Fully ripened blueberries have sweetness and aroma that store-bought blueberries cannot match, and the attractive shrubs are easy to grow and maintain.
About This Plant
Select blueberry varieties adapted to your area. In the South, look for Southern high-bush blueberries or rabbiteye blueberries. In the north, select highbush or lowbush varieties with the appropriate hardiness ratings. Half-high varieties are more ornamental but not as productive as high-bush varieties.
Select a site in full sun, with well-drained soil. Blueberries need a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5 to thrive. Do a pH test and add the appropriate amounts of ammonium sulfate or sulfur to lower the pH of the soil before planting. On loam or clay loam soil, grow plants in raised beds — 4 feet wide and 9 inches high — for better water drainage. Blueberries grow best in a moist but not soggy wet soil. Amend the beds with compost before planting to help retain soil moisture.
Plant in early spring. For bare-root plants, dig a hole 18 inches wide. Mix some compost with topsoil and place this back in the hole until the hole is filled 4 inches from the top. Place the plant in the hole and cover the roots with the remaining compost/soil mix. Set plants 5 feet apart in rows 10 feet apart. Mulch with a 4-inch-thick layer of sawdust or bark mulch, spread 2 feet wide around the plants. Maintain the mulch depth throughout the growing season. Water well.
Fertilize based on a soil test each spring. An annual application of compost may be adequate. Maintain a 4-inch-thick layer of mulch to conserve moisture and water the planting with a soaker hose or drip irrigation for best berry production. Blueberries have shallow roots. Cultivate shallowly to keep down weeds, but be careful not to damage the surface roots.
Prune during the dormant season. Starting in the fourth year, remove dead and weak branches. Thin out branches smaller than the diameter of a pencil. As the bush ages, remove old, unproductive branches to stimulate new growth, leaving 6 to 8 productive branches. Prune interior crossing branches to admit light to the center of the plant. Although generally troublefree, blueberries are susceptible to a number of different disease and insect pests, depending on region. Contact your cooperative extension office for information on managing pests in your area.
By growing early, mid, and late-season varieties you can harvest blueberries from early summer until fall. Blueberries ripen over a two- to five-week period. Harvest highbush blueberries every 5 days as the color becomes a deep blue. Harvest rabbiteye blueberries every 10 days; their flavor improves the longer they stay on the bush. Gently roll berries between your thumb and forefinger, removing fully ripe berries and leaving unripe berries for the next picking.