BESIDES JUICY, anti-oxidant-rich fruit in summer, blueberry shrubs provide visual interest all year long. I welcome the pink-tinged, white bells in spring, the fiery foliage in fall, and the crimson-stemmed, leafless silhouettes in winter. Here is my easy program for growing these cholesterol-lowering perennials:
VARIETIES. For a harvest that lasts all summer long, select early, middle and late varieties. I’ve had great success with the June-bearing ‘Blueray,’ the July-to-August ‘Blue Crop,’ and the late-summer ‘Bluegold.’ All these are highbush types, Vaccinium corymbosum, which produce large berries nearly an inch in diameter, on shrubs that mature to 7 feet.
If you are impatient — as I am — to harvest fruit, start with three-year-old, containerized transplants. Younger plants are cheaper to buy, but they must be disbudded the first summer they bloom. Disbudding produces the growth of numerous stems, and these, of course, are needed for a substantial crop of berries.
LOCATION. Give them a position in full sun. My plants flourish on the western side of my potting shed, in a rather formal, boxwood-edged garden of their own.
SOIL and FERTILIZER. Like azaleas, blueberry shrubs want fertile, well-draining, and definitely acidic soil. A pH of 4.8 is ideal; if in doubt, have your soil tested. My plants receive regular applications of Hollytone.
WATER. Essential too is moisture. If nature doesn’t provide one inch of rainfall per week, let a slow-running hose do the job. In any event, don’t let the soil dry out. Dryness will cause fruit to wither and fall.
HARVESTING and STORAGE. To determine if a berry is ripe, simply taste one. Then plan to pick every 5-7 days. Under refrigeration, berries will keep their firmness for maybe 3 days; for longer storage, wash, dry, and freeze them in airtight bags.
BIRDS. Another way to discern ripeness is by watching the birds. Here, robins wait until the fruit attains its height of sweetness. Then they attempt to devour every last berry. Netting, of course, solves such aviary plundering.
Easy culture, year-round beauty, and the healthiest eating imaginable — what more can you ask from the true-blue Vaccinium? I hope you’ll plant a patch in your own garden.
And incidentally, I hope you won’t eat all the berries the moment they ripen, as I do. I have never saved a single fruit for winter enjoyment. Maybe this year will be different. Maybe.