I Must Have Blueberries

May 16, 2010

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.

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Related Posts:
How to Plant, Harvest and Grow Rhubarb
Potatoes 101
My Favorite Spring-to-Frost Strawberries

Comments

  1. Carol says:

    Kevin, I never save any of my blueberries for winter, either. They are far, far too delicious during summer!!!

  2. Justin says:

    Put a little whipped cream on those berries, and I'll eat them.

  3. Alan says:

    Well, that's the first I've heard about disbudding. When I bought my 3 highbush shrubs, they were 2 year old transplants already in bloom. I have never disbudded them, which probably explains why they haven't grown at all in 3 years. I wish the nursery that sold me the blueberries had advised about disbudding.

  4. Welcome, Alan. Many plants — apple trees, blueberries and geraniums among them — benefit from early disbudding. With no flowers to rob their energy, they focus instead on producing strong root systems and abundant branching.

    Disbud your blueberries this spring (I know how painful this can be), keep them well-watered and fed, and your shrubs will push out a tremendous amount of new growth. Then you will have many more flowering (and thus fruiting) branches for next year.

  5. Lisa B says:

    How do blueberry bushes do in containers?

  6. Lisa B – Blueberries can do remarkably well in containers. Choose from the “half-high” types, such as 'Chippewa,' 'North Country' and 'Northblue.' These grow no taller than 3-4 feet, and produce substantial crops of fruit.

  7. Vicki says:

    Kevin, do you know of any smaller-berry (“wild blueberry”) types that would be good against a fence with full sun much of the day and dappled sun the rest? We're thinking of putting some in, and like the small berries as well as the larger ones.

  8. Vicki – All blueberries should thrive in the amount of sun you describe.

    'North Country,' 'North Sky' and 'Jersey' are all half-high types which bear small fruit. You can find these and other varieties at Micosta Enterprises in Hudson, NY (518-822-9708.) The proprietor there, Steven McKay, is an expert in all things berry-related.

  9. bev jaeger says:

    do cherry trees also need “debudding”? Stefandra

  10. bev jaeger – welcome. No need to disbud a cherry tree. Newly-planted trees usually take 3 years — and sometimes longer — to produce any fruit.

  11. Susie/VT says:

    I am just waiting for the last frost to plant my first blueberries in Vermont. Many thanks for the tip on dis-budding! I never would have thought of that, and really want to have very high yield bushes – I LOVE blueberries!!! As I can afford more, I will plant more – delayed gratification.

    BTW – here is a very important tip for all of you with children and dog, and berries of any kind -
    DO NOT LET THE KIDS TEACH THE DOG HOW TO EAT THE BERRIES STRAIGHT FROM THE BUSH!!!! If you ever want to enjoy any of your harvest ever again, I cannot stress how important that is. Our old beagle loved the wild strawberries that grow at the edge of the lawn, so did we, but she was faster – more legs! Next thing I knew, the raspberries and blackberries had all gone too – very happy kiddo and beage strangely lacking in appetites… LOL

  12. Susie/VT – Great tip! And I had to laugh, because I have a berry-loving beagle, too.

  13. Gladys says:

    I never disbudded my blueberries and the bush is loaded every year. I mulch heavily each fall with ground up leaves. Blueberries love the acid soil. One the berries appear on the bush, just make sure that the bush gets plenty of water (at least an inch a week)

  14. Trish Kennedy says:

    I was always taught not to wash the blueberries you freeze until you’re ready to use them. Might just be an old southern tradition but I’d be curious to know if anyone else ever heard that.

  15. Audrey says:

    I only have 4 blueberry shrubs and only one produces well. The other 3 are scrawny and give about a handful of berries a year. I planted them over 8 years ago, is it ever too late to try the disbudding?

  16. Jacque says:

    Hi Kevin,

    You say “My plants receive regular applications of Hollytone”. How much Hollytone are you regularly giving? My 3 shrubs were planted last year and they are small. I have never bought Hollytone. Will it tell me on the bag how much to give them regularly? Should I buy a 20 lb bag or just an 8 lb bag? I do have a red twig dogwood and some hydrangeas. Should i regularly give them Hollytone as well ?

  17. Trish – Wet berries turn to mush when frozen. If you rinse them first, be sure to dry them. Otherwise, just follow that good ole Southern tradition!

    Audrey – Although the general rule is to disbud the first season they bloom, I’d go ahead and try disbudding even your older blueberries. This will give the plants a chance, for one season, to grow — instead of focusing all their energy on berry-production.

    Jacque – I buy the larger bag of Hollytone. Application rates are on the bag. If you disbud your shrubs, and all other cultural conditions (like sunlight and moisture) are up to snuff, the shrubs will have a chance to grow.

  18. Jennfier says:

    I moved into a rental last year that has 3 or 4 terrible looking blueberry bushes that produced about 15 total blueberries. I’m in north-central Florida, what can I do now to help them along for this season? They also look as though they need pruned (there’s a lot of ‘dead’ looking branches)

  19. SandraG says:

    I love fresh blueberries. I had never tasted them fresh until my sister invited me to meet her at a pick-your-own orchard in East Texas. I had no idea that’s what a blueberry was supposed to taste like.

    I planted my first blueberry bush this spring to experiment with the new Pink Lemonade variety. It has survived our summer heat and I’m looking forward to the beautiful fall color this variety is supposed to have. I had never heard about disbudding either but the gusty winds we had in Texas this past March and late freezes in April took care of that for me. I only got a small handful of berries. They were wonderful, hot pink and tasted like blueberries. So I’ll be planting more of them.

    I use CD’s hanging from fishing line to keep birds out of my blackberries. I have a few garden hooks and plan on trying hanging CD’s from them within the blueberry bushes.

    I have frozen several blueberries and blackberries. I find that if I trust the source where I picked them that it works best to freeze them without washing. When I need them I remove from the freezer, let sit out a little, then wash.

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