Mistakes You Should Never Make When Growing Blueberries
Skip the snafus and enjoy growing blueberry bushes.
Even the briefest surf on the internet will show you a spiking interest in gardening right now—and not just hydrangeas and geraniums. Lots of us who never planted the first vegetable or fruit tree have apparently decided that the ability to grow our own food could come in mighty handy in a tight spot. And as long as you’re at it, you might as well grow produce that’s simple to care for and pretty to look at.
May we present—drumroll please—blueberries, which deliver spring flowers, summer fruit, and fall foliage. It’s best to plant them in the fall or early spring, but now’s a great time to see them when they’re doing their thing and decide which selections you want to plant.
Want to know more about how to grow blueberries?
Per The New Southern Living Garden Book (Time Home Entertainment Inc., 2015) which was edited by our very own Grumpy Gardener, Steve Bender, blueberries love the South’s growing conditions, just like azaleas. Not only do they produce tasty fruit, but many selections make beautiful hedges or borders because of their colorful foliage, which changes from deep green or blue-green in spring and summer to oranges, reds, and yellows in fall.
Three major types of blueberries for Southern gardeners (there are many different selections within each of the three) are Northern highbush, best for the Upper and Middle South (zones 6 and 7) because this type of blueberry likes colder winters and milder summers; Southern highbush, which can take the heat and works in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South (zones 7-9); and Rabbiteye, happy in hot, humid climates and found in the Middle South, Lower South, and Coastal South (zones 7-9). Rabbiteye is easier to work with than Southern highbush and can even take the heat of northern Florida.
Blueberries like soil that’s most, fertile, and well-drained (lots of plants do), but also pretty darn acidic (pH 4.5-5.5) with lots of organic matter. Plant them with the crown about ½ inch above ground.
What to avoid, you ask?
- Don’t plant them in the shade. The berries might not be sweet. Go for full-on sun. Every time.
- Don’t plant just one selection. You’ll get better pollination (and bigger, more abundant fruit) if you plant at least two different ones.
- Per Grumpster’s New Southern Living Garden Book (we trust it), “Don’t fertilize at all the first year, and feed only lightly the second and third years. After that, fertilize once per year in early spring with a slow-release, acid-forming, complete fertilizer.”
- Don’t use overhead irrigation. It can lead to mildewed leaves and gray mold on the fruit. Instead, water deeply (we’re talkin’ a man-made inch of rainfall) once a week during growing season for the first three years. After that, they like moist soil but hate standing in water. (Who doesn’t?)
- Mulch but don't cultivate. Blueberries have delicate roots near the surface of the soil.
- Be aware that the selections ‘Blue Chip’ and ‘Bounty’ are prone to blueberry stem blight, which can kill stems of established plants and kill young plants outright. If you see stems dropping leaves and turning from brown to black, quickly prune them down to healthy wood.
- Beware “mummyberry” fungus, which makes the fruit shrivel. Control it with a fungicide and always remove and trash any shriveled fruit to prevent spread.
Now you're ready. Go play some blues in your garden.