Did you know that blueberries are related to Azaleas and Rhododendrons? No wonder that they grow so well here in the Pacific Northwest.
There are three principal categories of blueberries; Highbush, Lowbush, and a hybrid of the two – the so-called Half-Highs.
For garden variety purposes, most of the breeding efforts have gone into the Highbush variety, but there are several excellent Lowbush varieties on the market too. They are particularly interesting to those of us living in small urban lots, as they are far easier to fit in.
When you do decide to grow blueberries, there are a few things to consider.
First, you have to have at least two. It doesn’t matter what variety they are – they are not at all picky in that regard. Be sure to plant them in relatively close proximity to each other for best pollination.
This will also help our bees. You see, there is an economic logic to their foraging – a concept called “flower constancy.” This means that they prefer the same kind of flowers planted in drifts so that they don’t have to expel energy flying all over the place to pollinate. Pretty cool, huh?
Blueberries are, however, picky with soil. Like their floriferous cousins, they like their soil on the acidic side, which is usually what we are more than happy to offer them here in the Portland area.
They also like well-drained soil, but for their roots to be moist. Cotton seed meal is a good fertilizer for blueberries. If you can provide them all that, you are most assuredly in for a treat!
Tree? Plants? Answer: Blueberries are a Bush
Many people think that blueberries grow on trees or are simply an indoor plant. However, blueberries are, in fact, a bush. There are many blueberry bushes that, if left to grow on their own accord, may be mistaken for a tree. Don’t let this deter you from including blueberries in your next landscaping project, though. If planned and cared for, they will be a great addition to your space.
How to Grow Blueberries in 5 Steps
1. Meet Blueberry Sunshine Requirements
Blueberries require a sunny location for best results. Avoid planting around trees. Trees will provide too much shade as well as take away the water and nutrients needed for blueberry success. Blueberry bushes have very specific soil requirements. Soil needs to be well drained and high in organic matter with a pH range between 4.5 and 5.5.
2. Plant Correctly
Spread roots as wide and shallow as the root ball will allow, being very careful to set the crown of the plant (where the main stem joins the roots) level with the ground. Acid compost or peat moss may be mixed with your soil and firmed around the roots when they are set, but avoid firming heavy clay soils over the roots or around the plant. A mulch of aged sawdust (not cedar) or an acid planting mix, up to 6” in depth, over the entire planting will prove beneficial in discouraging weeds while keeping the plant evenly moist. Do not fertilize during the initial planting. Apply a well balanced slow-release acidic fertilizer after four weeks of growth.
3. Pro-planting Care
Remove all the blossoms the first year after planting. This will allow your plant’s roots to become more established. Add an additional couple inches of aged sawdust or acid planting mix as mulch each year. Acidic fertilizer should be applied each February and again in the late spring each year.
4. Pruning Blueberry Bushes Properly
By the third year, remove weak, twiggy growth. If shoots appear too crowded, remove some older shoots entirely. Blueberries can be thinned out to increase fruit size and quality. Otherwise, pruning is not necessary. All pruning should be done in the winter and early spring when the plant is dormant.
5. Harvest at the Right Time
Since different varieties set berries at different times, you can plan it so that you can have berries from late June through late August.
Berries will ripen over a 2-5 week period depending on weather and variety. Berries occur in clusters of 5-10. Don’t be too excited to pick the berries when they first turn blue. They will develop better flavor if you leave them for a few days.
Varieties of Blueberry Bush
Not all blueberry bushes are created equal. Because there are so many different varieties of blueberry bush, there are certainly options that would be aesthetically pleasing for your landscape project in addition to producing delicious berries you’re sure to love. Here are a few that do particularly well in our climate:
a 3’ – 5’ upright compact and cold resistant sort that sets berries very early.
a 3’ – 5’ high mid-season high-yield producer with pretty, golden fall color and yellow winter wood.
a US native, coldhardy lowbush which tolerates sandy soils and part shade. It only grows 12”-18” tall and produces berries in mid-season. Red fall foliage, but best of all – fantastic red wood with yellow flowers in spring – just when you need a shot of color the most!
a miniature shrub (1’ – 2’) perfect for a pot on a patio, or a low hedge along a path. Berries in mid-season, and pretty red-edged leaves turning a fabulous red fall color.
a highbush variety perfect for the PNW. Berries in mid-late summer.
a 2’ tall lowbush which produces in mid-season. Because of its well-behaved spherical growth habit, it makes a great landscape plant.