How to Grow Blueberries in Pots or Containers
Blueberries are a fun fruit to grow when planted in the ground, but did you know they can also be grown in containers? These versatile shrubs make great container plants, which allows them to be moved freely around in your garden. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares how to grow blueberries in large pots or containers this season!
Can you really successfully grow a blueberry plant in a pot? Absolutely! It’s not only possible – it’s quite a simple process. Growing blueberries in a container allows more flexibility in where you can put your plants and how you manage your plants. Plus, there are many varieties of blueberry that are well-adapted to grow in containers.
Blueberry plants are a deciduous, fruiting shrub with a shallow root system. Some can grow quite large, but others stay relatively small and compact. There are varieties that will grow in both northern and southern climates. This makes them an ideal fruit for growing in a container.
Blueberries have ideal conditions where they grow best, all of which can easily be met by growing a potted plant. Most importantly, blueberries like full sun; at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day is ideal.
Blueberries also really like acidic soil that is loose and well-drained. Finally, blueberries like to be moist, but not too wet. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to successfully grow blueberries in a container.
Creating Your Blueberry Container Garden
If you want to try growing a blueberry but have limited space or limited sun, or you don’t want the hassle of adjusting the pH of your garden soil, then container gardening may be an ideal option.
Containers are very versatile and allow the home gardener to grow a wide variety of plants within limited space, or in places not typically available for growing, such as on a deck or even along the edge of a sunny driveway! Below are some things you’ll need to do when growing a blueberry plant in a pot.
First, Choose a Sunny Spot
Before you consider growing a potted blueberry plant, you need a sunny spot to put it. Do you have a place that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day?
If so, you’re in luck! Blueberries need an abundance of full sun to do their best and to produce flowers and fruits. Blueberries will grow in partial shade, but they may not be as vigorous and they may not produce as much fruit.
Pick a Proper Container
Obviously, if you want to grow a plant in a container, you will need to choose an appropriate container. A mature blueberry shrub grows quite large and is likely to need a container that’s at least 24 inches across and 24 inches deep.
A younger plant can be kept in a smaller pot, and transplanted periodically until it reaches its full size. Just be sure you are prepared to ultimately transplant into a pot this large.
Be sure your chosen pot has good drainage. There should be some open drainage holes on the bottom of the pot to prevent any chance of the roots becoming waterlogged. The pot should also be weatherproof, since it’s going to be spending a lot of time outside, in the sun, rain, heat, and cold.
There are a wide variety of planters, pots, and containers in which you could grow a blueberry plant. It doesn’t matter if your pot is round or square or oval-ish, as long as it’s large enough to host a blueberry plant.
Containers and planters come in a variety of materials as well, including flexible plastics, rigid resins, and glazed or unglazed ceramics. You can grow a blueberry in any one of these, as long as it’s large enough and you meet the plant’s basic requirements for light, moisture, and other ideal growing conditions.
One of the advantages to container gardening with blueberries is that you can easily create an ideal soil mixture in a pot.
This is much less complicated than trying to change an existing in-ground soil type. By creating your own soil mix in a pot, you can more easily control the drainage, density, composition of organic matter, and soil acidity.
Blueberries need acidic soil. A soil pH between 4 and 5 is recommended, so a good soil pH target is 4.5. There are pre-mixed and bagged commercially-available soil mixes for acid-loving plants, commonly marketed for azaleas.
You can use these bagged mixes for blueberries. Be sure to follow the directions on the bags, as some may be more concentrated and intended as soil supplements, while others may be intended for unaltered use.
If you want to mix your own soil, you should have a soil pH test kit handy. You can try mixing equal parts peat moss and regular potting soil. If your soil seems very heavy, you can add some sand or pearlite to help improve drainage.
Once your soil is mixed, test it with the pH test kit and add amendments, as necessary, to raise or lower the pH. Remember, you are aiming for a pH of 4.5.
There are many different varieties of blueberries to choose from. Most importantly, you will need a plant that will grow best in your climate zone.
It may be tempting to choose the smallest variety available to grow in a pot, but if it is adapted to colder climates, and you live in Florida, you will have much better luck with a warm-climate variety!
When growing in a container, you’ll want to stick with a smaller variety of blueberry. Do a little research to find a plant that stays fairly small and doesn’t have aggressive spreading habits.
Trying to grow a 10 to 12-foot-tall shrub in a container would be rather awkward. Instead, choose a plant that will stay less than approximately 4 feet tall.
For container gardening, the best, and smallest, blueberry varieties are listed below. Within each variety are many cultivars, each with slightly different characteristics. Choose the cultivars that work best for your environment and gardening needs.
|Blueberry Bush Type||USDA Hardiness Zone||Height|
|Lowbush Blueberry||3-7||less than 2 feet tall|
|Southern Highbush Blueberry||7-10||2-4 feet tall|
|Hybrid Half-high Blueberry||3-5||3-4 feet tall|
Another thing to consider is that some blueberry varieties won’t set fruit without being cross-pollinated with another plant. In general, ALL blueberries benefit from cross-pollination. This helps them grow more fruits and larger fruits.
So, you should probably grow at least two different cultivars of any of the above varieties to have the best fruiting results.
If you are able to grow multiple blueberry plants, you should stick with just one plant per container to avoid overcrowding and competition. You can, however, position your planters near each other. Blueberries like to have other blueberries nearby, as this will help with cross-pollination.
You will probably buy a potted blueberry plant from a garden center or nursery. In late fall or early spring, you can transfer your nursery-potted plant to your newly established planter. Repot your plant during its dormant time to minimize risk of shocking it during the growing season.
When you are ready to transfer to the new container, gently remove the blueberry plant from its original pot. Add enough of your pre-prepared acidic soil to the planter so that when you set your plant on the soil, the top of the plant is just below the level of the top of the planter. Then fill in around the edges with your prepared soil.
You don’t need to add any extra soil over the top of the established root mass. The soil level should be slightly below the rim of the pot. After transplanting, give your plant a drink of water to help minimize shock.
Blueberry plants have a dense but shallow root system that tends to stay close to the soil surface. Because of this, they tend to dry out fairly quickly, regardless of if they are in containers or growing in the ground.
Potted plants generally tend to try out easily, so be sure to check them regularly to keep an eye on the soil moisture level.
Blueberries like to be moist but not too wet. Give your plant a hearty drink whenever it gets dry, and pay close attention in summer months or during times of drought. You can use either rain water or tap water. If you have a rain barrel nearby, that can be a very convenient use for all your collected rain water!
Even after a rainfall, check the moisture level of your blueberry container, as a densely leafy plant may shed water to the side and not allow much water to fall into the pot where your plant most needs it. You also add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help preserve moisture.
Blueberries like to grow – a lot. For the first couple of years after planting, prune your plant or remove flower buds to prevent it from setting fruit.
Producing fruit uses a lot of energy. Removing flower buds for the first couple of years is important to help the plant establish a healthy root system and strong stems.
Each winter, during dormancy, do some annual pruning maintenance. You should remove any dead or diseased branches. You should also prune any small twiggy stems and some of the less vigorous looking stems. Keep the strongest and healthiest stems for fruit production in the following summer.
Blueberries don’t need much fertilizer. Once a plant starts fruiting, approximately year 3 and beyond, you can begin an annual light fertilizer application. You can buy fertilizers specially formulated for acid-loving plants.
Be sure to carefully follow the directions on the package for proper use. Because blueberries don’t need much fertilizer, you will probably need to fertilize only once per year.
Birds love blueberries. If you find that the birds are eating more than their fair share, you can try protecting your plant with a mesh fence. I strongly caution against using fine plastic bird netting draped over a plant.
Birds and other small animals can easily become entangled in this material and die. Other than sharing some berries with the birds, blueberries tend not to have too many other problems with pests or diseases.
Occasionally, blueberry plants may have an issue with insect pests. A few individual bugs can be removed by hand. If you have a more severe infestation, it’s important to first correctly identify the pest, and then find the most appropriate treatment.
Because you also want to eat the blueberries, be cautious with chemical applications. In many cases, a natural or organic treatment may work just fine.
If you live in a cold climate, you may need to provide some extra winter protection for your potted plants. While some blueberry cultivars are quite cold-hardy, they can still be damaged by cold, especially in the more exposed and vulnerable environment of a container.
Make sure to have a layer of mulch over the roots. You can also wrap the pot and around the base of the plant with burlap to protect from the harshest frosts.
Some people even move their potted plants into a protected garage or shed during the coldest part of winter. Just don’t forget about them! They still need some sunlight, moisture, and fresh air.
This, of course, is my favorite part of growing blueberries! If your blueberry plant has had a good year, and is healthy and happy in its container, your plant will have bloomed in the spring, grown thick and leafy, and developed fruits.
The fruits begin as small green orbs and grow into nicely round, sweet, blue treats. When ready to pick, blueberry fruits will be uniformly dark purple-blue, will have grown to full size, and will release easily from the cluster with a gentle tug. They are delicious, nutritious, and fun to grow and eat.
If you like to eat blueberries and have a sunny spot for a large potted plant, consider growing this charming fruiting shrub. For best success, keep in mind these considerations to help your blueberries grow best in a container:
- Choose smaller plant varieties
- Choose plant varieties adapted to your climate
- Large pot with drainage holes in the bottom
- Full sun
- Acidic soil
- Moist but not too wet
- Mulch to retain moisture and protect roots
- Light fertilizer
- Regular pruning
- Protect from harshest winter cold