Juicy and plump blueberries are a delicious treat for all fruit lovers. They are jam-packed with nutrients like vitamins, fibers, and antioxidants which make them a healthy alternative. Instead of buying them, you can always plant blueberry bushes in your own garden and watch them grow.
There are several blueberry varieties that you can plant, such as hybrid half-high, rabbiteye blueberries, lowbush, and highbush. The most common options among them are the highbush types.
If you wish to plant blueberry bushes, you must have a basic insight into its planting and caring process.
Here is all you need to know about how to grow blueberry plants.
How To Plant?
Spring or late fall is the right time to plant blueberries. However, in regions with cold winters, you must wait for mid-spring before planting blueberries in your garden. It will be better if you plant 1-3 years old plants in your garden. The saplings can be purchased in containers or bare-root. Make sure that you are buying them from a good nursery.
1. Planting Side Preparation
Before planting blueberry plants, certain preparations must be in order.
- It would help best if you found a sheltered yet sunny spot in your garden. Sunlight is necessary for the optimum growth of the plant. You must make sure that the location you will be planting blueberries in does not expose them to the harsh wind.
- In case you are planting multiple blueberry bushes, make sure that you plant them in a patch. It will hinder your berry production if you plant them in a scattered manner across your garden.
- Planting blueberry near a tree can negatively impact their growth. Trees tend to block the full sun and consume all the nutrients required by blueberries in the surrounding soil.
- They are shallow-rooted plants that require moisture-retaining soil. However, excessive water can be harmful to them. Hence, make sure not to plant them in clayey, heavy soils.
- Acidic soil allows blueberries to thrive. The soil pH must be between 4 and 5. If the soil is not acidic enough, the blueberry plant will show stunted growth. To acidify the soil, you can put a small amount of granulated sulfur in the soil months before planting the berries. Other alternatives include pine bark, peat moss, and needles.
- The soil must be high in organic matter to enable the blueberry plant to grow to its optimum.
2. Soil Nutrient Requirement
The soil in which you are planting the blueberries must be saturated with nutrients for them to grow. The soil must contain ample organic matter. Organic matter includes pine bark, manure, or fallen leaves. Layer the organic material into the top of 4 to 6 inches of soil.
As said before, the soil must be acidic in nature. Along with it, the soil must have enough amounts of zinc and iron. When the soil pH increases, the soil loses zinc and iron. Loss of zinc and iron make blueberries stunted. You must check the pH of the soil regularly not to hinder the well-being of blueberries.
When it comes to fertilizers, the fertilizer must have high levels of potassium and moderate levels of phosphorus. Make sure that the fertilizers do not have any nitrogen in them. During the growing season, you must add fertilizer to the soil at least four times.
3. Planting Process
To grow blueberries, you must follow through with the planting process.
- Blueberries must not be planted too deeply. They are shallow-rooted, and their root ball should be just below the surface.
- You must dig a hole about 18 inches wide and 19 inches deep.
- You must plant the bushes 4 feet apart from one another in a row. They must be at least 8 feet apart from each other.
- The planting mixture must be prepared with one part oak leaf mold, aged sawdust, peat moss, or compost. It must also include two parts of loam. This planting mixture must be placed in the form of a layer at the bottom of the hole. The loamy soil type is the best fit for the blueberry plants.
- Set the bush in the hole and pack the hole with soil tightly.
- You will need to apply fertilizer a month after you have planted the blueberry bush. You must apply 1/2 ounce of 10-10-10 fertilizer in the form of a band. Apply the fertilizer 6 to 12 inches from the crown of the plant.
- Growing blueberries is not entirely difficult, but you must follow through with the details and precautions with precision.
How To Care For Blueberries?
- To keep your plant hydrated, you must use mulch. Mulch keeps shallow blueberry roots moist. Mulch would include woodchips, pine needles, and sawdust. You must apply 2 to3 layers of it around the bush ground. Make sure to leave a gap from the trunk to maintain airflow.
- You must water the blueberries up to 1 to 2 inches of the surface every week.
- They are one of the favorite snacks of hungry birds. Hence, you must ensure to place a bird net over the berries to protect them.
- Regularly fertilize the blueberry-raised beds to ensure their better care and well-being.
- You must not allow blueberry branches to yield fruit for the first two years. This way, the bush will grow to its optimum. Post this buffer time, the berries produced are of spectacular quality.
- To prevent the fruit from growing, you must pinch the flowers out. Your blueberries will retain energy and grow up to make up for your loss.
How To Prune Blueberry?
- Blueberries do not require any cutting for their first four years. Hence, you do not have to worry about the pruning duty for four years. However, after four years complete, pruning is required to promote better growth of new shoots that will yield the fruits in the next season.
- You must get done with pruning in early spring or late winter. That is, you must do the pruning before the growing season of the blueberries starts.
- For pruning, you must cut out weak, short, broken, or dead shoots.
- In case you are growing blueberry bushes of the highbush type, you must begin the pruning by making large cuts. You will have to remove the wood that has aged more than six years. Make sure to remove the shoots that are drooping or crowding the center of the bush. Also, you must prune the shoots growing from the lower part of the stems and the spindly twigs of the blueberry plants.
- Prune your lowbush blueberries by cutting down all the stems to the ground. When pruned, the blueberry bushes will not yield any fruit for the next season. Hence, you must prune a different patch of blueberry every two years so that you still receive berries from the other patch.
- Regularly prune your blueberry bush for maintaining good health of the plant.
How To Harvest Blueberries?
Here is all you need to know about the harvesting process.
- Blueberries grow and are completely ready for harvest between June and August.
- Once you notice that the berries have turned blue, do not pick them just yet. You must wait for a few more days. When they are completely ready, they will fall off the branch on their own. Blueberries do not ripen if they are picked early.
- You must know that full yield can only be reached after the blueberry plant has aged up to six years. If the bush is two years old, do not let it grow fruits as that would diminish the blueberry output. You will be unable to grow blueberries in the longer run.
- No special technique is required to pick and harvest blueberries. The longer the berries stay attached to the bush, the sweeter they become.
- If they have not fallen off the branch, you can pick the blueberry with the help of your thumb and forefinger.
- If you notice reddish spots on a blueberry, do not pick it. Ripened blueberries are uniformly blue in color and more often fall off right into your hands.
- Shrunken or shriveled berries must be disposed of. They are diseased with a fungal infection or are wrinkled because the soil pH is not acidic enough (lack of nutrients).
How To Store Blueberries?
- Instantly after picking, do not store the blueberries in a closed container or pouch. You must leave the container open for some time to prevent the formation of moisture in the container.
- Do not wash the berries before storing them. If you do otherwise, the berries will become mushy. Hence, wash them just before you plan on eating them.
- To increase the shelf life of blueberries, you must chill them. You must refrigerate them as soon as you pick them from your home garden. Place them in a covered bowl or a storage container and refrigerate them. Stored blueberries can be used for 10 to 14 days. Make sure to store them carefully in your refrigerator.
- You can freeze blueberries for an even longer shelf life. Before freezing, make sure not to wash your berries. Place them in freezer containers without washing. It protects the skins of blueberries from toughening. You must ensure your berries are rinsed and drained before serving. You must wash them in cold water.
Pests And Diseases
Your blueberry plants must be protected from common pests and diseases. You can enjoy the fruits only if the bush is healthy enough to provide you with them. Here is a list of pests and diseases that hinder the health of blueberry plants.
1. Diseases Caused By Microorganisms
- Fungal infection: Fungal infections can be spotted when the leaves of the blueberry plants get a brown lesion when they come into contact with the infected blossoms. The infected flower will not yield any fruit. You will notice brown patches in blueberry leaves that are infected. The disease can be controlled by applying appropriate fungicide during the early to mid-bloom or late bloom stage.
- Mummy berry: The symptoms of this disease include drooping of new leaves and shoots during spring. The berries turn out to be pink in color and shriveled. It is caused by the fungus as well. You must plant disease-free dormant plants. Apply fungicides to the soil beds.
2. Insect Attack
- Flea beetles: Flea beetles hinder the growing blueberry plant. They eat up the plant and can be identified as shiny in appearance. If they frequent your home garden, you must place a row cover over the blueberries.
- Japanese beetles: These beetles attack the leaves of the blueberry plants and leave them skeletonized. They also cause damage to buds and flowers. These beetles are metallic green and bronze in color. Their cream white larvae develop in the soil. You can use neem oil or insecticidal soap to reduce their population. You can also use a floating row cover in this case.
- Sharp-nosed leafhoppers: They are one of the major insects that cause stunted growth in blueberries. There are no outward symptoms detected when leafhoppers attack blueberry plants. If you notice that your blueberries have become stunted, it is a clear indication that leafhoppers have attacked. You can use yellow sticky traps to catch them and disperse their population.
- Thrips: They damage the young leaves. The leaves of blueberries curl around their stems. Ultimately, they damage the flowers and berry production. The insects are small, and their larvae pupate in the soil. Prune the infested area before the infestation grows. Use insecticides at dusk to not affect the bees and the pollination process.
Blueberries are a heavenly fruit that can make an ideal diet companion. You can plant blueberries in your backyard or home garden without any hassle. If you take good care of them, you can enjoy your very own yield. You can choose from a myriad of blueberry varieties and easily grow them.
Make sure to go through all the caring tips for the best results. May your blueberry plant grow and thrive!
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.