According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, July is declared to be National Blueberry Month; and it's no wonder why: blueberries are a summertime favorite treat and are great additions to fruit salads and desserts. Blueberry plants can grow in backyard gardens; however, they take 3-4 years to produce fruit.
There are two types of blueberry plants: Highbush blueberry plants and lowbush plants. Highbush blueberries are what you find in the grocery stores. They can reach heights as tall as eight feet. Lowbush blueberry plants, also called wild blueberries, typically only grow to about two feet and thrive in the colder regions of the country.
Interested in growing blueberries? Here are tips for growing blueberries offered from gardening expert Lee Reich:
- Choose a sunny spot. Though blueberries grow in semi-shade in nature, heavier fruiting happens with more sunshine.
- Test for pH, and adjust to a very acidic 4-to-5 range using pelleted sulfur (a natural element, and easier and safer to use than dusty powders).
- Though blueberries like infertile soil (yes!), it must be high in organic matter.
- Add peat moss to the hole when planting. Lee doesn’t usually use much peat moss, which is a non-renewable resource, except for this one-time application.
- Water well, and provide regular water for maximum fruiting (especially critical the first two years in the ground). Lee’s plants are on a drip system.
- Mulch to a depth of about 3 inches with wood shavings and chips, pine needles, shredded autumn leaves or sawdust.
- Net the plants during fruiting season to outsmart the birds. (Lee grows his 16 highbush shrubs in a netted “gazebo,” seen in the top photo, and they yield an astounding 190 quarts of fruit.)
- Replenish the mulch each fall, after leaf drop—and also feed the plants just a little Nitrogen at that time by spreading soybean meal (from the feed store) at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.
- Recheck the pH and readjust every couple of years with more pelleted sulfur.
- Don’t prune till highbush plants are four or five years in the ground. Stems aged six years or older–about inch-thick stems–don’t produce optimally. In late winter, the oldest stems are cut out to the base (photo below shows how the base of a mature plant looks after pruning, with a good mix of older, younger, and middle-aged stems remaining).
Growing blueberries is a labor of love; but they are worth it when considered they are a healthy summertime treat (just 85 calories per cup!).