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Blueberry Basics, 6 Simple Steps to Growing Great Blueberries

Blueberry Basics

Thinking about growing backyard blueberries? Stick to these six simple steps and with proper care, these sweet treats will reward you for years to come!

  1. Test the soil and adjust to a pH 4.5 - 5.5. We offer soil test kits for home use and GardenRewards members can get FREE pH soil tests at our year-round Garden Centers. Blueberries require a sunny spot and soil that is acidic, high in organic matter, and well-drained yet moist. pH should ideally be between 4 and 5. When the pH is above 5, they become stunted decreasing berry production. We offer two solutions for acidifying the soil. Soil Sulfur is the best for long term adjustment of pH. Soil acidifier is a good quick adjustment of soil pH, however it may cause aluminum toxicity in blueberries. Sulfur must be applied in the spring or summer since it requires bacterial activity to convert the sulfur to an active form. Soil acidifier is water soluble and thus works quickly.
  2. Mix peat moss in the soil around the plants. Peat moss is an excellent source of organic matter. It helps loosen clay soil for development of the very fibrous roots of blueberries. Peat moss helps sandy soils retain moisture and improves soil nutrient capacity. At the same time it is a natural soil acidifier. Old leaf mold, old sawdust, lime free compost and bark are other sources of organic matter that can be used. Any compost that has lime used in the composting process will have a negative effect as a soil amendment and should not be used.
  3. Plant two or more varieties. Blueberries are partially self-fertile, so you will harvest more and larger berries by planting two or more varieties. The two main types of blueberries are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and rabbiteye blueberries (V. ashei). With highbush blueberries, single bushes will produce fruit. However, you’ll get more fruit if you plant two different highbush selections for cross-pollination. To get fruit with rabbiteyes, you definitely need to plant at least two different selections. Also, by planting two or more varieites, you can space out the ripening, thus extending the harvest.
  4. Cover the soil with 4 inches of mulch. Research by the leading universities in zone 5-8 have shown that yields of blueberries will increase up to 30% when the soil has 4 inches of mulch cover. The roots of blueberries, like other ericaceous plants like azaleas, rhododendron and heathers, are very fine and fibrous. The mulch helps hold the moisture around the roots. It helps keep the soil cooler during the summer and warmer in the winter. In addition, bark mulches add organic matter as they decay and tend to acidify the soil. Be sure that the mulch does not develop a crust layer on the surface that sheds water. Fruit size is diminished when the roots dry out during periods of drought.
  5. As berries ripen, use bird net to protect the crop. It may not happen in the first few years of production, but eventually the birds may learn just how good those little blue berries are. Bird net covers are an excellent solution to this problem. We recommend constructing a simple frame to keep the net off the plants so the berries don’t get caught in the net and pop off.
  6. Once mature, remove old canes. As the canes mature, the productivity declines. Removing these canes stimulates the production of new ones from the root of the plant. This keeps the plant in the juvenile stage and extends the life of the plant, thus giving you more berries! The young canes are much more productive than old ones. To promote optimum performance, we recommend you remove about 1/3 of the volume of the plant during the winter each year on healthy plants.

Our Favorite Backyard Berries

Get your garden ready for our favorite backyard berries! These edible plants will not only have your garden looking tip-top, they'll make your taste buds mighty happy.

Raspberry Shortcake. A dwarf, thorn-less red raspberry with a rounded compact growth habit perfect for large patio containers. These carefree raspberry plants are perfect for children with no thorns to get in the way. They'll love harvesting healthful fruit right from your patio! You'll appreciate that there is no trellising or staking necessary like the raspberries you've seen before, and the compact shape means no big garden spaces are required. Raspberry Shortcake plants produce full-size, nutritious and super sweet raspberries mid-summer.

Strawberry Éclair. This new gourmet strawberry boasts a unique taste with a hint of citrus and raspberry flavor to it. Strawberry Éclair is a Junebearing variety, so expect the majority of harvest in the early summer. This berry is developed from Junebearing and Everbearing relatives, so it often produces fruits longer into the season that traditional Junebearing strawberries. Allow berries to mature before picking to enjoy maximum flavor and sweetness. Enjoy these sweet treats in pies, tarts, jams and preserves... or freshly picked!

Sunshine Blue Blueberries. This semi-dwarf, versatile evergreen blueberry features showy hot-pink flowers that fade to white in spring, yielding large crops of delicious berries. Enjoy it's blue-green foliage and showy pink to white flowers provide ornamental value, followed by an abundant crop of fruit. Yielding medium, rich sweet flavored berries this blueberry is self – pollinizing, but yields best when planted with another variety.

Save BIG on berries this Friday-Sunday, May 22-24 at BERRY DAYZ >>

Grow What You Eat

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Dad was never a fan of ornamental shrubs and flowers. His philosophy was: Grow what you can eat! And, by golly, we ate good from his huge summer gardens filled with potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, string beans, spring onions and anything else tasty he could squeeze into the 40-by-100-foot plot behind my childhood home in Newport News.

Those summer gardens fueled my own desire to grow what I could eat, even though Dad continued to spoil me with fresh produce until his health recently declined. Today, I often grow edibles in raised beds fashioned from plain boards of lumber, or try my hand at straw bale gardening, which I really like because the entire garden can be recycled into compost.

My favorite edibles continue to be tomatoes – small grape tomatoes like Juliet and cherry tomatoes like Super Sweet, as well as mini pickling cucumbers that cut up nicely into fresh spinach salads. Eggplant and squash are also easy to cultivate in a backyard garden.

For the past two to three years, I plant extra miniature tomatoes like Juliet because my yard turtle, Fred, favors them so much. Each morning, bright and early, Fred creeps from the creek, along the grassy back lawn, into my pollinator garden where I place one or two tomato plants just for him. He always knows they will be there, and I know he will always be there – it’s one of the best parts of my mid-summer gardening days when the fruits begin to ripen.

This year, I’m introducing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Mattie, to gardening. Using a kit of cedar boards, she and I will plant a small garden of veggies, things like tomatoes, basil, oregano and onions for a homemade pizza, and surround it with marigolds for color and extra pollination.

In addition to my father, my grandmother in Lynchburg mentored my love for any kind of gardening. We spent many hours under her grape arbor, shelling fresh-picked butterbeans and shucking corn. I hope to pass that love onto Mattie and inspire her to grow what she can eat – it’s a healthy way to love your grandkids, for sure!

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