Big, juicy, blue-hued, round fruits that are high in antioxidants and nutrients plus kid-friendly for picking! Blueberries are delightful finds in the wild with patches remaining a well-kept family secret!
With incredible ornamental offerings for the landscape, including fine-textured foliage, fall color, delightful white spring blossoms, and the cute stars on the bottoms of each little juicy blue gem - Blueberries have long been crowd favorites! As versatile in the vegetable and kitchen garden, as landscaping edibles, and healthful additions to our tables!
Thriving in a wide range of climates across the US, attracting pollinators galore and feeding birds too, Blueberries are good for much more than just their fruit! But did you know how many kinds of Blueberry Bushes are really out there?
Growing Blueberries may seem daunting, but it’s really much easier than you’d think with just a few tips to keep in mind!
As with any fruiting bush or tree, full sun is going to help your shrub produce the most flowers and therefore the largest crops of big juicy berries possible! Situate your shrubs in an area with good air circulation, plenty of regular moisture and slightly on the acidic side of the pH scale.
What is the best time of year to plant Blueberry Bushes? Spring or fall is best so they don’t have to compete with heat to establish their roots that first year, but with careful attention and watering, you can plant Blueberries any time during the growing season!
Blueberries prefer full sun and, although they will grow in part shade, however, this will usually result in a less flavorful berry and much smaller yields. In areas of low humidity and high pH water, it is often recommended that Blueberry plants be protected from the hot late afternoon sun.
Blueberries will perform well in a number of soil types, just as long as the soils are well-drained, acidic and high in organic matter. It is recommended to get a reading on your soil pH before planting. Northern Highbush and Rabbiteye Blueberries prefer acid-rich soil with a pH of 6.0 or lower. For the Half-Highs, an even lower pH of 5.5 is needed. A simple soil test kit or meter should be used to meter and monitor your soil’s pH.
Prepare soils for planting by adding sulfur and peat moss or chucked coir, all of which help to reduce pH naturally. Use a soil meter to check the pH regularly. Amendments should be added as needed to achieve and maintain the required pH. The addition of organic fertilizers such as feather meal, cottonseed, or fish meal will help to keep the pH down. In many parts of the country, the soil is already moderately acidic, so very little needs to change. However, many tap water sources can lean towards alkalinity, so collecting and watering with rainwater is preferred.
Blueberries like to grow in soil that is rich in organic matter. When planting, dig your hole as deep as your plant's container and twice as wide. Add a 25% mix of compost, oak leaf mold or aged sawdust to the backfill. Remove the Blueberry plant from the pot, and with your hands, or water, break up the bottom portion of soil away to loosen them. Spread the loosened roots out and backfill the hole. Do not plant deeper than the soil line that exists in the container. Pack soil firmly around roots.
Blueberry bushes require good drainage, so water cannot pool around their roots for long. Blueberry roots are shallow and benefit from a bermed or mounded planting location in poor drainage situations. Those surface roots also benefit from a good layer of arborist mulch or pine bark chips. Apply 4 inches deep and up to 2 feet outside of the perimeter of the canopy. This will help decrease the Blueberry plant’s water needs and keep the root system cool.
When growing in the ground is not possible or simply too much trouble, you'll be glad to hear that Blueberry Bushes make the perfect container plant! Space-saving, convenient and controlled soil conditions, growing your Blueberry in a pot or planter takes the guesswork out of soil and moisture. All varieties of Blueberries are good for container growing and there you can control the soil pH better, so this technique is highly recommended.
Choose a container that is 24" across to start, with and they have a good, well-draining soil mix. Make sure that the pot has plenty of drainage holes in the bottom, at least three to four 1-inch holes drilled out in the bottom. Avoid ceramic or clay pots as they both heat up to very high temperatures and are slow to cool down. They also wick water, causing the roots to dry out quicker. Resin pots have better insulation and are lightweight.
Start with an acid-loving plant potting soil, commonly recommended for Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons. Combine one part potting soil with one part pine or fir bark and one part peat moss. For even better water-holding, use a combination of one-half peat moss and one-half chunk coir in lieu of the straight-up peat moss.
Plant by first removing gently from the nursery pot, then loosen the bottom of the roots with the hose or gentle fingers to separate any clumps. Backfill the pot with prepared soil mix to a depth that allows the top of your Blueberry plant's root ball to sit 2 to 3 inches below the top of your container, but level with the new soil level. This provides a lip to contain water and to allow for mulching.
Blueberries are very sensitive to dry conditions so keep them watered as needed. In colder climates, move your Blueberry plant container to a protected location, like on the east side of your home, in a window well, or in an unheated garage if needed. Cover the container with straw or wrap it with burlap to protect the root from freezing.
Pay attention to watering in the summer as Blueberries prefer to be on the moist side and their surface roots can dry out and overheat quickly. Watch for heat spikes in the summer that may require additional water. This is common in containers. Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to the top of the pot to hold in moisture and insulate the root system.
Pruning blueberry bushes is necessary to maintain their health. However, you must be careful as pruning can directly affect the fruit production of your plant. Pruning is best done when the bush is dormant, either in the late fall or the early spring. Spring is often the preferred time because you will be able to see which (if any) branches were damaged through the winter and need to be trimmed.
Once you have removed the damaged branches, you will want to remove some of the lower growing branches. You can control the height by trimming some of the more vigorous upright shoots. You will also want to thin out some of the older weaker canes. After these have been trimmed, you can select some of the smaller, thinner (or spindly) branches.
Keep in mind that berries are grown on canes that are at least 1 year old, so any branches you trim will not produce berries. The more severe the pruning, the fewer berries you will be able to harvest and the growing season will be shorter. At the same time, you don't want to skip pruning. Although mild pruning will lead to a longer harvest and more berries, they will be smaller. If damaged and weak branches go unattended, the quality of the berry will diminish and the bush will be more susceptible to issues like insects and diseases that can limit your crop.
There are actually 5 different types of Blueberry Bushes! They all have their own unique characteristics that are helpful to know before picking the Blueberry Bush that’s right for you.
Generally, everyone does better with the help of a friend. The same goes for fruiting bushes and Blueberries! Most varieties are self-fertile to partially self-fertile, and a few need a pollinator species planted nearby. Read on below about the different types of Blueberries and their pollination needs.
These Blueberries are native to the eastern part of the US and will often grow to be on the larger side. Going by the botanical name Vaccinium corymbosum, Highbush are self-fertile and doesn’t need a pollinator (but adding another variety close by can increase your crop size and can sometimes even extend your harvest season). These are great options for those in colder climates.
These Blueberries were developed for warmer regions of the south and need fewer chill hours each year to actively produce fruit. These will also get to be about 6-8 feet tall and are self-fertile, however, again, planting another variety close by will allow for cross-pollination which leads to larger, and often longer, harvests.
Bearing the botanical name Vaccinium angustifolium, Lowbush are a Blueberry species native to the northeastern part of the U.S. They normally grow to be 6-inches to 2 feet tall and are more often than not found growing naturally in the northeast. They’re native from Canada and Maine down to North Carolina and as far west as Iowa and Minnesota. While they’re mostly grown wild, there are a few great varieties for home gardens.
Now, if you’re looking for a Blueberry that’s truly happy in the heat, then you’ll probably end up leaning towards Rabbiteye, Vaccinium virgatum. They’re native to the southeastern United States and were specifically bred with Highbush and other varieties to have higher heat tolerance and lower chill hour requirements. These Blueberry bushes will usually grow to around 3-6 feet tall and are not self-pollinating for the most part. You’ll want to plant two kinds in order to cross-pollinate for fruit production.
These are a cross between Highbush and Lowbush varieties that come in a range of sizes. Half-Highs are known for doing well in containers and require less pruning than traditional Highbush varieties while offering more height and thus, berries per plant, than many Lowbush varieties. Like their parent varieties, Half-Highs are self-pollinating but do produce more when planted near another Blueberry bush.
Generally, Blueberries produce fruit within 3-5 years of age, with a few that can produce sooner. Some precocious varieties include the Brightwell and Climax. However, Nature Hills ships Blueberry Bushes with mature root systems that are already 2-4 years of age, so you’ll enjoy your first harvest within a year or so after your plant has established into your native soil!
Start by heading over to our Blueberry Bush page and find your Hardiness Zone in the options and toggles available. Then locate how much sun and space you have available to narrow down the right Blueberry Bush for you!
Need some help? Don't hesitate to reach out to our knowledgeable horticultural staff online or on the phone and we’ll be happy to assist!
There you go! Now the next time you’re on the hunt for the perfect berry bush you can feel confident in your understanding of the different Blueberry terms.
Taking care of Blueberries can seem intimidating, but with so many options out there, Nature Hills has made finding the right one for you a breeze!
Until next time - Happy Planting!