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Growing Blueberry Bushes
(Vaccinium spp.)

Patt's Blueberries

If you have acidic, well drained soil, consider growing blueberry bushes for their tasty fruit and their marvelous burnt-red fall color. In several other languages, there are names for the blue-colored berries of Vaccinium species that translate to "blueberry" in English, but these are often bilberries or other cousins. True blueberries are native to North America and those are the ones discussed here.

Of these North American blueberries, there are three primary types of blueberry bushes being sold:

- Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum):

The most common blueberries and the only type that does not require cross pollination from a different variety of that type to set fruit, although their yield is higher if they do cross pollinate.

- Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium):

Predominantly found in New England, though you'll find them commercially as far south as the mountains of West Virginia. When the store carton says "Wild Blueberry" it usually means this variety in some wild but managed setting. A second variety of this type is required for fruit set.

- Rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum or V. ashei)
The blueberry for the South and West, the Rabbiteye blueberries do require a second variety of this type to set fruit, but require only 200 hours (9 days) of below 45 degrees Farenheit to set fruit. (The other two require a month or more.)

Below you will find a description of the blueberry bush including heights, hardiness, and flower; light, moisture, and soil requirements; pruning and other cultivation tips for keeping your growing blueberry bushes healthy and tasty; our favorites varieties of each type ; and some tips for how to harvest and store ripe blueberries.


Description

Sweet, pointed ovate leaves and small white or creamy bell shaped flowers in spring and early summer.

Highbush: 5 to 6 feet tall and 7 to 8 feet wide.

Lowbush: 2 to 4 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide.

Rabbiteye: Anywhere from 6 to 30 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. Unlike the other two, the berries on the Rabbiteye varieties will cluster toward the tips of the branches.


Light, Moisture, and Soil Requirements
for Growing Blueberries

Light: Full sun, or a minimum of 6 hours.

Moisture: All types of blueberry are shallow rooted, usually within the top 14" of soil. This means they are prone to drying out, but they don't like that. Water heavily once you have the drainage issue solved and mulch to stabilize the soil moisture.

Soil: Soil is everything to success growing blueberry bushes: it must be acidic and it must drain.

Acidity is required to let the growing blueberry bushes pull nitrogen and iron from the soil. This might tempt you to use a high N fertilizer, but don't do it. It'll backfire.

Do not plant next to your cement house foundations or cement sidewalks. These raise the pH of the nearby soil.

To push your pH down, use acidic mulches: pine needles, shredded oak leaves, rotted sawdust, or peat moss. My compost pit has two 'side ventures' going, both for tipping pH: wood ash on one side, and coffee grounds, teabags, and hair on the other. I never use either straight-up, but will mix them with the compost to push my soils in the desired direction.


Tips for Growing Blueberry Bushes

Starting Blueberries from layering is the easiest. Push the tip of a low branch to the ground, cover it with soil and then a rock. The next spring, cut the branch about 8 inches from the ground and transplant your new shrub.

Rooting hormone is helpful. I meant that sentence to go with the paragraph above about layering, but it occurs to me that these are the plants I first used micchorizal fungi on. Treating the roots of transplants with this stuff makes a huge difference, as blueberry's root systems are their Achilles heel.


Cultivation and Pruning of Blueberry Bushes:
Do your best to pluck off all the blossoms for the first few years. The long term health and vigor of the plant will reward you.

Reverse of that, though, is that you don't prune a blueberry until it is three years old, minimum. The fruit sets best from these older branches. After that you want to prune it back to the older stems every five years or so.


Blueberry Varieties

There are so many varieties out there within each type, and each variety is only available in certain regions, that what's most important to convey to you here is the timing of the cross-pollination.

The highbush doesn't require it, but does better with cross-pollination, and the other two flat out require it. HOWEVER, within each type, there are early, mid-, and late season varieties. If you get an early season and a late season variety, they won't cross pollinate each other because they won't flower at the same time.

Start with a tasty, mid-season variety of the proper type for your area, and then branch early or late from there.

Harvesting Blueberries

Blueberries would be bluer if they didn't have that waxy coating on them, but that coating is very helpful. They keep longest when that coating is intact, so pick them into their intended storage container and don't wash until just before using them.

If you are going to can (jar) blueberries, you'll have your best results making the jam or pie-filling, etc, and canning that rather than trying to preserve your options and canning them plain.

To freeze, again, don't wash. Lay them out on a cookie sheet, freeze for an hour, then fill their intended air-tight container as full as possible, label it, and freeze. Yes, you can skip the cookie sheet stage, but they freeze together as one solid lump. You are forewarned.

Okay! Now you're ready for blueberry pies, blueberry jam, blueberry mojitos- you name it!


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