How To Grow And Care For Blueberries

Nothing's sweeter than growing blueberries right outside your door.

Growing Blueberries in a Garden
Photo: Helen Norman

The luscious taste of blueberries would be reason enough to grow them, but these native Southern plants can also add a little sparkle to your garden. Beautiful, bell-shaped flowers emerge in early spring, followed by elegant blue-green leaves. Because the fruit doesn't ripen simultaneously, a colorful parade of green, pink, and deep blue berries appears throughout the summer. In late fall, leaves turn bright red, providing color well into winter. Mix blueberries into your shrub border, or use them as an informal hedge or in big containers in the yard. Here's everything you need to know about growing and caring for your own blueberry plants.

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
 Common Name:  Blueberry
 Botanical Name:  Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus
 Family:  Ericaceae
 Plant Type:  Perennial, Shrub, Fruit
 Mature Size:  1-12 ft. tall, 1-12 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure:  Full
 Soil Type:  Sandy, Moist, Well-drained, Rich
 Soil pH:  Acidic (4.5 to 5.5)
 Bloom Time:  Spring
 Flower Color:  Pink, White
 Hardiness Zones:  Zones 3-9 (USDA)
 Native Area:  North America

Blueberry Care

Blueberries prefer a sunny location with fertile, well-drained, acidic soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5) amended with organic matter. The best time to plant them is in fall or winter, but if given regular water, you can grow blueberries in containers anytime. 

You can mix blueberries into your shrub border. Space the plants three feet apart to create an informal hedge, and keep plants around six feet tall. Homegrown blueberries taste great and will make your garden shine. Most importantly, blueberries have a lot of antioxidants, so they're among the healthiest foods you can eat. However, the birds may love your berries as much as you do. Hide reflective tape or cover the plants with bird netting to discourage them.


Blueberries grow best in areas with full sun exposure, at least six to eight hours daily. More sun helps blueberries to bear more fruit and produce healthier foliage—Blueberries in partial shade have fewer blossoms and fruit.


Blueberries thrive in acidic soils, or Loose, sandy soils amended with rich organic matter. If growing blueberries outdoors in clay soils, amend the ground with peat moss or use containers. Modify the soil nutrients and conditions before planting by testing the soil's pH level. Continue testing, so the pH stays at its initial level. 


Water blueberries deeply by targeting the root area. The fruit's roots are shallow, making it easier for blueberries to dry. When the top few inches of soil feel dry, you will know it's time to water again—usually once a week. If growing in an area experiencing drought conditions, water more frequently.

Temperature and Humidity 

Plant blueberries in direct sunlight, but shelter the plants from high winds or extreme weather. Blueberry plants prefer humid environments and do not tolerate freezing temperatures. Cold tolerance decreases as flower bud swell progresses.


Be careful feeding your plants—blueberries are sensitive to certain fertilizers, especially during the first year of growth. Use a natural slow-release food for acid-loving plants, such as Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-4). Fertilize berries when flowering buds initially open and again after berries start forming. Blueberries can be grown with little or no spraying. Amend soil with organic matter such as fish emulsion or compost.

Types of Blueberries

Several types of blueberries can be grown across the South. All varieties have selections that will set fruit throughout the growing season. Having two or more varieties provide optimum pollination and produce the most fruit.

  • Northern Highbush Blueberries: These varieties work well in the Upper and Middle South. Use selections such as 'Bluecrop,' 'Liberty,' and 'Patriot.' 
  • Rabbiteye Blueberries: These varieties are more heat tolerant and work best in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South. Try 'Beckyblue,' 'Brightwell,' 'Premier,' 'Centurion,' 'Alapaha,' and 'Austin.' 
  • Southern Highbush Blueberries: These varieties are heat tolerant and work well in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South. Choose selections such as 'Star,' 'Misty,' and 'O'Neal.'


Blueberries are relatively easy-to-maintain. When establishing during the first three or so years, prune away damaged or dead branches and spent blooms that will only distract from plant growth. After the third year, leave flowers on as long as they appear healthy. The following year, around year four, start pruning blueberries during dormancy in late winter or early spring. 

Prune blueberry plants about one-third of the distance to the ground, and remove branches that impede airflow. Berries appear on new stem growth, so having a mix of older and new branches helps the plant mature. When the branches reach over two inches in diameter or appear gray, use a clean garden shear or sharp knife to remove them. 

Propagating Blueberries

Achieve blueberry propagation using softwood or hardwood cuttings. This effective method helps maintain the mother plant by thinning out the branches. Whether using softwood or hardwood cuttings, select solid and healthy branches from the mother plant. Softwood cuttings are taken in the spring, while you choose hardwood cuttings while the plant is dormant in the winter. Here's how to propagate blueberries using softwood cuttings: 

  1. Softwood cuttings should be four to five inches long. Cut the somewhat flexible branches using sterile and sharp shears. 
  2. Fill a container with potting soil equal parts perlite and peat moss. 
  3. Remove all but the upper-moist leaves. Moisten the cuttings, but don't saturate, and dip the branches in a rooting hormone if preferred. 
  4. Keep the container (at least four to five inches deep) in a warm room with direct sunlight exposure. Keep the soil moist using a spray bottle or a plastic bag to encourage humidity. 
  5. When roots begin to establish, water plants enough as the new roots are more prone to dry out. Roots should take form in about six to eight weeks. Gently pull to see if it meets resistance—transplant in the fall. 

How to Grow Blueberries From Seed

Extracting blueberry seeds can take some time to separate from the pulp. Additionally, since blueberry seeds do not self-pollinate, growing from existing plants or fruit can be challenging. Purchasing new seeds from a garden center or grocery store is more likely to produce healthy plants. Here is how to grow blueberries from seed:

  1. Start by placing seeds on a damp paper towel inside the refrigerator for 90 days for cold stratification. 
  2. After 90 days, remove the seeds to plant immediately. Depending on the climate, start blueberry plants in the fall for warmer temperatures or the spring for colder climates. 
  3. Sow seeds using a three-inch box filled with moist, sphagnum peat moss. Sprinkle the seeds evenly throughout the area and cover them with a quarter inch of soil. Cover the entire tray with newspaper.
  4. Keep soil moist and in an area of at least 60°F to 70°F. 
  5. Wait four to eight weeks for seeds to germinate. Some varieties might take up to three months. 
  6. Remove newspaper when grass-like seedlings emerge, reaching around five to six inches within the first year of growth. 
  7. Transplant seedlings into containers filled with peat, sand, and soil at least two to three inches apart. Keep watered and in a sunny location. 
  8. After seedlings develop for two to three more weeks, fertilize seedlings with a liquid fertilizer. 
  9. Potted blueberries may produce fruit after the second year of growth, reaching around one to two feet tall.

Potting and Repotting Blueberries

When potting blueberries, dig a hole twice as wide as the container and at the same depth. Place each plant, so the top half inch of the root ball rests slightly above the surrounding soil. Fill around the root ball with original soil amended with peat moss or chopped leaves. Add a mulch of pine straw or shredded pine bark to discourage weeds and conserve moisture. Water regularly during the first year to help plants become established.


During the winter, blueberry plants are dormant and are relatively cold-hardy. A temperature change might encourage new growth, so protect plants with a layer of mulch to maintain even soil conditions. Use a layer four to six inches deep of pine bark, sawdust, or another organic matter to cover the plant's base. 

If growing in containers, moving the plants to a sheltered location or covering them will help protect the blueberries from extreme weather fluctuations. Keep all blueberry plants moist throughout the winter to retain more heat.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Blueberry plants are susceptible to pests, but the biggest problem is birds. Using reflective tape or netting can deter birds from eating blueberries. Other pests that might impact blueberry plants include scale, Japanese beetles, cherry fruit worms, spotted-wing drosophila, root weevils, and tip borer. Remove visible pest infestations by hand or using insecticidal soaps or neem oils. Early fruit drop might signify a pest infestation. Scale causes a black mold on foliage, which is prevented by pruning older branches. 

Some fungal diseases, including powdery mildew, botrytis, mummy berry, and anthracnose, are associated with growing blueberries. Treat leaf spot diseases like powdery mildew and rust with neem oil or fungicide. Keep plants in good health by removing dead branches and providing adequate airflow. Anthracnose is common in cool, wet environments and spreads quickly throughout blueberry plants, causing spores to develop on the berries. Mummy berry is one of the more serious concerns for blueberry plants, as this fungus starts infecting the flowers and can spread to the berries if left to linger. 

Common Problems With Blueberries

Blueberry plants fail to thrive for several reasons, including environmental and care conditions. Here are some common problems to know about to help avoid mistakes:

No Fruit or Flowers

Blueberry plants might not bear flowers or fruit if grown in unacceptable conditions. These plants need organically rich soil that's well-draining. As heavy feeders, blueberry plants need acidic soil to grow. Amend the soil quality with sulfur, coffee, grounds, or peat moss, depending on its pH level, so it stays consistent throughout the growing season. 

Improper sun exposure is another reason blueberry plants fail to bear fruit or flowers. Areas with too much or too little sunlight will be leggy and never mature. 

Plant Leaves Falling Off 

Blueberry plant leaves turn a shade of red during the fall, but the foliage should appear this way in the spring or summer. Red-brown leaves during the growing season indicate leaf scorch. The virus, transmitted by aphids, causes the leaves to appear burnt and eventually fall off. Aphids feed on plants with high nitrogen levels, so be mindful of the fertilizer used on blueberry plants and watch for aphid infestations. 

Leaves Turning Black/Brown 

One cause of foliage turning brown is stem canker, a fungal disease that first impacts the stems. Since there is no cure for stem canker, removing the affected areas is the only way to prevent it from spreading to foliage, berries, or flowers. After brown spots appear, leaves might turn gray. After removing the infected area, sterilize garden shears to avoid contaminating another area of your garden.

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