A Primer on Blueberries

Blueberries are pollinated by native bees, bumble bees, and honey bees (to name just a few).

Did you know blueberries are good pollinators for bees? Lots of different types of bees? Just another great reason to plant them in your landscape that isn't all about the pancakes. Read about blueberry pollinating bees here.

(For more information on why we need pollinators, read here. For annuals that are easy to grow from seed and that pollinators like, read here.)

Now, the blueberries. 

First: The Varieties

There are five primary varieties grown throughout the United States.  Here's the long version of the different ones from the University of Vermont Extension and, here's the short version:

  • lowbush: Zone 3-7, think Maine
  • northern highbush: Zone 4-7, Western North Carolina
  • southern highbush: Zone 8-10, south of WNC
  • rabbiteye: Zone 7-9, again, head south
  • half-high: Zone 3-6, hydrids of highbush and lowbush, which do well here

Leave blueberries on shrub until dark blue when harvesting. The berries should come off easily without tugging. 

Northern highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) is the most widely grown in commercial production and among homeowners. It's disease resistant and self pollinating. Although, planting two allows for cross-pollination which results in bigger, better fruit even on self-pollinators.  So, step one is choosing the right plant, and giving it a buddy. 

Planting multiples with different maturity dates will spread the harvest out, but for pollination purposes you do need two of the same type that bloom at the same time. Examples: 

  • Bluecrop' and 'Blueray' are both highbush, mid-season bloomers. You'd plant them together.
  • 'Bluegold' and 'Jersey' are both highbush, late season bloomers. You'd plant them together. 

When picking your blueberry, pick the right type for your zone, but also pick one that makes your taste buds happy. Prefer sweet? Go with 'Blueray'. Like slighty tart? Try 'Chippewa.'

We sell the half-highs ('Chippewa'), northern highbush ('Bluecrop,' 'Blueray,' and 'Jersey,' etc), and the new Brazelberries that are small enough for containers but still produce lots of berries. 

Second: Where to Plant & How to Plant

 

Besides being tasty, blueberry bushes are attractive. They have pretty spring blossoms, then those delicious berries, and beautiful fall color. Even if you decide the birds can have them, they're worth the real estate in your landscape.

  • Blueberries require acidic soil that is high in organic matter and well-drained but not dry. Don't assume because you live in Western North Carolina you have acidic soil. The pH is best between 4 and 5. A quick soil test will tell you what your ph is. (We have soil test kits available.) Adding proper amendments will help in the landscape, but don't forget you can grow the Brazelberries in containers. Container grown blueberries are easy because you can create the perfect soil environment in a container. 
  • Bushes should be planted in the early spring and can handle some shade, but dense shade is not an option. Blueberry bushes fruit best in full sun, but afternoon shade is acceptable. 
  • Space bushes 5 feet apart. This helps with cross-pollination.
  • Do not apply fertilizer when planting, but do add it two weeks or up to a month later. Holly Tone fertilizer helps with the acidity of the soil (and is good for your rhododendrons, azaleas, and hydrangeas, too). Established plants only need fertilizer once a season.
  • Amend the soil when planting based on your soil needs, and try Daddy Pete's Composted Cow Manure for top dressing. (Our staff can explain the different amendments to you to help you decide what's best for you.) 

Third: Caring for Your Blueberries

Recipe for pancakes included below.

  • Blueberries are thirsty plants, they require one to two inches of water a week. 
  • Skip pruning for the first three to four years. Then prune to stimulate better fruit production and keep bushes thinned out for better air circulation and sunlight penetration. Pruning time is late winter before spring growth begins. 
  • Mulching helps keep shallow blueberry roots moist. Two-four inches of pine needles is perfect. 
  • Drape netting over the bushes before the berries ripen. Birds will make off with even green berries. 
  • The birds are the pests and sometimes powdery mildew is an issue.

Lastly: The Harvest

  • Blueberries are ready for picking in mid-July to August. 
  • Eating them fresh is best, but freezing them is easy. Here's how you do that

Finally: the Pancakes

Finally, the reward. Pancakes. Recipe here. Enjoy!

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, blog writer, and outside sales staff. 

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.