How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Blueberries
Blueberries are one of the most popular fruits in just about any garden. They are easy to plant and grow. Their maintenance can be a little tricker. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey guides you in your planting journey, with the steps you'll need to take in order to successfully plant, grow, and care for blueberries in your garden.
There is nothing quite like a juicy fresh-picked berry bursting with sweet flavor on your tongue. Whether in pancakes, fruit salads, smoothies, or straight-up, blueberries have been a part of American culture for centuries. They make an excellent edible hedge, and have many other uses around the home or garden.
If you are intimidated by fruit trees or short on space, blueberry bushes are the ultimate starter fruit for beginner gardeners who would like to invest in nutritious food crops that will yield for years to come. Anyone who has grown rhododendrons or azaleas can easily grow blueberries. You can even grow them in containers on your patio!
If you’ve been wanting to add berries to your vegetable or ornamental gardens, look no further than the humble blueberry bush. Given the expensive price and potential pesticide contamination of store-bought blueberries, growing them in your garden is a rewarding and worthwhile endeavor. Blueberries can live and produce for up to 50 years, so you can plant once and enjoy their sweetness for generations to come.
Blueberry Plant Overview
Eriacaceae (Heather Family)
Fall or Spring
Low Once Established
1-12 feet, Depending on Type
Low to Moderate
Down to -30°F in Dormant Phase
Larkspur, Rhododendron, Azalea
1-8 feet Plants, 2-14 feet Rows
Ful Sun to Partial Shade
Birds, Deer, Beetles, Aphids
Bacterial Canker, Crown Gall
History and Cultivation
Blueberries are a unique garden fruit because they are one of the few crops grown today that originated in North America. These juicy indigo fruits have grown wild across the United States for at least 13,000 years and many patches were actively managed by Native tribes.
Blueberries were domesticated within the last 100 years and have rapidly risen to fame around the world thanks to their delicious sweetness, delectable juiciness, and superfood-status nutritional value.
Blueberries are members of the genus Vaccinium, which includes more than 35 different species of berries native to North America. They are woody, long-lived, perennial members of the Ericaceae, or Heather family.
The most cultivated types are widely adapted to growing zones 3 through 10 of the eastern and southern U.S. However some types of blueberries are hardy down to below zero temperatures during their dormancy phase, making them ideal for northern growers who still want to enjoy the fresh juiciness of spring and summer berries.
From Wild to Tame Blueberries
Anyone who has visited the rocky mountains of Montana or the woodlands of Maine knows how popular wild blueberries are. In the west, they are often called “huckleberries,” whereas New Englanders usually call them just “wild blueberries.”
Though they are technically different species, these berries have been growing on American soil for thousands of years. While Native Americans foraged and tended wild blueberry stands for centuries, they weren’t cultivated on farms and in gardens until the early 1900s.
New Jersey gardener and cranberry farmer Elizabeth White is credited for the initial domestication of blueberries around 1912. Her partnership with USDA botanist Frederick Coville brought about the first breeding efforts and experiments in growing blueberries as a food crop.
The first commercial blueberries were harvested and sold in 1916. In the past century, they have risen to “superfruit” fame status, with the United States leading the world in blueberry production.
Where Do Blueberries Originate?
Blueberries (Vaccinium species) are native to North America. They grow as wild bushes throughout the northeast. Their relatives, huckleberries, are native to the northwest and mountain west regions of the U.S.
Lowbush or Highbush?
The wild blueberries described above are considered ‘lowbush’ blueberries, which belong to the species Vaccinium angustifolium. Lowbush blueberries are native to the Eastern U.S and are often marketed as Maine wild blueberries.
The ‘highbush’ types are more common on blueberry farms and gardens. They are also native to the Eastern states but have been more intensively bred for production. There is a great diversity of cultivars, including northern highbush and southern highbush types.
The northern highbush blueberries are perfect for USDA growing zones 4 through 7, whereas the southern highbushes prefer a Mediterranean climate up to USDA zone 10. These southern highbush types do not require chilling periods like lowbush and northern highbush types do. There are also ‘rabbiteye’ types that grow excellently in warm southern climates.
Needless to say, there are lots and lots of varieties of blueberries. All complicated jargon aside, it’s quite simple to figure out which blueberries are best for your garden. We’ll explore more of the details and differences between these different blueberry species below.
Native Uses of Blueberries
Native Americans have known there was something special about these little blue fruits from the very beginning. They called them “star berries” due to the markings on the bottom of each fruit.
Many tribes used them medicinally to heal ailments like coughs, colds, fevers, and wound healing. They also used the berries to preserve meat and dried them for winter nourishment. Even the leaves and roots of wild blueberries were ground and dried in powders for use as medicine.
The highly coveted flavor of wild blueberries has been difficult to replicate in domesticated grocery store types. However, a garden-grown specialty blueberry will give any supermarket berry a run for its money. Modern breeding efforts have led to tremendous improvements in productivity, disease resistance, and flavor amongst garden blueberry crops, but the large-scale industrial types tend to be more watery and firm due to the focus on yield and long-distance transport rather than flavor or nutrition.
Blueberries are absolutely loaded with antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds, but many people don’t realize that they also help boost immunity, lower your risk of chronic diseases, and strengthen your metabolism. These humble little blue fruits are bursting with fiber, anti-inflammatory compounds, polyphenols, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and vitamin K. They can improve your memory and eyesight.
There is significant evidence that a daily dose of blueberries has profound health benefits, especially when they are grown in the thriving, microbially-rich soil of your garden. Blueberries have among the highest antioxidant levels of all vegetables and fruits, and organically grown no-till blueberries have even higher antioxidant levels than their conventional counterparts.
To harness all the superfood power of blueberries, growing your own is by far the best (and cheapest option). Thankfully, these perennial small fruits are remarkably beginner-friendly. Once established, they make the perfect ornamental edible landscape plants while providing nutritious food for several decades to come.
Propagating blueberries isn’t nearly as difficult as one would think. They are most commonly sold at garden stores and nurseries as potted or bare-root plants. You can also root blueberries from suckers, hardwood cuttings, or softwood cuttings. Blueberries can be propagated by seed, but it is quite time-consuming and not very common.
How to Propagate Potted or Bare Root Blueberries
Almost all major nurseries and garden websites offer blueberry plants in pots, plugs, or bare root. Bare root plants will not be delivered with soil, whereas potted and plug plants come with a soil-filled root ball. Plants usually ship dormant if purchased out of season. Otherwise, they can be transplanted right away if purchased in the spring from a local source. Both potted and bare root blueberry bushes are planted in the same way that is described below.
If available, it’s best to choose bushes that are between 1 and 3 years old for quicker establishment. If you’re impatient and want to harvest berries as soon as possible, you should definitely opt for potted or bare root berry plants instead of any of the below options. Of course, these will require the greatest upfront investment.
How Much Do Blueberries Cost?
When purchased in small quantities, blueberry bushes can be $10 to $30 each or more, depending on the age of the plant. Older blueberry plants can be as expensive as $100 each! Larger quantities (50-100) of blueberry plugs can be purchased at cheaper wholesale prices from $7 to $9 per bush, but they will be very young and small. Organic plants will have an additional expense. If you are on a budget or trying to install a larger-scale planting, propagating by sucker or cutting will be the most affordable option.
How to Propagate Blueberries by Suckers
If you or a loved one already has some nice blueberry plants, propagating by sucker could be a quick and cheap option to multiply your berry bushes. Similar to strawberries, blueberry bushes send out shoots or “suckers” from the base of the main plants. These suckers root themselves alongside the mother plant and can be dug up with their roots intact to be transplanted elsewhere.
Simply use a trowel or shovel to loosen up the sucker or shoot near the base, being careful not to disturb the roots too much. With your hands, gently uproot the sucker plant and use pruners to remove it from the main plant. Pot them up in a mixture of 50% potting mix and 50% peat moss. Allow the plants to settle in and produce new growth for a few months until they seem strong enough to be transplanted into the garden. Alternatively, you can continue growing them in pots.
How to Propagate Blueberries by Cuttings
Cuttings are simply pieces of a plant’s stem that are rooted in a soil mix. Like suckers, this method only works if you have established blueberry plants to pull from. Hardwood cuttings come from woodier parts of the plant during the dormant stage of late winter.
On the flip side, softwood cuttings are harvested in early spring from fresh new growth. Softwood cuttings are more popular in a commercial setting because they root faster and have a higher success rate.
Hardwood cuttings are taken during the blueberry bush’s dormant season and require a lot of patience. You can get dozens or even hundreds of blueberry plants this way for very cheap, however it takes a long time.
To begin, be sure that the mother blueberry bush has been exposed to the proper chilling period for that specific cultivar. This method is most common in northern growing regions and may not be as effective in USDA zones 9 or warmer.
To take a hardwood cutting, begin with a strong, healthy mother plant. Choose the most robust-looking branches that are about the thickness of a pencil. Use very sharp, sanitized pruners to cut “whips” or twig shoots that are about 12” to 36” long. Remove the top inch or so from each piece and discard it.
Next, you will cut each whip into 6” sections and cut the bottom end at roughly a 45° angle. This does not need to be perfect as it is only to aid in inserting the cutting into the rooting medium. Be sure that the buds (little nubs on the stem) are pointed upward before planting.
Each stem piece can be planted into a small pot filled with peat moss or potting mix medium. Bury at least half or two-thirds of the stem length into the mix and check again that the buds are facing upward. They will look like twigs sticking up from the soil.
Keep cuttings consistently moist and warm. Hardwood cuttings take up to 3-6 months to root. A heating mat at 65 to 70°F will speed up the process. A rooting hormone can also accelerate root formation.
Once rooted, you will be able to feel a resistance when you gently tug upward on the stems. They can be transplanted into larger pots with pine bark or sawdust added to the mix, and then planted in the ground the following winter (their second year) before the ground freezes.
The main advantage to hardwood cuttings is that you can take them later in the season when you are less busy in the garden. They are also less needy than softwood cuttings and can even be rooted outdoors in place in mild climates. They do need to be protected from frost during their first winter.
Softwood cuttings are more common amongst commercial growers and gardeners alike because they only take 6 to 8 weeks to root and can be planted in the ground the same year as they are propagated. The only downside is that they require a lot more attentiveness than hardwood cuttings and are prone to rotting or drying out more quickly.
Take softwood blueberry cuttings in the spring with the bush’s first flush of growth. Select a healthy, strong blueberry bush with long supple stems of leafy green new growth. Use sharp pruners sanitized with a diluted bleach solution.
Cut 4” sections from the tips of soft, pliable new stems. Remove the lower leaves of each and leave 2-3 pairs of upper leaves. Soft cuttings absolutely cannot dry out. Immediately, place cuttings about 2” deep (half their length) into a potting mix or peat moss medium.
Keep them out of direct sunlight in a very humid environment for about 2 months until they begin developing roots. Misting or a humidity dome are very helpful to prevent drying out. Check cuttings every day to ensure they have enough moisture to root. Once roots and shoots have developed, they can be up-potted or transplanted into a protected area of the garden.
Blueberry Cutting Comparison
|Blueberry Cutting Comparison||Hardwood Blueberry Cuttings||Softwood Blueberry Cuttings|
|Season||Dormant (winter)||Spring or Early Summer|
|Time to Root||3 to 6 months||6 to 8 weeks|
|Maintenance||Low to Moderate||High|
|Type of Growth||Hardy woody growth||Supple, soft new growth|
|Cutting Diameter||Pencil-Sized||About ⅛ inch of new stem|
|Cutting Length||About 6 inches||About 4 inches|
|Leaves or Buds||Buds face up; no leaves present||Remove leaves from lower half|
|Planting Depth||⅓ to ⅔ of length deep||Halfway|
|Conditions for Rooting||Protect from frost and sheltered indoors during harsh winters||Indirect sunlight, very humid, heating mat or greenhouse is ideal|
|Moisture||Consistent moisture, never soggy||Absolutely cannot dry out, misting required|
Once you have established suckers, cuttings, plugs, or potted blueberry plants, the transplanting process is a breeze! Blueberries are planted in a very similar way to common garden fruits and vegetables.
When to Plant Blueberries
Young blueberry bushes should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Older established plants or bare-root plants can be planted in the fall before the ground freezes. Either way, be sure that you have selected and prepared the site ahead of time to ensure proper soil pH, drainage, and organic matter levels, all of which are described below.
If you order bare-root blueberries or blueberry plugs online, planting should be done as soon as possible, ideally within 2-3 days of arrival. Check that the roots are moist and the plants are healthy when you receive them. Bare root plants can be wrapped with moist cloths and refrigerated for up to a week if needed. Potted container blueberry plants can be held in their pots for as long as needed.
How to Plant Blueberries
To plant your blueberry bushes, start by digging a hole that is 2 to 3 times the width of the plant’s container or root ball. The hole should be just slightly deeper than the size of the container. Soak bare-root blueberry bushes in a container of room temperature water to thoroughly hydrate the roots before planting.
Plant the blueberry bush so the soil surface remains at the same level. If you are using bare-root plants, spread the roots evenly out into the planting hole. Backfill with the original soil mixed with wood chips, sawdust, and/or soaking wet peat moss.
If you use peat moss, it is important to pre-soak it in a bucket because the material is very hydrophobic and will take away moisture from the surrounding soil. Once backfilled, deeply water the new plant to ensure good root-to-soil contact.
Blueberry Bush Spacing
There is no “one size fits all” spacing requirement for blueberries. It all depends on variety, conditions, and the type of management. Most lowbush blueberry cultivars should be planted about 2-3 feet apart. These are the most compact and container-friendly types of blueberries.
Highbush varieties usually require at least 5-6 feet of space between plants and 10 feet between rows. Rabbiteye types require up to 8 feet between plants and 12 feet between rows unless they are pruned and managed intensively.
Ultimately, spacing is determined by the variety of blueberry and how you plan to manage the rows. If you want easier access to harvest the fruits or you prefer to maintain a mowed grass pathway, you may opt for a wider row spacing that matches the size of your lawn equipment. Closer spacings are ideal for smaller gardens that plan to mulch with a wood chip or landscape fabric path.
Blueberries can also be mixed into landscape plantings as ornamental bushes. In this case, simply calculate the square footage based on the “spacing between plants” column below. Lowbush varieties are particularly amenable to closer “patchwork” plantings that mimic the growth patterns of their wild stands.
Blueberry Spacing Comparison Chart
|Type of Blueberry Plant||Spacing Between Plants||Spacing Between Rows|
|Lowbush||1-3 feet||2-5 feet|
|Northern Highbush||4-6 feet||10-12 feet|
|Southern Highbush||5-6 feet||10-12 feet|
|Rabbiteye||6-8 feet||12-14 feet|
Mulching Blueberry Bushes
Blueberry bushes do best when deeply mulched up to 2-3” up the plant stem. This conserves moisture and insulates the roots against extreme temperatures. The best mulch for blueberries is pine needles, wood chips, leaves, bark mulch, or sawdust. Avoid any dyed or treated mulches that may contaminate your plants.
Some gardeners also use landscape fabric over the top of these organic mulches to keep weed pressure down and add some extra soil warmth. You should mulch blueberries every year to continue adding organic matter and protecting the shallow-rooted bushes from drought.
First Year Blueberry Care
In the first year of your blueberries’ growth, you should remove all the flower buds so the plant can put its energy into growing its roots. While you may be eager to harvest berries, this first year care will pay off in the long haul. Plants take 4 to 8 years to reach peak production, however you can typically begin harvesting berries in the second year. Some gardeners prefer to delay fruiting until year 3 or 4 by continuously removing flowers.
Do Blueberry Plants Produce Fruit in the First Year?
Blueberry bushes may produce sparse amounts of flowers and fruits in the first year, but it is best to remove them. Simply pluck flowers by hand to encourage the plant to channel its energy into rooting. This will lead to better harvests in the future.
How to Grow Blueberries
Blueberries are quite low maintenance once they get established. The site preparation, soil amendment, flower removal, and pruning process take up the most time. After the first 1-2 years of caring for your blueberry bushes, all you will need to do is keep them watered and pruned from that point forward.
Ideally, blueberries should be planted in a site with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Many blueberry varieties will tolerate partial afternoon shade and can be scattered amongst ornamental landscaping. However, too much shade will result in reduced fruit production, so be sure that your blueberries have enough access to light to yield in abundance.
Blueberry bushes are notoriously shallow-rooted and require a lot of water. This is especially important during the establishment phase when plants are more delicate and prone to drought stress. If blueberries don’t get enough consistent water throughout the growing season, plants can be stunted and/or have a reduced fruit set.
Drip irrigation is the preferred method of watering blueberries because it delivers water directly to the base of the plants and can be put on a timer for hands-off management. Blueberry bushes need approximately 1 to 2 inches of water per week from rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Deep mulching with sawdust, leaves, wood chips, shredded bark, or compost are excellent ways to conserve moisture at the plant base.
If you are growing blueberries in containers, provide them with a thorough deep watering about once per week, or whenever a finger stuck in the soil comes out with minimal dirt attached to your skin. The soil should never fully dry out, nor should it be soggy.
These acidic-loving perennials absolutely need a soil pH between 4.0 and 4.8. A soil test is the best way to determine your pH. Coffee grounds and pine needles are popular means of lowering the soil pH in an organic setting. Yellowing between the veins of blueberry leaves indicates the soil pH is too high and may lead to stunting and reduced yields. Pine needles, oak leaves, and wood bark can be added every year to maintain the acidic soil environment.
Sandy loam is the ideal texture for blueberries to have proper aeration and drainage in their root zone. If you are dealing with heavier soil, it is best to double-dig your holes ahead of time and amend with sand and/or organic matter to improve the drainage. Blueberries will have a very hard time growing in clay soils, therefore raised beds of layered organic matter are often used to grow blueberries in these settings.
The soil needs to have a high amount of soil organic matter, which can be achieved with the addition of compost, leaves, sawdust, wood bark, peat moss, and shredded pine bark. Blueberries should be planted in soil with an organic matter content of at least 3% or higher. Use cover crops, compost, peat, or pine needles to enrich the planting site the season before planting.
When growing in containers, the ideal potting mix is half peat moss and half shredded pine bark. Be sure to deeply soak the peat moss before making this mix to ensure that the peat does not wick water away from the plant.
Climate and Temperature
Blueberries tolerate a wide range of temperatures and climates. This includes heavy frosts during their dormancy and some frost during their growth stage. However, if harsh winters or late spring frosts are common in your area, you may need to use row cover or nursery foam to protect plants, depending on the type of blueberries you grow.
What Temperature Can Blueberries Tolerate?
Blueberries are extremely hardy woody perennials that can withstand temperatures down to -20°F to -30°F without damage, as long as they are in the dormant stage. Winter cover such as thick mulch and a layer of snow are excellent for protecting northern varieties of blueberries. However, once blueberries break buds and begin forming flowers in the spring, cold tolerance drastically decreases and they will need protection from late frosts.
Blueberry Chilling Requirements
The most important climatic variable for blueberries is the chilling hours. Basically, this means that, in order to properly develop blooms and leaves, blueberry bushes need a certain amount of time exposed to winter temperatures below 45°F but above 32°F.
The amount of chilling required will depend on the variety and type of blueberry. It is calculated using hours, which may seem strange, but your local weather station or extension service typically provides historical data of the number of chill hours you can expect for your region. A Chill Hour Map is also a useful resource.
Chill hours essentially regulate blueberry shrub growth. If the bushes do not experience enough chill hours in the fall and winter, their blooms may not open in the spring or might be more uneven, leading to sporadic fruit production.
The chart below gives a broad overview, but it is best to check with your local extension service for more detailed requirements. The chilling requirements aren’t typically a big deal in northern climates with harsh winters, however, southern growers may have to plant specific blueberry cultivars (often ‘rabbiteye’ types) that don’t require as much cold weather to produce their flowers. High chill blueberries are less likely to yield in abundance in warm climates where they won’t receive enough chill hours.
In general, “high chill” types (800-1,000 hours) are northern adapted varieties whereas “low chill” types (150-800 hours) are best for southern warm climates. Search your extension service website for information on the chill hours in your area. Choose a variety that is within 150 chill hours (above or below the threshold) for your region.
|Lowbush||800 to 1000 hours||Zones 3-6|
|Northern Highbush||800 to 1000 hours||Zones 4-7|
|Southern Highbush||150 to 400 hours||Zones 7-11|
|Rabbiteye||400 to 550 hours||Zones 7-9|
Blueberries are not heavy feeders and really only require fertilizing once per year. There is no need to fertilize blueberries at the time of planting, instead wait until the following year. The best time to fertilize your shrubs is in the spring right around the time buds break. This gives the fertilizer time to penetrate into the soil and become available to the plant for uptake as it enters the phase of growing leaves, flowers, and fruits.
It’s best to avoid high nitrogen fertilizers on blueberries, especially synthetic nitrates, which can kill blueberry plants. Organic nitrogen sources like blood meal or fish meal are a better slow-release option. Bone meal and seaweed help provide trace minerals necessary for blueberry growth.
Similar to rhododendrons or azaleas, an all-purpose organic fertilizer for acid loving plants is another great option. Be sure to only scratch the fertilizer into the soil surface and avoid disturbing the root zone at the time of fertilizing.
Maintenance and Pruning
Pruning dramatically impacts productivity, plant health, and the appearance of perennial plants. Proper pruning ensures that your blueberry plants maintain an open growth habit with plenty of airflow. It also encourages new growth and increases the fruit quality by channeling plant energy into fruit rather than more leaves. The key goal of pruning blueberry plants is removing enough old growth to encourage new growth without harming berry production for the next year.
Blueberry bushes require pruning once a year in late winter or very early spring. There is often still snow on the ground at the time of pruning, and the plants are dormant. Fortunately, pruning is relatively the same process for all types of blueberries.
Use sanitized, sharp pruners or a folding saw to remove any dead, damaged, or crisscrossing branches. Be sure that crossed branches are cleaned up so they don’t rub against each other and potentially become a harbor for disease. If you have young blueberry plants, cut one-third of the oldest remaining branches all the way down to the ground to encourage new, productive growth.
If you remove 1 out of every 3 older branches every winter, you should have excellent blueberry production the following spring. Cut off all old canes that are larger than 1” in diameter (typically not until the plant is 6-8 years old). The most productive canes to maintain are ½” to 1” in diameter.
Remove and dispose of all prunings to prevent disease.
Blueberries are pollinated by bees and other native pollinators. If flowers are not visited and pollinated by insects, they will not set fruit, so it is vital to maintain a flower-filled pollinator habitat near your blueberry patch.
Many gardeners plant lupines near their blueberries for a nitrogen-fixing, pollinator-attracting flower that comes back year after year. Other great options include phacelia, white alyssum, thyme, sunflowers, lilacs, and azaleas to attract more pollinators with their fragrant blooms.
There is a dazzling diversity of blueberry cultivars available to modern growers. First, you will want to select the species type of blueberry best for your region. Within each type of blueberry, there are dozens and dozens of varieties to choose from based on fruiting time, flavor, berry size, and disease resistance. Plant at least two varieties for ideal cross-pollination.
Types of Blueberries Comparison Chart
USDA Growing Zone
|Lowbush||Vaccinium angustifolium||1-2 feet||2-4 feet||Zones 3-7|
|5-9 feet||4-8 feet||Zones 3-8|
|6-12 feet||4-10 feet||Zones 5-10|
|Rabbiteye||Vaccinium virgatum||6-15 feet||5-10 feet||Zones 7-9|
The great thing about blueberries is you can plant as many different varieties as you’d like in order to stagger the fruit harvesting season and test out different flavors. Some types are specifically selected as great cross-pollinators to enhance the flavor of other blueberries in your garden. If you find a variety you really love, you can take cuttings from your patch and multiply them for years to come.
While we cannot possibly cover them all here, I’ve included a chart of some of my favorites from different growing zones I have gardened in. Be sure to consult local homesteaders, berry farmers, or your extension service to get a better idea of the best blueberries for your area.
Top 11 Best Blueberry Varieties
|Cultivar||Type||Growing Zone||Fruiting Season||Notes|
|‘Biloxi’||Southern Highbush||Zones 8-10||Early||Low-chill or no-chill for warm southern climates, medium-sized berries|
|‘Bluecrop’||Northern Highbush||Zones 4-7||Mid-Season||One of most popular varieties in the world, excellent flavored fruit is resistant to cracking|
|‘Top Hat’||Dwarf Half-Highbush||Zones 4-7||Mid-to-Late||Developed for half-high growth habit, great for smaller spaces or containers, large berries|
|‘Pink Icing’||Dwarf Southern Highbush||Zones 5-10||Mid-Season||Robust flavored light blue berries, ornamental beauty, low pruning requirements, and great for small spaces|
|‘Sunshine Blue’||Dwarf Southern Highbush||Zones 5-10||Mid-to-Late||Easy to prune, great for containers, attracting blue-green foliage, medium size sweet berries|
|‘Pink Popcorn’||Dwarf Northern Highbush||Zones 4-8||Early-to-Mid Season||Pink berries with delicious flavor and storage, dark red foliage in fall, easy to care for|
|‘Powder Blue’||Rabbiteye||Zones 6-9||Early||Extra sweet, large plant, with light blue clusters of 50+ berries|
|‘Blueray’||Northern Highbush||Zones 4-7||Mid-Season||Sweet, light berries with strong aroma, great for cross-pollination, high yields|
|‘Brightwell’||Rabbiteye||Zones 6-9||Mid-Season||Large cultivar, no cross-pollination needed, flavorful berries change from pink to blue as they mature|
|‘Legacy’||Northern Highbush||Zones 5-8||Late||Known for large, extra sweet berries, disease-resistant, high yields, upright growth|
|‘Southmoon’||Southern Highbush||Zones 6-9||Early||Voted one of the best tasting blueberries, large exceptional berries, upright vigorous growth|
Pests and Diseases
Since blueberries evolved in North America, they, unfortunately, have lots of endemic pathogens and pests that like to eat them as much as we do. But the good news is that prevention and organic treatment are very straightforward and easy to achieve in a garden setting. Blueberries are very resilient plants and can resist most problems through proper care, great soil, and proper pruning each winter.
This bacterial disease enters the plants through cuts in the wood, which is why properly sanitized pruning is so important. The symptoms appear in late winter or early spring as brown or black cankers, dying sprouts, or reddish-brown lesions on the trunk.
Infected stems should be pruned out immediately and all future pruning should be done with sterile instruments and care not to wound the plant. Frost protection is also useful because the bacteria can enter the wood through frost-damaged areas of the stems.
Another bacterial disease of blueberries, these cankers start at the trunk as bulges near the roots. These tumor-like growths can extend up the trunk and stems, turning from tan to dark brown or black.
A pruning knife is essential for removing the galls. Then, you must seal the wounds on the trunk with a tree wound sealer. This disease is most common in sandy soils. The best preventative methods are limiting watering, planting at the soil surface (not too deep), and taking care not to injure the plant’s wood.
Alternaria Fruit Rot
This fungal pathogen typically infects blueberries between the late-blooming stage and the time of fruiting. It can sprout from dead, infected twigs, which is why removal of prunings is so important in the winter.
Alternaria fruit rot can lead to deformed berries, greyish mold on the fruit, and leaf scars. Organic fungicides like horsetail or copper may need to be applied during the dormant season to prevent spread. Wide spacing between plants and drip irrigation are the best preventative methods. Always be sure to remove infected fruit or branches. Fungal infections can turn blueberry leaves red, even if out of season.
If you notice ugly brown fungal masses dangling where you should have gorgeous blueberries, you may be dealing with mummy berry disease. This fungal infection severely damages blueberry fruits and initially manifests as young dead leaves, wilting shoots, and wilted flower buds closer to the lower stems. Treatment is done by deep mulching in late winter and early fall, then applying an organic fungicide in the spring if you notice mummified fungal cups forming.
You may be familiar with powdery mildew from its willingness to infect just about all of our garden crops under excessively moist conditions. It favors areas with high humidity and poor air circulation, which is why wide spacing and proper pruning are so important for prevention. A powdery white texture on the upper surface of leaves is the first symptom, later leading to tiny black spots or yellowing areas on the leaves, stems, and flowers.
Powdery mildew can be treated with neem oil, a baking soda solution, and potassium bicarbonate. Ensure plenty of ventilation between plants, use drip irrigation, and avoid over-fertilizing to help minimize the risk of powdery mildew.
A variety of beetles, from flea beetles to Japanese beetles and beyond can eat blueberry plants. Their damage looks like skeletonized or holey leaves. The easiest preventative control is using row cover over the plants in spring before flowering (which also helps keep them warm), as well as planting beneficial insectary areas. Parasitic nematodes and neem oil are popular control methods for beetles eating blueberry leaves.
Blueberry Blossom Weevil
If you notice dark reddish-brown beetles with white spots hanging around your blueberry blossoms, you will want to begin regularly scouting for these nasty insects. They damage flowers significantly and can really harm your blueberry harvest. They are most active on warm spring days and hang out inside blueberry blossoms. Shake the stems to make the weevils fall out and consider releasing beneficial nematodes to keep weevils under control.
Like many other garden crops, blueberries are subject to these annoying white-colored sap-sucking insects. Aphids usually hang out on the undersides of plants and form sticky substances on the leaf surface. The easiest control is insecticidal soap or neem oil. A hard blast of water can also help remove aphids. Ladybugs are also amazing allies for aphid control (their larvae can eat up to 5,000 aphids a week!)
Birds and Deer
These larger non-insect predators are the real kickers for avid blueberry growers. Bird netting, row cover, and a good dog are crucial for anyone trying to maintain large blueberry stands. Birds will fly down and eat loads of fruit, while deer will browse on a blueberry brush and completely damage all your hard pruning and care work. If you don’t have pets, fencing, motion-activated sprinklers (on the perimeter only, not directly on berries), and blood meal repellant are other great options for keeping deer at bay,
Blueberries are most coveted for their plump, juicy fruits. They can be eaten fresh or used in a wide variety of recipes from jams to pastries to pies and beyond. Blueberry leaves are also edible and can be dried for use in tea blends or potpourri.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do blueberry plants need to grow?
Blueberry plants thrive in a well-drained soil with an acidic pH (between 4.0 and 4.8) and plenty of moisture. Blueberries require full sun and typically don’t produce much fruit until the 3rd or 4th year after planting. For best results, remove blueberry blossoms for the first 1-2 years so they can channel their energy toward root development.
What should I use to fertilize my blueberry bushes?
Blueberries are best fertilized with organic-slow release fertilizer in the spring around the time of bud break. Blood meal, fish meal, liquid fish, and seaweed are excellent options for your blueberry bushes. Deep organic matter mulches of bark, peat moss, pine needles, compost, and leaves also improve nutrient absorption and water conservation in blueberries.
How do blueberries grow successfully?
To successfully grow blueberries, be sure that you select a variety that is adapted to your area and will receive proper chilling hours in your climate. Pruning in the winter is essential for proper fruit production. Blueberries also need acidic soil and lots of water for their shallow root systems.
Is Miracle-Gro good for blueberries?
It is best to avoid fertilizing blueberries with Miracle-Gro because they are very sensitive to synthetic nitrates. The overpowering nitrogen content of nitrates can damage and even kill blueberry plants. Instead, opt for slow-release organic fertilizers.
There are a lot of nuances to growing blueberries, but once you get them started, they are far easier and hands-off than you think! They can be planted in a variety of different places, and make great filler plants in your garden if you have space you are looking to fill in. If you put in the work in the beginning, blueberries will reward you with tasty nutrient-dense fruits for decades to come.