Tips for Growing Blueberries
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 at the same time, a colorful parade of green, pink, and deep blue berries appears throughout the summer. In late fall, leaves begin turning bright red, providing color well into winter. Mix blueberries into your shrub border, or use them as an informal hedge in the yard. You can grow them in big containers too.
Several types of blueberries can be grown across the South. Northern highbush blueberries work well in the Upper and Middle South. Use selections such as 'Bluecrop,' 'Liberty,' and 'Patriot.' Rabbiteye blueberries are more heat tolerant and work best in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South. Try ones such as 'Beckyblue,' 'Brightwell,' 'Premier,' 'Centurion,' 'Alapaha,' and 'Austin.' Southern highbush blueberries work well in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South and are also heat tolerant. Choose selections such as 'Star,' 'Misty,' and 'O'Neal.'
All types have selections that will set fruit throughout the growing season. It's important to have two or more selections for optimum pollination and to get the most fruit.
Blueberries prefer a sunny location with fertile, well-drained, acid 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, container blueberries can be planted anytime. Dig a hole that's twice as wide as the container and the same depth. Place each plant so the top 1/2 inch of the root-ball rests slightly above the surrounding soil. Fill in 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.
Be careful feeding your plants—blueberries are sensitive to certain fertilizers. Use a natural slow-release food for acid-loving plants, such as Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-4). Blueberries can be grown with little or no spraying. However, the birds may love your berries just as much as you do. To discourage them, hang reflective tape or cover the plants with bird netting.
How To Add Blueberries to Your Garden
You can mix blueberries into your shrub border. If you want to create an informal hedge, space the plants 3 feet apart. They can be maintained to a height of 6 feet. Use smaller-growing selections such as 'Blue Suede,' 'Sunshine Blue,' and 'Top Hat' in large containers.
Homegrown blueberries taste great and will make your garden shine. Most importantly, they're loaded with antioxidants, so they're among the healthiest foods you can eat. With blueberries, you simply can't miss.