A popular, hardy fruiting shrub available in dwarf and standard heights, blueberries are North American natives that are hardy in zones 4 to 7. The fruit is very nutritious, high in antioxidants, and eaten fresh, frozen, and used to make jam and desserts.
There are a few different types of blueberries. Highbush types grow the tallest and have the largest fruit. There are both northern and southern types of highbush blueberries. Southern types are best suited to the mild climates in the southern US, while northern highbush types are best in cold climate regions.
Lowbush varieties are the most low-growing types and typically have small to medium-sized fruit. They make excellent container plants.
Half-high types are crosses of highbush and lowbush types. They are intermediate in height, and some varieties are quite compact, making them good choices for containers.
Blueberry varieties are also classified by their season of ripening, from early to mid-season and late season. Planting varieties with different ripening dates provides an extended harvest.
Blueberries are somewhat self-fruitful, but production is much better and fruit is larger when two or more varieties are planted.
Most varieties have blue to purple fruit, but Pink Popcorn has pink fruit.
How To Plant
Because blueberries require a strongly acidic soil (pH 4.0 to 5.6), having a professional soil test done is helpful to determine the soil's current pH and how much adjustment is needed. Soil Sulfur can be used to acidify the soil. Because blueberries are long lived, it can be worth spending a season to amend the soil and adjust the pH before planting.
Keep bare root plants in a cool area out of direct sun until planted. Soak the roots for 8 to 12 hours before planting. Prepare a hole 18 to 24 inches deep and 18 to 20 inches wide and mix in compost or organic matter. Set the plants slightly deeper than when grown in the nursery. Space highbush and taller half-high types 4 to 5 feet apart. Plant more compact types 2 to 3 feet apart.
After planting, cut the branches back to about 9 inches from the ground. This initial pruning promotes strong rooting in the planting year, as it removes flower buds that would otherwise channel energy into flowering and fruiting.
Dwarf varieties can be grown in containers.
For full sun in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Blueberries are not difficult to grow as long as soil pH is sufficiently acidic (pH of 4.5 to 5.0). Adjusting soil pH is usually required before planting.
Blueberries benefit from mulching with 4 to 6 inches of organic material, like chopped leaves, wood chips, peat moss, or straw. Soil Sulfur can be used as a top dressing every 3 to 4 years to help keep soil pH acidic. Use 1/2 to 1 cup per plant.
Annual pruning is required to maintain vigor and fruit production once plants are mature (4 years and older). When pruning mature blueberries, remove one or two of the oldest canes (an inch or more in diameter) at ground level to encourage vigorous new growth. Also remove all but one or two of the shoots emerging from the ground.
Fertilize in spring when growth starts and again when harvest is finished at the labelled rate. Acidifying fertilizers, like Jack's Classic Acid Special 17-6-6 or of Blueberry Fertilizer 12-12-12 are ideal. Balanced fertilizers like ALGOplus All Purpose 6-6-6 can also be used.
Usually not seriously bothered by insect or disease pests. Blueberry maggot, Japanese beetle, and powdery mildew sometimes attack plants. Birds may eat the fruit as it ripens. Leaf yellowing usually indicates that the pH is not acidic enough. Using a foliar spray of liquid fertilizer at half the recommended rate may help to green up yellow leaves.
A fruiting shrub similar to blueberry, but without the need for strongly acidic soil is honeyberry.
Pawpaw and American persimmon are other native North American native fruits.
Bird-X Netting can be used to protect fruit from birds.
July is national Blueberry month in the United States. Blueberry fruit contains high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and anthocyanins. They are very low in fat, a good source of fiber, and are rich in Vitamin C and manganese.
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