Blueberries are amazing. They’re perfect for baking, a beautiful indigo color, and chalk-full antioxidants. Antioxidants combat free-radicals in the body that can damage DNA and cellular structure. It is no wonder than blueberries are the second-most-popular berry, next to strawberries, regarding fruit consumption in the United States. Blueberry plants produce a lot of fruit and can be grown in containers, making them a no-brainer for the home gardener. Fortunately, blueberry plants fall into the no-fuss category in terms of planting, growing, and harvesting. Read on to learn how to add these easy perennials to your garden in four steps.
Planting Blueberry Plants in Six Easy Steps
Step 1: Choose a Variety
The sheer number of blueberry plant varieties can be enough to intimidate the home gardener, but once you decide on a variety, blueberries can be fun and easy to grow. Blueberry plants fall into five main categories:
- Northern Highbush;
- Southern Highbush;
The Northern Highbush is the most widely planted type of blueberry plant in the Northern United States, and the Southern Highbush is popular in the Sunbelt, southeast region, and California.
Once you determine the category of blueberry plant you’ll be working with according to your climate, research specific varieties based on your zone and desired plant characteristics. Experience blueberry plant gardeners recommend planting at least two varieties. Cross-pollination can lead to more fruit and a longer harvest.
Step 2: Plant
After you’ve chosen a few varieties and purchased your blueberry plants from a reputable nursery, you’re ready to put them into the ground. Prepare to plant in early spring.
The distance apart that blueberry plants should be put in the ground depends on their mature height. Highbush blueberries should be planted six feet apart and slightly deeper than they stood in the nursery pot or row. Blueberry plants are finicky about their soil. For proper acidity, aeration, moisture, and nutrition enrich the soil before planting with composted leaves.
After planting, top the soil with an organic mulch, such as pine needles, wood chips, or shredded leaves after planting to keep the shallow roots moist and cool. Mulch will also help to fend off weeds. When you’re all done planting, give the new blueberry plants a thorough watering to help the roots settle in.
Step 3: Grow
Blueberry plants are fairly low-maintenance once they are in the ground. They only need a few inches of water weekly and won’t require any pruning for the first three or four years. After that, a later winter pruning will encourage the growth of new shoots. Prune your highbush plant by beginning with large cuts, first removing old wood (more than about six years), and then move onto branches that are drooping to the ground or crowding the center of the bush.
Only fertilize your highbush plants if they don’t reach a foot in annual growth and be sure to use an organic fertilizer. Non-organic fertilizers are not recommended because they could burn the tender roots of the blueberry plant. Up to two cups of alfalfa or soybean meal is recommended depending on the size of the plant. Blueberry plants should not be fertilized at the time of planting. They don’t do well in rich soil.
It is recommended that you don’t allow blueberry plants to produce fruit by pinching back blossoms for the first couple of years for optimal growth. If you don’t want to wait for your fruit, purchase blueberry plants that are already two to three years old.
Step 4: Harvest
You can expect a bountiful blueberry harvest from late-July through mid-August, but only if the birds don’t get to the berries before you do. A bird-proof netting may be necessary to protect your ripening fruit.
A few days after the berries turn blue, they will be at full flavor. You’ll know they’re ready when they fall right off the bush into your hand.
Your blueberry plant will reach full production after about six years, and you may have more fruit than you can eat fresh. Luckily, blueberries are one of the easiest fruit to freeze. Don’t rinse before freezing to avoid mushy berries. Frozen berries make great additions to baked goods. You can also can your blueberries for a delicious pie filling or dehydrate them to add to granola and trail mixes. Pick your pleasure and blueberries can be enjoyed year-round.
Image from pixabay.com.