Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries
by National Gardening Association Editors
Plant in early spring.
Select varieties adapted to your area. In the South look for Southern highbush blueberries or Rabbiteye blueberries. In the North select highbush, lor low bush varieties with the appropriate hardiness ratings.
Select bare-root or potted plants.
Check for half-high varieties that are more ornamental, but not as productive as highbush 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 the soil to adjust the pH before planting.
On loam or clay loam soils, grow plants on 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.
Dig a hole 18 inches 18 inches wide. Add a mix of compost and peat moss and with top soil until the hole is filled 4 inches from the top. Place the plants in the hole and cover the roots with the remaining peat-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. Apply an acidifying fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate, around the drip line of the bush. Apply half of the fertilizer at bloom time and the second half one month later.
Blueberries are shallow rooted plants. Keep a 4 inch thick layer of mulch to conserve moisture and water with a soaker hose or drip irrigation for best berry production.
Keep weed cultivated, being careful not to damage the shallow 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.
See our article Fruit Pests and Diseases for controls of common blueberry pests such as birds, maggots, and mummyberry disease.
By growing early, mid, and late-season varieties you can harvest blueberries from early summer until fall.
Blueberries ripen over a 2 to 5 week period. Harvest highbush blueberries every 5 days as the color becomes a deep blue. Harvest rabbiteye blueberries every 10 days as 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.