I have been meaning to do a blog on Blueberries for quite some time. They are fairly easy to grow, if you have the right soil. They are good for so many things, pies, jams, syrup. They are full of antioxidants, for those of you that know me, this one probably does not really fall onto my radar. And of course, they are just down right tasty eaten right off the bush. There is one more good reason why I needed to write about Blueberries, I found out this past weekend that my little niece (almost two) can not get enough Blueberries to eat......for her to shovel them into her mouth is probably an understatement. So Sarah, when you are old enough to read this, probably next year at the rate she is going, you can grow all the blueberries your little heart desires!
There are three main types of cultivated blueberries that can be grown, Rabbiteye, Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush. Here in South Carolina, Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush are the recommended varieties. The Northern Highbush is more suited for major areas of production in the upper South(Arkansas), Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
The Southern Highbush Blueberry is a relatively new type of Blueberry and is a hybrid of the Northern Highbush and native Southern species, mainly Darrow's evergreen Blueberry.
Depending on where you live will determine which is the best for you to grow. Check with your local extension agent to find out.
However, for the most part, they all require the same general cultivation.
To start, this is a great time to stress one of the Master Gardeners all time mantras...Have your soil tested! Especially if you are going to plant Blueberries.
They must have a very acidic soil, with a pH of 4.8 to 5.5. To give you a point of reference, 7.0 is considered neutral. The soil pH scale commonly in use ranges from 0 to 14. As examples of either end, Lemon Juice and Vinegar are on the acid side, Baking soda and Milk of Magnesia is on the alkaline side. I won't get into the really technical data here, just remember, that Blueberries like it on the acidic side. If you have any doubts about your soil, you can always add a heap of peat moss and mix it into your back fill.
Blueberry plants require excellent soil drainage. Not sure if your spot has good drainage? Here is an easy little trick. Dig a hole or holes, 6 to 8 inches deep and fill them with water. The water should not remain in the hole for more than 24 hrs, if it does, select another site or plant them on raised beds. Just as a side note, Blueberries can be grown in large containers, this is a VERY easy way to control the soil pH. After creating the raised beds, check for drainage again. With this type of planting, you are still going to need to water thoroughly two to three times per week during dry spells in the Summer and early Fall. The soil should be moist to damp at all times, just not wet...that is an invitation to root rot.
Full sun is best. This is usually anywhere from 8-10 hours, or more. Blueberries can be grown in areas that do not receive this much light, but the harvest will suffer dramatically.
When it comes to feeding your Blueberries, they are easily damaged by excess fertilizer. Apply the recommended amount from your soil test report and allow 4 inches of rain or an equivalent amount of irrigation between applications. A balanced fertilizer of 10-10-10 or something labeled for acidic plants is best.
Blueberries are produced from buds on 1-year-old wood, pruning should be severe enough to encourage the production of vigorous new growth each year. With this being said however, during the first five years little pruning will be required. You will want to remove lower twiggy growth, dead or damaged shoots, and weak, spindly growth during this time.
With good care, mature plants should produce more than 10 lbs each year. That much fruit production is a good thing, because you will have competition for the berries. Birds love Blueberries too. They can consume the entire crop from a small planting. Plastic or cloth netting draped over the bushes or supported on a framework, while the fruit is ripening, is the only practical control. Please don't use the old CD or pie plate on strings as a deterrent, they only laugh at those. And scarecrows? They usually end up being given pet names by the birds and then mocked. Netting really is the only good deterrent.
Something else to consider is mulching. This is the best form of weed control.
Blueberries may also be troubled by fungal leaf spots, fruit rots, root rot and gray mold. The primary insect problems are cranberry fruitworm (which ties the berry clusters together with silk), Japanese beetles and the Oberea stem borer.
Fungicides labeled for Bluberries will take care of the fungal problems, and insecticidal soaps or insecticides labeled for Blueberries will handle the bugs. ALWAYS read the label, I have said it before and I will say it again, IT IS THE LAW!
You will get the best quality of fruit when it is picked every 5 to 7 days, depending upon temperature, the warmer the temps, the more often you need to pick.
This has been a very brief description of growing Blueberries. I hope I have spurred you on to read more about these tasty treats. I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. If you have any questions or would like more in depth information, please feel free to e-mail me, TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com.
As for my niece, Sarah, I hope to have a little surprise for her in a couple of years. Yes, she loves her Blueberries and as a loving uncle I want to give her all she wants. What she doesn't know is, I have a variety that I am growing that, while they are called Blueberries, and they are suppose to taste like them, they sure don't LOOK like them. Introducing, Pink Lemonade Blueberries.