Shades of Blue
There’s nothing tastier than fresh blueberries straight from your garden. Here’s how to choose the right blueberry for your region.
What’s round, blue, and deliciously good for you? Blueberries, of course! Consumer demand for this tasty little fruit has increased significantly in recent years, fueled in part by research that has shown blueberries to be one of the best food sources of health- protecting antioxidants.
You’ll find blueberries at grocery stores throughout the year, but they can be expensive. Fortunately, blueberries are easy to grow in home gardens, and there are types of blueberries adapted to growing in just about every region.
Once established, a modest patch of blueberry bushes will keep your family stocked with fresh and frozen berries all year. Blueberry plants are also highly ornamental, providing pretty white urn-shaped flowers in spring and glossy green leaves that turn stunning shades of red in the fall.
Choose your blues
Blueberries are in the genus Vaccinium, a large group of plants that also includes cranberry and lingonberry. Dozens of Vaccinium species are native throughout the United States and Canada, but only a few are important for fruit production.
Highbush blueberry(Vaccinium corymbosum, Zones 4 to 7) is the main blueberry species grown for fresh fruit. Native to much of the eastern United States and Canada, highbush blueberry is a multistemmed shrub that grows 6 to 12 feet tall. Many cultivars (selected for better production and fruit quality) are available. Blueberries produce more fruit when they cross-pollinate, so plant several different cultivars with similar bloom times together.
If you want to pick fresh berries for several months, plant early, mid- season, and late-season blueberries. Try early cultivars such as ‘Earliblue’, ‘Patriot’, and ‘Bluetta’; mid-season types like ‘Bluecrop’, ‘Blueray’, and ‘Sierra’; and late-season selections such as ‘Nelson’, ‘Elliott’, and ‘Jersey’.
Lowbush blueberry(Vaccinium angustifolium, Zones 2 to 6) is a spreading, low-growing shrub that grows no taller than 2 feet. This cold-hardy species grows from Maine to Minnesota and in eastern Canada. Lowbush blueberries tolerate poor, sandy soil and drier conditions than highbush blueberries. The berries, which are often called wild blueberries, are small but flavorful and are harvested for products like canned blueberries, jams, fillings, and syrups.
Half-high blueberry(Vaccinium spp., Zones 3 to 7) is a hybrid between highbush and lowbush blueberries. They combine the cold-hardiness of lowbush blueberries with the larger fruit size of highbush blueberries. Their size (generally 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on cultivar) and excellent fall foliage color make them ideal for landscaping, along with the bonus of tasty fruit. Cultivars include ‘Chippewa’, ‘Northcountry’, ‘Northblue’, ‘Polaris’, and ‘Top Hat’.
Rabbiteye blueberry(Vaccinium virgatum[formerly V. ashei], Zones 7 to 9) is native to the southeastern United States. This large shrub grows 8 to 15 feet tall and tolerates drier soils and higher heat and humidity than highbush blueberry. Cultivars include ‘Austin’, ‘Alapaha’, ‘Tifblue’, ‘Powderblue’, ‘Climax’, and ‘Briteblue’.
Southern highbush blueberry(Vaccinium spp., Zones 5 to 8) is a group of hybrids between highbush blueberry and several southern blueberry species, including rabbiteye. They deliver the higher fruit quality of highbush blueberries with the heat tolerance (and lower winter chill requirement) of the southern species. Cultivars include ‘O’Neal’, ‘Cooper’, ‘Jewel’, and ‘Sapphire’.
Blueberries flower and fruit best in full sun, though they’ll tolerate partial shade. Remove flowers the first year blueberries are planted; this allows more of the plant’s energy to go into root development and establishment.
Soil is critical to blueberries’ success; it needs to be very acidic (pH 4.0 to 5.5), contain a lot of organic matter, and be evenly moist but not soggy. Have your soil tested, then add organic matter (compost, peat moss, composted leaves) and adjust the pH with sulfur as needed several months before planting. For neutral to alkaline soils (pH 7.0 and higher), it’s difficult to adequately lower pH. In that case, consider growing blueberries in containers or raised beds filled with a blend of peat moss, sand, and acidified soil.
Blueberries have few problems with insects or diseases, which makes it easy to grow them pesticide-free. That’s also beneficial to bumblebees and other pollinators, which are essential for blueberry fruit production. The biggest challenge for gardeners may be birds, which like to eat blueberries as much as we do. Use flexible bird netting or a movable frame covered with wire mesh fencing to protect the crop, and plant a few blueberries elsewhere in the yard just for the birds.
Mulch blueberries with 2 to 3 inches of pine needles, compost, shredded leaves, or other organic matter to help keep the shallow roots moist and protected. Water as needed during dry spells. (This is especially important for highbush types.) Fertilize lightly in spring with an ammonium-type nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium sulphate. Test your soil every few years to determine whether it needs additional phosphorus or potassium.
For the taller types of blueberries, encourage fruiting by pruning out older stems (those that are more than six years old, or about 1 inch in diameter) in late winter. Also, remove any broken or weak branches. Lowbush blueberries can be cut back nearly to the ground every few years to encourage vigorous new fruiting stems.
Blueberries change from green to pinkish and finally deep blue at maturity (though an exception is ‘Pink Lemonade’, an unusual new hybrid blueberry with mature fruits that are bright pink). Blueberries should be fully colored for best flavor, so peek at all sides of the fruit before picking. Harvest blueberries every few days as they ripen.
Fresh blueberries will keep well for several weeks in the refrigerator. Whole blueberries also freeze beautifully. Rinse the berries, then let them dry thoroughly. (I like to spread them out on a cotton dish towel.) Put a single layer of berries into a shallow rimmed pan, put the pan in the freezer for several hours (until the berries are frozen solid), then pour frozen berries into zip-top freezer bags and return bags to the freezer. Once thawed, frozen blueberries are a little too mushy for fresh eating, but they are perfect for smoothies, muffins, pancakes, dessert sauces, and cakes.
Nancy Rose is horticultural consultant for Gardening How-To.
Landscaping With Blueberries
Whether you’re planning an edible landscape or just want a pretty shrub with multiseason interest, blueberries fit the bill. Taller-growing blueberries make a nice border or group planting, while half-highs look great edging a walkway or patio. Lowbush blueberries make a handsome ground cover, especially in naturalized areas or sites with sandy, nutrient-poor soils.
If you already have acidic soil—or are able to modify the pH in a large planting bed— combine blueberries with other acid-loving shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, Japanese pieris, heaths and heathers, fothergilla, bayberry, camellias, and many hollies.
And of course, blueberries are a perfect addition to bird- friendly gardens—they’ll be a hit with robins, waxwings, bluejays, catbirds, and other fruit-loving birds.
Thursday, July 01, 2010 1:46 PM
Fine article, but it doesn't say when the season is or how long to maturity.
When do they bloom in southern Calif.?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:16 PM
I live in Chicago.What kind of blueberry can I grow? I am having a very hard time growing HollyHocks. My MaMa's favorite flower.Can anyone help?
Thursday, July 29, 2010 8:28 AM
Planted my blueberry's in pots and seem to be doing OK. Mulched with pine needles. When will they bloom.\? Its the last of July in southern calif.
Thursday, July 29, 2010 1:36 PM
I live in the Dallas, TX metro-plex. Have been trying to grow Jersey & Blue crop blueberry's with no success. They have not grown an inch since I planted them in pots, spring of 09. Does someone have a suggestion?
Wednesday, August 04, 2010 8:28 PM
DOESN'T ANYONE KNOW HOW OR WHAT I CAN DO TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL CROP OF HOLLYHOCKS?
Wednesday, November 03, 2010 6:56 PM
I live in zone 5 b, walsenburg, colorado and i have also tried to grow cherries, and different type of berres and have no luck. Can anyone help, have berries been gown in this zone before? email@example.com
Thursday, February 17, 2011 9:20 AM
In Colorado, (I'm near Boulder), we have a problem with some severely alkaline soil, which makes it really difficult for blueberries, azaleas, etc. to survive. I've been working to take my garden back from a Ph of 9 for nearly 20 years. I'm not real thrilled about trying to put aluminum-based acidifiers in the soil, and have heard that sulfur works, but haven't tried it yet.
We had blueberries in my childhood home in Mass., but they were plagued with nests of wasps, which can get through most bird netting, so I've been skeptical about even trying, although I'd love to have blueberries; they are one of my favorite fruits.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 12:42 PM
I live in the midwest and we have an abundance of blueberry farms. I grow my own-right now I have only 5 bushes but plan on planting more this year. The do need a lot of sun. The blueberry farms around here are right in the middle of fields-the one closest to my house has been there for 50 yrs.-and they don't even water them. They just depend on Mother Nature. I water mine about once a week as they are still young. They were planted 3 yrs. ago and every year I get more and more berries.
Tommy@Hollyhocks-just follow the seed package direction and you shouldn't have a problem...I have even planted them in mostly sandy soil-with a mixture of peat moss and potting soil- and they do
I also use Miracle Grow on all my berries, vegetables and flowers.
Sunday, March 20, 2011 6:36 PM
I would like to know how to propogate blueberries. Is this accomplished with seeds, soft wood cuttings?
Monday, March 28, 2011 2:39 AM
I picked up a Jersey and a Legacy from our local store here in Southern California desert mountain area. Planted them in large 15 gallon pots. It mentions here that Jersey's are a late producing plant. Does anyone know when the Legacy's produce?
Sunday, May 29, 2011 8:38 PM
What is the harvest month for the berries?
Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:51 AM
So far I have only been able to find the Harvest time for the very northern parts of the United States and Canada, which is
You have three different harvest time for Blueberries, which is common for most fruits depending on which kind you get. You should have that information on the identifying tag that should have come with the bush.
Harvest time for most fruits and vegetables depend on the amount of sun and warm weather. So basically the farther south (North for those in the Southern Hemispheres) you are the sooner your fruits/vegetables will ripen. But Late August will give you a basic time.
There are also other aspects as to determine the correct time to harvest Blueberries, which I found here http://www.farminfo.org/orchard/blueberry.htm
I hope this helps.
Saturday, June 11, 2011 4:54 PM
I have not been successful at propagating my blueberries. I have tried hard would cuttings they produced leaves and seemed to be on the way until the heat came. I have also built a propagation box and painted an old aquarium white with a strip left about 2 inches from the top to get the humidity right. That worked as well until I set the box out one day in the hot sun. Taught me I should have left it in the house. I was using clippings from current year for that one. Any ideas on propagating? I'm in the Chicago land area, Manteno and zone 5. I have Elliotts, Duke and Bluecrops. I was trying to get some Jersey and Berkleys going.
Saturday, June 11, 2011 4:58 PM
I would like to know how to propogate blueberries. Is this accomplished with seeds, soft wood cuttings?
I have heard either softwood cuttings as I describe above or through Hardwood cutting. They way I was told to root hard wood cuttings is this. Along about November gather hardwood cuttings. Cut them to about 3 bud length. Take a 5 gallon buck cut the bottom out. Bury the bucket in the ground. Fill with course sand. stick the hardwood cuttings in the bucket until next spring around May 15th. Put the top on the bucket and forget about it until spring. I understand they should calous up and root over the winter. I am told you then take the cuttings and put them in individual pots to grow over the next year. Then the following year you can put in a permanent location.
Saturday, June 11, 2011 11:20 PM
I googled this and there are a lot of sites talking about how to propagate Blueberries. The few that I saw talked about soft wood in the spring.
"In the spring, take 3 to 6 inches of cuttings. The cuttings should be from the tips of the stems. A small pair of garden cutters will work nicely.
Pull off the bottom leaves from the stem, leaving only the top pair of leaves.
In a pot, combine a mix of half peat moss and half sand. Combine the peat moss and sand thoroughly. Place the cutting into the peat-sand mix allowing only the top third of the cutting to stick out of the soil.
Water the cuttings slightly. The soil should be kept moist, but not overly wet. Keep in a high humidity area.
The cuttings should root in a few weeks. Once the new rooted cuttings have matured a bit, place them in a larger pot. They can be moved to the garden the following year."
These instructions were found on Ehow at the following address. If you go there they also have a video and pictures. They also have links to other articles about the same thing.
About the only thing I have ever tried to propagate using hard wood are grapes and they turned out very well. But it is easier if you can use soft wood on them also. The rooting hormone helps out nicely also. Last time I bought a jar of the hormone it was about $5. But that was about 5 years ago and Is till have some. You can put back what ever you don't use if you can keep it neat and clean.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011 8:58 PM
I live in Ohio within zone 5/6 and planning to grow blueberry trees. Half-full size trees sound very good. What would be the best choice for growing two trees and how/where should I order good quality trees?
Friday, July 08, 2011 6:54 AM
Tommy, I live in MA and I found that with my Holly Hocks patience was the best way to grow them. I started mine 3 years ago. The first year I saw almost nothing. The 2nd year they were taller but this year I have very tall holly hocks with lots of flowers. They are in mostly sun, leaning against the front of my house. I have the soil covered with mulch. I do have to continuely take off the brown leaves on the bottom of the stems though. Every week.
Friday, July 08, 2011 6:55 AM
I'm on my 2nd year of a dwarf blueberry plant and no berries yet. I didn't know about pulling the flowers off the first year. Would that help the 2nd year?
Friday, July 08, 2011 11:34 PM
@ lgregoire885... Thanks for the info you wrote to Tommy. I have lots of hollyhock seeds that I harvested last fall. Can you tell me how do I start the seeds? Some hollyhocks came up this year and I soon will have blossoms, but I need to find out what to do with all of the seeds. Can I direct seed them now? How deep? Your helpfulness is appreciated. Thanks.
I have young blueberry plants too and last winter, a couple of them got damaged in a storm. The new growth grew in and they are the ones with the best berries. So, I examined my plants and saw that the stems are stretchy and they aren't bushy enough so I will be pruning them back to encourage bushy growth with more fruit buds. They are 3 year old plants and I think I will be getting about a quart from one and a half bushes. They are getting transplanted this year. I'm thinking of planting them with the roses and azaleas. I have some research to do.
Saturday, July 09, 2011 10:39 PM
Being in the north eastern part of the states, I would assume that your soil is already on the acidic side so that should not be much of a problem like we on the other corner of the country. Blueberries down here have to be in a controlled planter of some way so we can control the acidity of the soil.
It should continue to grow bushy as the years go on so I wouldn't do a lot of pruning back each year or you might end up with too much bush at the bottom of loose limbs towards the top if you plan on having it be a large bush or small tree.
There should be decent fertilizers that is a bit higher in acid then the normal fertilizers such as Miracle grow and that is what it is looking for. If not then check what you would look for to put in the compost to make it a bit acidic and use that.
Cutting back on the blooms will make the plant concentrate of producing foliage instead of fruit, but remember that it's main thought (so to speak) for it is to reproduce like any other living thing so allowing it to produce some fruit will balance out the reason for growing.
Sounds funny talking as if the plant has a mind also. But I have noticed plants that had some flowers on it compared to some that had all the flowers taken off, the ones that had a few left on actually did grow more foliage then the ones without any at all.
Saturday, July 09, 2011 10:48 PM
Even though this article and thread doesn't have to do with HollyHocks you should google it to make sure about anything special for their seeds. A rule of thumb for seeds though is that they should be left outside during the winter even if you are not putting it into the soil till spring. most seeds (like buds on the plants) need this cold snap to be able to germinate.
For me I just lay them on the soil in the fall, do a little tilling of the soil so they are under the soil to prevent the birds and insects from eating them and let mother nature take over. If nothing happens then most likely they are hybrids that won't really reproduce very successfully or you took them prematurely. (another reason to just let mother nature release the seeds.
(They don't let you edit these things, because I realized just as I clicked "Add Comment" that I forgot to sign the previous message.)
Monday, July 11, 2011 11:44 AM
I live along the front range in Colorado and I planted blueberries for the very first time. When I planted them in May, I mixed the clay soil with steer manure and pine needles. They were doing great until the heat hit in late June. I still get plenty of new growth but the leaves will turn brown on the edges.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:52 AM
Double check online to see if for us peoples in the lower half of the states needs to plant them in the shade because we not only have warmer summers, but also have more hours of sun. As a general rule most berry plants enjoy some shade.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 2:31 PM
I live in Orlando, Fl (zone 9) I love blueberries but they're hard to grow in our very sandy alkaline soil. With much care I had a small crop in late May, but the Summer heat does a number on my plants, which now look not too good. But they will survive, even if they don't look in the peak of health, and hopefully give a better crop next year!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 10:49 PM
I'm also dealing with a hot summer and no real winter cold because I live in Honolulu. Can you suggest a cultivar that still might be coaxed into producing? Any ideas about good strategies for creating more acidic soil? I miss the Midwestern blueberries of my childhood badly! Thanks!
Monday, March 12, 2012 5:47 PM
1/2 way between Knoxville and Chattanooga Any variety recommendations for Athens,TN
Monday, March 12, 2012 10:18 PM
Blueberries are an acidic plant. Rule of thumb for whether a plant wants acid or alkaline. The more rain the native area has the more acidic the soil is for that area.. Blueberries are from the northern part of the States and Canada which receives a lot more rain then us down in the lower 2/3 of the country. There fore it isn't recommended that blueberries be planted in the ground for places that are more on the alkaline side. . I have my plants in large 25 gallon pots so they have plenty of room to grow. To add some acidic to the soil you add Peat moss and less compost and manure.
Now Florida and Hawaii have another problem though and that is the cold factor. There are some plants that have been hybrid so as to not need the freezing temperature so it will produce flowers. So I would research very carefully to make sure that the ones you get will produce flowers in the higher tempuratures in your area. I would assume that Hawaii should have the correct plants since it would be costly to have them shipped from here. But Florida if you are purchasing through mail order or sometimes even through a large chain stores purchase the plants in bulk from the large suppliers and they don't check to make sure the plants are for the correct area they will be sold in. I have seen it here, I live about 60 miles north of Los Angeles and about 3,000 feet higher. But the large chain stores order for Los Angeles County and we get a lot of flowers that can not take the cold we have.