Apr 022012
 

How to Grow Your Own Blueberries - Choosing the right variety, soil and water needs, how to keep the birds away from your blueberries.

Do you love the taste and health benefits of blueberries?  Would you like a fruit crop that will produce well in a short amount of time and doesn’t require a lot of space (and can even be grown in a container)?  Have you tried growing blueberries and had poor results?  This post is for you!  Learn how to grow blueberries at home in your own backyard.

Why Should I Grow Blueberries?

I would grow blueberries at home just for the taste alone.  A perfectly ripened blueberry warm off the bush is a lovely thing, and some home varieties (such as Rubel) pack an extra flavor punch.  Blueberries are a super fruit, packed with health benefits.  The World’s Best Foods states that blueberries are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients that benefit nearly every system in the body.

Blueberries -

  • Help improve memory and may help prevent age-related memory loss
  • Have a low glycemic index and may also aid in regulating blood sugar levels
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Protect the retina from oxygen damage
  • May help prevent cancer

Which blueberries should I grow?

Different varieties can be grown from Texas to Canada. I’d recommend checking in with your local Cooperative Extension office, or asking neighbors who have had success in growing berries for specific cultivars that are best suited to your area.  Mother Earth News has a great chart that summarizes recommended blueberry types for different regions.

Basic blueberry types include lowbush (cold tolerant, less productive), northern highbush (zone 5-7 or colder), southern highbush (zones 7-10), rabbiteye (best for southern growers) and saskatoon (not a true blueberry, but extremely cold tolerant).

How to grow blueberries at home - soil preparation, soil pH, which blueberries to grow, how much water blueberries need, best mulch for blueberries.

What type of soil do I need for blueberries?

Blueberries grow best with an acid soil pH between 4 and 5.5, so do a soil test before you start. If your soil is alkaline, you’ll either need to do a LOT of soil amending or grow you blueberries in a container.

Blueberries like soil rich in acidic, organic material, like you would find on forest floor or edge of the forest.  Peat moss is commonly recommended, but pine needles, leaves and other tree fallout (that may be available for free) work just as well.

When you prepare your planting area, dig a generous amount of organic matter into your soil. Time and effort up front will make all the difference in plant performance.  Watch out for large amounts of sulfur and other chemical additives, which may lower pH but disrupt the soil microbes.  If you do add sulfur in quantity to lower pH, wait at least three months for it to break down before planting.  (For instance, add in fall for planting in spring.)

The first time I planted blueberries, I used pine sawdust to kill the weeds, then used the sawdust for mulch. It worked OK, but I think the sawdust used a lot of nitrogen, which slowed plant growth.

When I extended my blueberry patch, I first smothered the grass in a 10′x24′ plot with black plastic during the growing season.  In the fall I tilled in a generous amount of leaves and black peat by-product from Whitetail Organics earthworm casting production. (My nephew owns and operates Whitetail Organics.)  I know my soil is acidic enough from the test I did before starting the plot.

Preparing the blueberry bed

Getting ready for spring planting, adding additional pine needles.  Note the rich, crumbly soil and composting leaves from the previous fall.

How deep should I plant my blueberries, and when should I fertilize them?

Potted plants should be planted at the same depth they are growing in pot.  The same rule applies for bare root plants.  The potted plants I planted blossomed and had fruit the first year.  Bare root plants may take longer.

The texts I have suggest fertilizing with 2 ounces of ammonium sulfate 18 inches from the plant when you see blossoms and increasing by an ounce each year up to 4 oz per plant per year. In years when organic mulches are applied increase the amount by 1/2.  I’m currently gathering pine needles for mulch to keep the weeds down. Blue berries are a shallow rooted shrub and don’t compete well with grass, so they will really benefit from a good mulching.

One of the best discoveries I have made is is how the plants respond to earthworm castings for fertilizer. My nephew gave me a 5 gallon pail in the fall and suggested I use it for the berries. Since its low nitrogen I figured it would be OK, but it triggered a growth spurt and even a few blossoms in October. Now when the berries are starting to bud, I fertilize with earthworm castings and they do great.  From my experience, a complete organic fertilizer gives results that chemicals such as Miracle Grow can’t match.

I now have a 24′x40′ enclosure that will be planted with 3 sugar sweet cherry bushes, 4 honey berries, 2 blue moon, 2 blue velvet, and the rest will blue berries, including the varieties North Blue, Chippewa, and Blue bell, a high bush type not really for this area, but I have 3 of them started so I’m going to give them some time.

How much water do blueberry plants need?

Blueberries need around an inch of water per week.  A good layer of mulch will  help keep up the moisture level stable, and cut down on the amount of time spent watering.  I would say the best mulch would be pine needles.  As they decay they will continue to supply nutrients and help maintain the correct pH.

If you can’t get pine needles, bark over landscape material would be my next choice, although I haven’t tried it.  Each spring, I would suggest pulling up the mulch and adding organic material such as compost or castings to keep the ground healthy. (Healthy soil = healthy plants.  Plants in the healthiest soil will produce the healthiest berries)  Remember, these bushes have the potential to provide many years of delicious berries, so they are worth the extra effort.

spring soil amendments for blueberries

Amending the soil in spring – mulch is pulled back, weeds removed, amendments added, mulch replaced

How to I keep birds and other animals away from my blueberries?

The first problem I ran into with blue berries is that every wild animal eats them, and not just the berries. They started with the newly planted bushes.  First the deer came to browse and then the rabbits, and the first 6 plants I put in turned into 2 inch stubs.

I fenced the next planting with 3 foot wire, but I still had problems with the deer jumping the fence, so last year I went to a 6 1/2 ft fence. To keep the birds out I built a frame work out of T post, chicken wire, tube steel and conduit, then ran wires to support plastic bird netting. This created safe haven for the plants to grow and berries to ripen pest free.  Having the netting elevated instead of just draped over the plants provides better protection and makes the plants easier to access for harvest and care.

Blueberry enclosure

Deer and Bird proof blueberry enclosure

I know there are products to repel deer and rabbits but I’m not convinced in their effectiveness. Same with different tactics to repel hungry birds – nothing is going to be as effective as a physical fence. When you price fencing materials they may seem expensive, but remember a blueberry planting can last 30 years if you manage it properly, so it will be worth it in the long term.

Healthy Blueberry Plant

Extra time and effort yields beautiful, healthy plants loaded with berries

This post was written with my brother, Richard, based on his blueberry experience.  I’m going to use his advice to overhaul my own blueberry patch this season, which sadly looks not nearly as nice as his.  I need more organic matter.  My neighbor has a big pile of aged leaves and pine needles that I’ve been eying up in his woods…

I hope you’ve found this post useful.  If so, please share.  Any questions or comments, just let us know, and we’ll do our best to help.

Don’t forget to check out our other Gardening posts, such as How to Grow Raspberries.

P.S.  We’ve answered some questions in the comments, so I’m adding those to the post.

Growing Blueberries in Containers, Including Overwintering Instructions- http://hort.uwex.edu/articles/growing-blueberries-containers. Excerpt from the article:

Because containers do not provide adequate insulation from the cold, be sure to protect container-grown blueberries during the winter to prevent root damage. In mid- to late October, bury containers in the ground at a site where snow is likely to accumulate and where plants will be protected from cold winter winds. Mulch the soil surface with four to eight inches of straw in mid-November or cover the bushes with burlap. Prevent rabbit damage by placing chicken wire fencing or hardware cloth around the bushes. During early to mid-spring, remove containers from the ground and place them in full sun. Alternatively, containers can be left buried in the soil as long as the containers have proper drainage holes and the site where the containers are buried is well drained and exposed to full sun.

How to Prune Blueberries – Here’s a good post from Ohio State University Extension on proper pruning techniques for blueberries – http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1430.html.

How to Transplant Mature Blueberry Plants -  Yes, you can transplant mature blueberry bushes. It’s best done in late winter or early spring.  This is a pretty good guide, although I would try to give the sulfur a longer rest period before planting.  http://www.gardenguides.com/112707-transplant-mature-blueberry-bush.html

How to Clone Blueberries from Mature Plantshttp://homeguides.sfgate.com/graft-clone-blueberries-73089.html

How to Plant Blueberries in Pots

Additional information on growing blueberries in containers, including overwintering, can be found at: Growing Blueberries in Containers by Vijai Pandian, UW-Extension Brown County and Rebecca Harbut, UW-Madison Horticulture

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  26 Responses to “How to Grow Blueberries at Home”

  1. Question: Do you need to prune blueberry bushes?

  2. Nice article ! We have a small planting of blueberrires and love them !!! They are my pride and joy. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to ‘share the bounty’ with family and friends.
    I do have a question… When we did our First planting of blueberry bushes, we nade a novice mistake…The plants were so small that we planted them rather close together…i believe they are 4 feet apart , in rows 6 feet apart. Now, years later , they are difficult to work around. Can the bushes be thinned out by transplanting some ?? I absolutely hate the thought of just removing them, and want to try to save them. I realise they would get set-back for a couple of years…but it would be worth it to me.
    Thank You for any suddestions, Marge Thornton

  3. Great article, thank you! I had great beginner’s luck with my first blueberry bush, but it died. I’ve since purchased 72 slips and I have about 40 plants going. I want to make sure they grow optimally. This sure helps! Thanks for the county extension links. I found and favorited mine.

  4. Great article, I have about 200 wild high bush blueberry bushes. I love that every bush yas a different flavor. I was told to fertilize just before they flower and just after flower drop. Also learned blueberries are a 50/50 plant where the roots are the same size as the tops, to encourage growth the oldest shoots should be pruned to promote new growth. Love my blueberries…

  5. [...] Plant How to Grow Your Own Indoor Culinary Herb Garden Blueberries – Growing the Superfruit How to use Lemon [...]

  6. I’ve been growing my own blueberry bushes for years. I just recently started growing them from seeds as opposed to buying them. I like to grow highbush and rabbiteye so I can harvest berries all year, makes for the perfect mixture.

  7. I am real curious how you built your fencing and how it is working. It is hard to tell from the picture how the wires, tube steel and conduit are connected. I’ve been wanting to do something similar, but wondering how to tighten the high tensile strength wires so they do not sag with netting without pulling the T-post out. I put almost an acre of blueberry bushes in over the last two years but the birds eat almost all the berries before even ripening. Deer and rabbits are not my friends either. Any help would be appreciated? and could you post or send more pictures of the fence too maybe. Thanks for the great article and hope.

  8. I have great harvests from my blueberry bushes which are grown 100% organically with compost as the only fertilizer and soil amendment. I also do not remove any fallen leaves from the garden or landscape but rather allow them to remain in place to naturally replenish the soil and provide a host of environmental services.
    Why recommend the use of synthetic fertilizers? Ammonium sulfate is not only unnecessary but harmful to the environment and public health. Synthetic fertilizers are particularly damaging to soil health in addition to contaminating ground water and storm water runoff. The toxic run-off or leaching of synthetic fertilizer is particularly grave in the Chesapeake Bay watershed causing dead zones in our national treasure, the largest estuary in the US.

  9. [...] leaves to help drop your pH).  Strongly alkaline soil will stunt blueberries (pine needles make a great blueberry mulch).  In my garden, I can’t grow sweet onions.  I can plant sweet onion varieties, but I have [...]

  10. great post…. I am so happy that worm casting are good… I have some busy worms…and live with lots of pine trees around so that is a good reminder to….take care.

  11. Thank you for this informative article. However, Please, don’t suggest using peat moss. It is not a renewable resource, it’s harvesting destroys old ecosystems. The alternatives you gave – pine needles, forest duff – are fine, but removing this from its habitat still disturbs wildlife quite a bit. How about integrating these? Using a forest edge that is within the community where you live – as a permaculture option. Or creating one! There are ways to start cultivating the conifers that will create the soil conditions over the years. Sure, it will take time. For the meatime, using containers is a great suggestion. You will be giving a gift to future generations, who will see the values of having a variety of habitat types all around, and can then learn from them.

    Naturally, protecting the plants from being eaten away by wildlife is the biggest challenge, the same as here in Germany. In some places, large browsers can still be fenced out of “habitat-recovery zones”. Just a suggestion! All the best!

  12. Just wanted to chime in and say that I planted 3 bare root blueberry plants and one potted this year. I mixed into the dirt leaf compost and mulched with pine bark. Fertilized with jacks classic acid special and they were doing good. Last weekend I pulled the much back to expose the dirt and added two pounds of earthworm castings on top of the dirt around the base of the plant, covered back up with mulch and watered. Man let me tell you the blueberry plants just took off! They love the earthworm castings so much I am thinking of buying a few dozen eartworms and putting them under there. I doubt there is a better fertilizer for blueberries.

  13. Would red cedar needles be to hot to use as a mulch for blueberries?

    • When you say too hot I’m not sure what you mean. Blueberries like fertile ground. If you mulch with leaves or needles it takes a while for them to break down and soil microbes will change the ph and bring it closer to neutral

  14. Thank you so much for this post! Blueberries are on my planting list. I love them and buy so many. I really would like to grow my own. However, the spot I have is a bit shady, is that ok, or do blueberries require full sun?

  15. I planted two blueberry plants last year in half-barrels. There are no pine needles available in my area, so a got some discarded Christmas trees from my neighbors in January. My plants are loving the pine needle mulch.

  16. I was wondering how one would winter over a potted blueberry bush. Our soil isn’t suitable, yet we would love to grow them.

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