage of a Blueberry Shrub | Source

Blueberry Fall Foliage

After the tasty blueberries have been picked, blueberry shrubs provide a brilliant display of fall foliage in the garden - a beautiful landscape plant. My blog, Life at Willeth Farm has more gardening tips.

Blueberry Shrubs in Winter

Blueberry Farm in Winter
Blueberry Farm in Winter | Source

Blueberries in Winter

The blueberry shrubs continue to add beauty to the landscape in the winter. The branches of some varieties are a brilliant red providing a striking contrast to the drab background of other shrubs and trees and even more stunning after a winter snow.

© 2012 Vicki Green

Do You Have Any Blueberry Shrubs? - Please feel free to leave a comment about your blueberries!

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    • IMKZRNU2 profile image

      IMKZRNU2 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      What an informative lens! I have actually been wanting to plant some blueberries and this lens will be extremely helpful to me. Thanks!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      Great, informative article. Thanks. I have been thinking about trying to grow some blueberries next year. This tells me exactly what variety to grow in my area. Blessed!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 4 years ago

      I have been trying to grow them for years, without much luck. Our soil isn't really acidic enough. I love them though.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      The photos are so tempting, one can feel the freshness of blueberries.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 4 years ago

      Nope, that would be awesome if I could have one in my apartment. Love this Lens. Excellent!!!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I love that you laid out all the different varieties of blueberries. I am thinking of planting some Patriot blueberries if I can find them. Blessed!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      How pretty they look in winter. Wish I did have some blueberry bushes. I love the little blue devils.

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 3 years ago from Naperville, IL

      I didn't realize there were so many blueberry varieties. Very interesting and informative lens! Now I have a craving...

    • profile image

      Colin323 3 years ago

      I grow Bluecrop in tubs, as my soil is not acid enough. Blackfriars grow really well here (Yorkshire), but blueberries have a sweeter taste, although more of a challenge to grow. Thanks for the information on the different varieties; that was helpful and useful for the future

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 3 years ago from State of Confussion

      To answer your question - Not yet. But it will be looked further into come springtime.

    • Maggie42 profile image

      Maggie42 2 years ago

      Just planted one today! Thanks for all this great information. Even though I'm in Australia this was a really great lens for me.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

      I grew up in the bush so during berry season mom and us six kids were out picking wild blueberries and huckleberries (bucket after bucket lol). with six kids I guess we needed quite a few for the pies mom made. Now my husband and I don't have blueberry bushes but we do have a ton of raspberries growing in our yard. Berries really are so very healthy that I am very grateful to have them. Excellent article. I loved seeing the photos. Makes it feel like summer here.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 2 years ago from West Virginia

      I have one! Didn't know you needed at least two. Oh well. Maybe another plant next year.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wonderful information, a great guideline and standard for anyone wanting successful blueberries. You should write an ebook on planting and growing blueberries. Recommending this for HOTD.

    • PNWtravels profile image
      Author

      Vicki Green 2 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Thank you for the kind comments. You took me back to my childhood days of berry picking, remembered fondly now, but not so much at the time! I still love the berries, though.

    • PNWtravels profile image
      Author

      Vicki Green 2 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Many are technically "self-fruitful", but all produce better with cross pollination to another variety. I hope planting another will help!

    • PNWtravels profile image
      Author

      Vicki Green 2 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Thank you for the lovely comments! I really enjoy my berry plants and learned a lot both through reading and trial and error. It always makes me happy to see those berries ripen every year - yum!

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