Did you know you can grow blueberries right in your own backyard? Many people are under the impression that blueberries can only be grown in certain climates, but this isn’t completely true. There are different types and varieties of blueberries and each one requires a certain climate to thrive. This means if you want to grow your own blueberries, you just need to determine which variety is best suited for the area you live. In addition to knowing the types and varieties of blueberries and where each can grow, you need to know how to properly plant and care for the blueberries until they are fully grown and ready to harvest.
Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in an indoor garden due to the fact they can be grown successfully on a windowsill with limited light and the size of the bush is easily controlled with pruning. To grow blueberries indoors, simply choose a dwarf variety and use a pot that is more than 18 inches deep. Place the bush somewhere that gets 6 to 8 hours of daylight and follow the instructions mentioned below. You need to repot blueberry plants in containers during the winter dormancy period every 3 to 4 years to maintain good growth.
Blueberry Types and Where They Grow Best
There are four different types of blueberries including Highbush, Lowbush, Half High and Rabbiteye. Each type is made up of subtypes and varieties. Blueberries grow the best when different varieties of the same type are planted together. This allows for cross pollination, which will help to produce bigger and better tasting blueberries. To grow your own blueberries, you need to determine which type can be grown where you live. Then you can choose one or more varieties within that type to plant in your yard.
This is the most commonly found type of blueberry. It’s the kind most grocery stores sell. They are named Highbush because the bushes can grow to be between six and eight feet tall. Within the Highbush type are two subtypes, each with their own varieties. The first subtype is called Southern Highbush. This type can be grown in most of the southern states and along the West Coast. The second subtype is called Northern Highbush. This type can be grown in almost all areas of the United States except for the southernmost states and along the West Coast.
This type of blueberry plants are perfect in areas that often have sub zero temperatures. Unlike the Highbush varieties, the Lowbush blueberries grow no more than 18 inches tall. These berries are small in size and sweet in taste. You can find Lowbush blueberries at most garden nurseries, but you generally won’t find different varieties. They are sold as wild seedlings, which contain a combination of different varieties. The mix of varieties causes the plants to grow in varying sizes and the fruit to vary in taste from one plant to the next.
Half High blueberries are the result of crosses between northern Highbush and Lowbush blueberries. They will grow up to 4 feet tall. Half High blueberry bushes are ideal for northern America and Canada as they are hardy in cold weather.
These blueberries are best grown in the south. The berries don’t grow as big as those from the Highbush plants and they ripen much later in the season. Rabbiteye cultivars were developed in regions with long hot summers and they behave differently in the Pacific Northwest than in their home environments. Rabbiteye plants can grow more than 10 feet tall.
How to Plant Blueberries
When you’re ready to plant the blueberries, there are space requirements you should go by so the plants don’t become crowded together and so they will grow properly. There should be six feet between the Highbush plants, two feet between Lowbush plants and 15 feet between Rabbiteye plants.
Before planting, place some composted leaves into each hole and mix them in with the soil. This will help the soil to remain moist and will ensure the plants have the proper acidity, nutrition and aeration to grow. When the blueberry bushes are planted, you’ll want to spread a type of organic mulch in a three inch layer along the ground to ward off weed growth and to keep the roots of the plants moist and cool. The roots of blueberry bushes grow very close to the ground’s surface. Some types of organic matter including shredded leaves, straw, pine needles, wood chips and sawdust from untreated wood can be used as mulch. As the plants grow, they will need one to two inches of water a week.
If you live in an area where the soil is naturally alkaline, you may think growing blueberries that thrive in acidic soil is out of the question. Well, you may be surprised to learn that you absolutely can grow blueberries but first, you will have to do a little work to change the composition of the soil. Here’s how you do it. Combine equal amounts of sand and peat moss and place this in the holes you’ve dug for the plants. Layer organic mulch (mentioned above) on the ground around the plants and use an organic fertilizer to fertilize the soil each year. If you have hard water and are using an irrigation system to water the plants, you will need to create acidic water. To do this, add two teaspoons of vinegar to each gallon of water. You can also use iron sulfate and aluminum sulfate to lower the soil pH level.
Maintain Good Growth
To ensure your blueberry plants grow to their fullest and have excellent flavor, you will need to properly fertilize and prune them. You shouldn’t need to fertilize often as blueberry plants don’t like rich soil. However, fertilizer will be necessary if you notice the plants are growing a bit slower than they should be. Less than one foot in one year would be considered slow growth for Highbush and Rabbiteye. Slow growth for Lowbush is less than four inches in one year. Using organic fertilizers is important because the roots of the plants are very tender. Using other types of fertilizers could be harmful to them.
For the first three years, the plants shouldn’t need to be pruned. You will need to pick the fruit buds for the first two years to allow the plant to form properly. Doing an annual prune late in the winter season removes old wood and stimulates the plant so new branches full of fruit will grow. Lowbush plants should be cut to the ground every two or three years. However, the plant won’t produce during the season following pruning, so if you want berries to continue to grow, you should prune one side or one part of the plant at a time.
For Highbush plants, the stems produce berries for a period of six years, so you should cut the old stems down to the ground and then remove any branches that are too crowded or brittle. Rabbiteye plants should be pruned the same way as Highbush plants, except pruning as much at one time isn’t necessary.
Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of how to grow blueberries in your own backyard. Just remember to make sure the type and variety of blueberry bush you choose to plant is the right one for the area you live. Follow the steps given for proper planting and care. Then you’ll have delicious blueberries during the blueberry season every year. In the United States, blueberry season runs from mid June to mid August. However, Florida blueberries have their peak production season in March and April. If you are living in a hot area, you can choose to grow heat tolerant evergreen blueberry varieties like Biloxi blueberries. They don’t need chill hours to fruit.
Fast Facts on Blueberries
- USA is the largest blueberry producer in the world.
- Highbush blueberries are the types you commonly find at grocery stores and farmers markets.
- Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all the popular fruits.
- Under ideal conditions, blueberry plants can survive up to 60 years.
- Most varieties of blueberry plants need at least 150 chill hours (temperatures below 45 F) to produce the optimum fruit harvest.
- Blueberry seeds need to be cold stratified to break the seeds’ rest period before planting.
- A single blueberry bush can produce as many as 6000 blueberries per year.
- Consumption of blueberries has been linked to health benefits including increased insulin response, a reversal in age related memory loss, a reduced risk of cancer and lowering blood pressure.
- British Columbia is the largest highbush blueberry growing region in the world. As a country, Canada ranks third behind the US and Chile. Blueberries are Canada’s most exported fruit.
- Blueberry is a rare example of food that is naturally blue in color.