Grow Your Own Blueberries—Here's How!

Grow Your Own Blueberries
Fresh blueberries deliver tasty nutrition, but market berries rarely match the flavors of homegrown fruit. Even if you have limited space or a container-only garden, growing your own fresh-from-the-branch blueberries is simple with the right bushes and proper feeding and care.

Choosing Blueberries

A bountiful blueberry harvest starts with the berry variety that best fits your goals and your region's climate. Blueberry bushes need some winter cold in order to produce their fruit . The amount needed, known as chill hours, varies depending on the blueberry type. Chilling comes easy in northern gardens, but southern gardeners need blueberries bred for moderate winters.
Hanging Blueberries
Look for blueberry varieties from the species matched to your region. For colder northern gardens, try varieties of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium), hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 6, or northern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum), hardy from USDA zones 4 through 7. Half-high blueberries, crosses between these two northern species, flourish in USDA zones 3 through 7. Plant northern blueberries in spring, so roots become well-established before winter arrives.

Southeastern gardens suit varieties of rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei), native to the Southeast and hardy from USDA zones 7 through 9. From the South and Southwest along the West Coast, look to southern highbush blueberries. These crosses between northern highbush and native southern blueberries excel in western USDA zones 7 through 11. Plant southern types from fall and winter through spring, so blueberries root well before summer heat hits.

Blueberries will flower and fruit sparsely their first year in the ground, but it's best to remove the first-year blossoms by hand. This keeps new blueberries focused on good root development instead of fruit and seeds. They'll reward you with better harvests in years to come.

Growing More Than One

The more, the merrier with blueberries. Grow two or more varieties for higher-quality berries and larger harvests, which naturally result when blueberries cross-pollinate. Blueberries come in early-, mid- or late-season-bearing varieties. Extend the berry season more than three summer months by choosing varieties with overlapping bloom times from each category.

If your planting area is limited or contained, chose blueberries suited to small spaces. Some bushes grow 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, but many blueberry bushes for home gardens reach 6 feet tall and wide, or larger.

Blueberry bushes are also high on ornamental beauty. Spring brings delicate white or pink-and-white flowers, and glossy leaves that might carry hints of pink, lime or maroon. In fall, blueberry leaves blaze with red hues that rival any autumn display. In between, blueberry fruit shine with shades of blue.

Getting Soil Right

Blueberries belong to the same plant family as azaleas and rhododendrons. Like these relatives, blueberries prefer soil with high organic matter and pH levels in acidic ranges. Necessary blueberry nutrients, such as iron, can get lost in high-pH soil. These nutrients stay most available with soil pH near 4.5 to 5.5.

Soil amendments help create a healthy planting foundation. Layer 4 inches of pre-moistened peat moss, which helps lower soil pH, over your planting area, and then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup Pennington Earthworm Castings per 100 square feet. Mix the peat moss and earthworm castings into the soil 10 to 12 inches deep to increase organic matter and lower soil pH.

If your garden has high-alkaline soil of 7.0 pH or higher, keeping pH low enough for blueberries can be difficult. Container growing eliminates the problem. Accommodate blueberry roots by using a pot that is at least 16 inches in diameter and that will provide ample drainage. Use a commercial potting mix designed for acid-loving plants, or mix equal parts compost, pre-moistened peat moss and soil to give your container blueberries an opportunity to thrive. Add 1/2 cup of Pennington Earthworm Castings for beneficial matter and microorganisms container blueberries need.

Watering Blueberries

Blueberries need six to eight hours of full sun in all but the hottest climates, so proper watering is essential to keep your fruit plump. Water as needed, so the soil stays moist (but never soggy) and cool to a depth equal to the length of your index finger. Overwatering inhibits nutrient and water absorption. Water so the entire root area is moistened and containers leak water from their drainage holes.

High temperatures, high winds and low rainfall mean your berries will need more water. Additionally, containers dry out much faster than ground soil, so be sure to adjust watering accordingly. A thin layer of mulch on the soil surface helps retain moisture. If your area has alkaline water, offset the pH with 2 teaspoons of household vinegar per 1 gallon of water.

Feeding Blueberries

Using the right fertilizer at the right time supports your plants' beauty and fruit. Without the extra nutrients blueberry plants prefer, leaves and berries disappoint. Blueberry roots are sensitive to overfertilizing, so don't overdo it, and always water bushes before and after fertilizing. Feed established blueberries as growth begins in early spring, and feed again six weeks later.

Fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants provide the nutrients blueberries need. Lilly Miller Rhododendron Evergreen & Azalea Food delivers complete nutrition for up to four months and helps acidify soil. Application amounts vary based on plant and container size, so follow label directions closely.

Pruning for More Berries

Blueberries in a Bowl
Blueberries flower and bear fruit each year on wood grown the previous growing season. Stems become unfruitful as they age. Each year, remove two or three of the oldest stems all the way to the ground, and prune back budless tips. Annual pruning keeps blueberries productive and encourages fresh, vibrant growth for the following year.

Prune bushes in late winter, while blueberries are dormant and their large buds stand out. Prune about 1/4 inch above healthy buds, using sharp bypass pruners for crisp, angled cuts. Limit major pruning to a late-winter session — but don't hesitate to snip plenty of berry-laden stems for summertime bouquets.

By choosing the right blueberry bushes for your garden, amending your soil and providing the proper care, you'll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.

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