How to Grow Blueberries
Blueberry bushes not only provide loads of delicious, nutritious fruit, but they look terrific in the landscape. Find out how to grow them here.
Blueberry bushes are a wonderful two-for-one plant, providing tasty, nutritious berries while at the same time adding beauty to your landscape. Learning how to grow blueberries is easy, even for inexperienced gardeners. The greatest issue is making sure the soil is right for roots to thrive.
Read on for expert advice on growing blueberries.
How to Choose Blueberries
One trick to success with growing blueberries is to choose the right variety for your region. Blueberry plants are classified by height:
- Lowbush: 1 to 2 feet; hardy in zones 3 to 6
- Half-high: 3 to 4 feet; hardy in zones 3 to 5
- Highbush: 4 to 7 feet; hardy in zones 4 to 7
- Rabbiteye: 10 to 15 feet; hardy in zones 7 to 10
For growing blueberries in the South, choose rabbiteye or Southern highbush types. In regions with cold winters, highbush, lowbush, and half-high berries all grow and bear well. Lowbush, half-high and newer dwarf blueberry bushes adapt well to being grown in containers; just be sure to select a variety that is hardy to two zones colder than your hardiness zone, since pots provide less root insulation than the ground does. For instance, if you garden in zone 6, choose a blueberry that’s hardy to zone 4.
Most blueberry plants are self-pollinating, but you’ll get bigger yields with cross-pollination, which means you should plant at least two different blueberry varieties. Not all blueberry varieties flower at the same time. Some bloom and ripen early, while others flower and ripen later. Check with your local extension office to learn which blueberry varieties work well as pollinating partners in your region.
Where to Plant Blueberries
You’ll get best results when growing blueberries in full sun. When planting blueberries in containers, choose a spot with morning sun and a little afternoon shade, especially in Southern regions.
What Kind of Soil to Use for Blueberries
Blueberry plants need acidic soil to thrive; the ideal soil pH for blueberries is between 4.5 and 4.8. (Soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline soil is.). Azaleas also need acid soil to thrive, so if azaleas grow well in your area, blueberries should fare well, too. If you want to check the pH of your soil, use a basic soil test kit, or have soil tested by your local extension office; the extension office can also tell you how to change the pH if necessary.
One simple thing you can do to help blueberries thrive is to make sure soil is rich in organic matter. If you’re planting blueberries directly in the ground, you can increase organic matter by mixing 3 inches of Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Garden Soil into the top 6 to 8 inches of native soil. When planting blueberries in containers, start by filling pots with Miracle-Gro® Moisture Control® Potting Mix, which provides just the right soil consistency and protects against over- and under-watering.
When to Plant Blueberries
Blueberry plants are typically available for sale year-round at garden centers and nurseries. The best time of year for planting depends on where you live: Spring or fall works well in cold-winter regions, while fall (after summer heat breaks) through early spring is ideal in warmer regions.
How to Plant Blueberries
Give blueberry plants ample elbow room, with 2 to 2.5 feet between plants. If you’re only growing a few, arrange them in a block to help improve pollination. When planting in containers, make sure pots are at least 20 to 24 inches in diameter. After planting, water the new plants well, soaking the root ball and surrounding soil completely.
How to Water Blueberries
Keep soil consistently moist during the growing season. Blueberries have shallow roots, which means they are more susceptible to drying out. Check soil several times a week, and when the top inch is dry, it’s time to water. When watering, aim directly at the root zone.
How to Mulch Blueberries
Apply a 2- to 3-inch mulch layer around (but not on top of) blueberry plants to help keep the shallow roots from drying out. Use Scotts® bagged mulch, shredded leaves, pine straw, or another locally available material.
How to Fertilize Blueberries
A month after planting blueberries, boost nutrition for up to 3 months by mixing Miracle-Gro® Shake ’n Feed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Continuous Release Plant Food into the soil in a circle around the base of each plant. Be sure to follow label directions. Feed established blueberry plants at bloom time. Do not fertilize blueberry plants in late summer or fall, as you do not want to encourage plant growth as it begins to grow colder.
How to Prune Blueberries
For the first three years after planting blueberries, you won’t need to prune much beyond removing any damaged or dead branches. Starting in year four after planting, prune blueberries once a year while plants are dormant. Remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches, along with stems that crisscross in the center of the plant (to improve airflow) and any that are less than 6 inches long. The biggest berries form on new stems, but you want plants to have a mix of stems of different ages. As plants mature, remove any branches over 2 inches in diameter.
How to Protect Blueberries from Birds
Birds love the taste of blueberries as much as humans do. If you do not want to share your harvest, you may need to cover blueberry plants with bird netting. Many gardeners build a framework for the netting that fits neatly over blueberry bushes and allows easy access for picking.
How to Harvest Blueberries
Pick blueberries in the morning, while fruits are cool. Harvest fruit that’s fully colored with a dusting of gray. Refrigerate unrinsed berries immediately after picking. Blueberry plants tend to produce greater harvests as plants age.
How to Use Blueberries
Wash blueberries before eating. Eat them fresh, or preserve them through freezing or drying.
In the landscape, consider planting blueberries as hedge or foundation shrubs. They make a nice surrounding plant for an elevated deck and can provide a pretty backdrop as the last row in the vegetable garden. Or try growing blueberries in containers on your patio or deck.
Ready to start growing blueberries? Click on any of the product links above for more information, to purchase the product online, or to find a retailer near you.