How and When to Harvest Blueberries This Season
Looking to harvest blueberries from your garden, but aren't quite sure when or how to do it? The "how" is fairly straightforward, but the "when" can be a bit more complicated! In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines the ideal time to harvest blueberries this season, and how to do it.
At the peak of blueberry season, berries are abundant, sweet, and fun to harvest. You can find them at the grocery store, at the local farmer’s market, at a pick-your-own farm, or you can try growing your own at home!
If you have an interest in growing your own blueberry plants, you could be harvesting your own fruits within approximately three years of planting.
For the first two years, it’s best to encourage your plants to become well-established, develop strong roots, and grow healthy and robust branches. In the third year after planting, your blueberry plant may be ready to start fruiting. In this article, we will explore how and when to harvest blueberries.
The Short Answer
You should wait to harvest blueberries until they are fully ripe. They will be solid dark purple-blue in color. They will have grown as large as they will get and they should be easily collected with a gentle tug. Berries will be fully ripe a couple of months after flowering, anywhere from April through August, depending on your climate zone and the variety of blueberry you have.
The Long Answer
A ripe blueberry is a tasty morsel. A handful of fresh, ripe blueberries is one of the joys of growing them in your home garden or landscape. If you plant your own blueberry shrubs, by the time you harvest your first handful of berries, you will feel like you’ve waited a long time for this moment.
Your blueberry ripening schedule will depend on where you live, which climate zone you are in, and which varieties of blueberry bush you have.
Blueberries are dormant through the winter, bloom in the spring, and produce fruits by late spring through late summer. You may be anxiously watching your berries ripen and wondering when, exactly, will they be ready.
From Flower to Fruit
Blueberries have delicate white to pinkish-white flowers that will enhance just about any garden landscape. Flower buds actually develop in the fall of the previous year and overwinter on dormant branches. In the early spring, you will see the blooms in clusters along the stems.
The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, particularly bees. These pollinators are necessary for most blueberry plants to make fruits, and plants that have been cross-pollinated will grow bigger and better fruits.
After flowering and pollination, you will see the beginnings of tiny green fruits. These will gradually grow and mature into fully ripe fruits up to 1 cm or more across.
Fruits on a single plant don’t all ripen at once but have a harvest season that lasts for several weeks. If you have multiple varieties of blueberry plants, you can extend your harvest season because each variety will develop on a slightly different schedule.
When berries are fully ripe, they will be solid dark purple-blue in color. They will have reached their full size, and they will release easily from the stem when gently tugged.
If you harvest blueberries before they are fully ripe, they won’t be fully developed. They will be a little harder to pick and won’t release easily from the stem. They will also have some pink or green color remaining, and they will be tart.
When to Harvest Blueberries by Hardiness Zone
Ripening will depend primarily on your climate zone. The variety of blueberries you grow will also determine ripening times. There are five main varieties of blueberry: Northern Highbush, Southern Highbush, Lowbush, Rabbiteye, and Hybrid Half-high.
Within each variety, you can find multiple cultivars, each with unique features and growth habits. Each cultivar may ripen at a slightly different time, even within the same climate zone. Plant multiple cultivars to extend your harvest season.
USDA Hardiness Zones 3-4
Yes, you can even grow blueberries in these colder climates, and there are many cultivars that are well-adapted to the cold.
Choose from Lowbush or Hybrid Half-high for the best cold-adapted plants, although there are also some varieties of Northern Highbush that will also grow in Zone 4. You can expect your berries to ripen between July and August in these zones.
USDA Hardiness Zones 5-6
If you live in one of these cooler climate zones, you will have many cultivars to choose from. You could choose from Lowbush, Northern Highbush, and Rabbiteye varieties. Typically, you can expect your berries to ripen between June and July.
USDA Hardiness Zones 7-8
If you live in one of these mild climate zones, you will have many options when choosing which cultivars to grow. Depending on your microclimate, you may be able to grow Lowbush, Northern Highbush, Southern Highbush, and Rabbiteye varieties. Your berries will likely be ripening anywhere from June through August.
USDA Hardiness Zones 9-10
If you live in the warmest climate zones, you can grow Southern Highbush varieties of blueberry. You may also be able to grow some Rabbiteye varieties. In the warmest areas, you may have berries ripening as early as March but the ripening season can extend from March through June.
How to Harvest Blueberries
Now that we’ve shared when to harvest blueberries according to your hardiness zones, we can dive into the process of harvesting them. Truth be told: it is a very uncomplicated task. You only need a shallow container and an optional blueberry harvester.
You will notice that, in a cluster of berries, the larger the berry, the riper it is. You can harvest every couple of days and don’t worry if you don’t pick all the ripe ones at once. A ripe blueberry will be fine if left on the plant for a few days (as long as a hungry bird doesn’t eat it first!).
Step 1: Time the Harvest
Use the above guide to determine when your blueberries are ripe and ready to pick. It can be hard to resist, but you must wait until they are fully ripe.
Small, green, white, or pink blueberries can be hard and sour. Nothing like the plump, juicy, sweet ripe versions you are so looking forward to! It is also important to note that these unripe berries will not ripen any further once they are picked.
Not only is the time of year important when figuring out when to harvest, but so is the time of day. Many choose to harvest their blueberries at night, but early morning is ideal. The earlier, the better! The sun has not had a chance to stress out the plant at this point, making for a sweeter, juicier, and more flavorful fruit.
Step 2: Wiggle the Fruit
Your blueberries are plump, dark in color, and it’s the right time to harvest for your hardiness zone. You’re itching to get these delicious berries off the bush.
A simple wiggle of the fruit can help determine if it is truly ready for harvest. A ripe and ready berry will come off the stem very easily. One that has a little give may need a little more time.
Step 3: Gently Pull Off the Stem
Once you’ve determined the blueberries truly are ready for harvest, using a gentle tug, remove them one by one from the stem. Be sure not to squeeze too hard as they are delicate fruits that can crush under the slightest pressure.
It is best to not gather them all in your hand as you harvest; put them each in the container after it has been picked to avoid squishing.
It must be noted here that the best and final way to verify the fruit is ideal for harvest is to test it out for yourself by tasting it. Pop that first berry into your mouth and let it explode with flavor! If it passes the taste test, continue on with the rest of the berries.
Step 4: Handle with Care
Blueberries are soft fruits that can squish fairly easily. When harvesting, it is important to use a shallow container to hold the blueberries. The weight of the berries can cause the bottom ones to get squished if the container is too large.
When I pick blueberries, I like to pick them directly into a plastic cup. If I have many berries to harvest, I will have a larger shallow container nearby, such as a small bucket or large bowl.
As I fill up my cup with berries, I will dump them into the bucket. If I try to pick just with my hands, I end up trying to hold onto too many berries at once and end up dropping them on the ground or squishing them.
Step 5: Storage
If you aren’t going to eat blueberries immediately, which we recommend, there are a few options for storing them. First, a shallow, plastic, open container can be used if you plan to eat them within a week or so.
Only wash them as you are about to eat them. If you do want to wash them beforehand, make sure they are completely dry before storing them so they don’t mold. Blueberries can stay good for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Another option is to freeze them. Place fresh berries on a sheet pan in a single layer and freeze for at least two hours, or until completely frozen. Put the berries in an airtight bag or container and store them in the freezer. They can be stored there for about a year.
No matter where you live, you can probably grow a blueberry shrub and harvest your own fruits. You can grow them in your garden, yard, and even in a container. Your fruit harvest schedule will depend on where you live and which varieties of blueberry you plant. Be sure to select varieties that will grow best in your climate.
For the tastiest fruits, wait until they are fully ripe, have a solid purple-blue color, and release easily from the stem. And most importantly, enjoy your own home-grown fruits!