Growing a Blueberry Bush
A blueberry is a sweet, edible fruit produced by a blueberry bush (Vaccinium Cyanocccus). Blueberry bushes are grown worldwide, primarily in the United States, Europe, China.
Blueberries are native to North America where they are widely adapted, but need acidic soils and varying summer temperatures, so it is important to choose one that is right for your area.
Blueberries come in 4 different types: Northern Highbush, Northern Lowbush, Southern Highbush, and Rabbiteye.
Highbush blueberries are native to the temperate swamps, bogs, and low land areas of North America. They prefer rich, acid soils with regular water due to their shallow root systems. Highbush blueberries are the most commonly grown common type of blueberry with as easy to harvest upright habit and perfect size for row planting. With few exceptions Northern Highbush blueberries are the best selection for backyard growers and hobbyists.
Lowbush blueberries are native to the Northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Compared to standard Northern Highbush blueberries, the low bush varieties are considered to be "wild blueberries" and often harvested from managed, but otherwise naturally occurring berry patches. Low bush blueberries are small and short, but bear prolifically with smaller intensely flavored fruits. Great for hobbyists and growers with limited space.
Southern Highbush blueberries are a modern hybrid of the native Norther Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries. These hybrids carry some of the best qualities of both, featuring the upright growth habit and larger flowers of the Norther Highbush, with the heat resistance and lower chill hours of the Rabbiteye types. Southern Highbush blueberries are sometimes evergreen in the right climate, such as the Pacific Northwest, and thrive in most temperate regions that would otherwise cause Northern Highbush blueberries to struggle. Southern Highbush blueberries are great for pot and containers as well due to their ability to enjoy a hotter and drier growing environment.
Rabbiteye blueberries are a related species of blueberry native to the Southeastern United Statesm as far north as North Carolina, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas. Unlike other kinds of blueberries Rabbiteye varieties are not self-fruitful and require pollination. Due to smaller, downward facing, flowers Rabbiteye blueberries also have fewer available pollinators making insects like the Southern Blueberry Bee very valuable in commercial cultivation. Rabbiteye blueberries are well suited for any grower in hotter climates where standard blueberries fail to thrive.
Blueberries come in a number of sizes to fit the needs of different growers. The shortest and smallest of blueberries belong to the Northern Lowbush varieties, while some varieties of Northern Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries can reach sizes up to 6' tall and wide at maturity. No matter what growing circumstances you are in, from balcony pots to wide open spaces, there is a type of blueberry for you!
Blueberry bushes typically require some form of pollination. While many blueberries are partially self-fertile, some are not, and cross-pollination with a partner plant of a different variety will greatly increase the size, quantity, and quality of the blueberry harvest. Blueberries are insect pollinated plants typically serviced by bees. While most native pollinators will do the job, mason bees and honey bees are particularly good for pollinating blueberries and have the added benefit of being simple to manage for the average grower.
Pollination is important during your orchard planning as well, since you need pollinators to fly between your blueberry bushes. The pollinizers should be planted no further than 50 feet apart, and if possible be in line of sight, to ensure proper cross-pollination.
USDA Hardiness Zone
Blueberry bushes are hardy to USDA zones 4-9, unless otherwise noted, making it possible to grow them all over the United States! The USDA zone rating tells you the minimum winter temperature at which the plants typically survive when properly hardened off. On the USDA website you will find a USDA Hardiness Map which provides information on the average minimum winter temperature in your location, by zip code.
It should be understood that a USDA zone only refers to winter low temperatures and not the overall growing conditions for your area, such as rainfall, summertime temperatures, season length, soil quality, or any other factors that go into successfully growing your blueberries.
To regulate hormones and produce healthy flowers and fruits all plants must undergo a period of dormancy. Dormancy, which is like a kind of sleep for plants, is triggered by what we call "chill hours" or "chilling hours" - a period of time where the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Different varieties of plums will require different amounts of chill hours, with cultivars requiring less than 600 hours being considered "low-chill".
Both European and Asian plums have standard to high chill hour requirements at 700-1000+ for most varieties with a few exceptions.
If you have questions about the chill hours in your area contact your local Agriculture Extension Office to find out!
Where to Plant Your Blueberries
Blueberry bushes need to be planted where they receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight as measured in early summer (late June to early August). Sufficient sun exposure triggers the initiation of new flower buds for the next growing season, without which there will be no fruit. Fruit ripening and flavor development are also benefited by the carbohydrate production stimulated by the sun, as well as it’s heat.
Blueberries tolerate a wide variety of soils, so long as they are regularly moist and moderately rich, with a pH around 4.5-5.5. Improve your soil where you intend to plant by mixing an inch or two of plant based organic matter, peat, or coconut coir into an area 2 times the diameter of the planting hole and up to a foot deep. A 2-4” deep layer of mulch (straw, leaves, or wood chips) applied after planting will continue to improve the soil and maintain mositure.
Allow sufficient space for both the top of the blueberry bush and it’s root system when selecting the planting location. Refer to size descriptions for each variety, keeping in mind these are generally managed or pruned sizes, not maximum potential sizes. If you are planting a berry patch be sure to include enough space between rows for transporting your supplies in and your fruit out.
Growing in Containers
Due to their size smaller blueberry varieties are easy and rewarding to grow in a pot! Tophat and Midnight Cascade are great examples of smaller plants that be grown in a standard sized pot or hanging basket.
As with any potted plant you will need to provide supplemental water more regularly than for a plant that is planted in the ground. Pots are hotter and drying environments than soil and so your plant will require more attention than it might otherwise. Additionally we suggest that you do not use soil from your garden in the pot, instead use a potting soil mix with some added compost to help with moisture retention and improve available nutrition.
Care and Maintenance
Watering Your Blueberry Bushes
Pest and Diseases
Pests and disease are common hurdles for any grower. Ask your local co-operative extension professional what the typical insect and disease issues are in your area. Then you can make selections based on resistance or tolerance information available in our catalog, or, make a plan for controlling problems you can expect with the susceptible varieties you prefer to grow. If you see resistance information about a particular disease for one variety but not another of the same kind of fruit, then that variety may be susceptible or might not have been tested so is unknown. The following are some of the more common issues.
Because Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi is wind and pollinator spread the most effective means of preventing the disease is breaking the life cycle at the overwintering stage.
At Raintree, an 8’ woven wire deer fence has worked best. Repellents don’t work consistently and, aside from fencing, only trained large dogs patrolling the perimeter are effective.
Blue Jays start harvesting filberts when ready to pick, and so should you. Nuts dropped by jays are usually empty.
Voles and mice will chew a couple inches above ground and also into the root system. Rabbits will chew up to 8” high, particularly apple trees.
Trees can tolerate some infestation. Monitor in late spring and summer. Control is more important on new trees. Grow plants that attract predators, i.e. dill or yarrow.
Ants nurture and protect these insects in exchange for their sugary secretions. Insects may be difficult to control until the ants are controlled.
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
BMSB over winters in groups in dry protected areas, such as houses. If you find them on or in your home use the vacuum, squishing releases their defensive stink. See stopbmsb.org for more info. Feeding begins in spring when the weather warms up and continues until new adults go dormant for winter.
Rust diseases require an alternate host, removing the host (within 900’ radius), applying fungicides, or removing infected parts may help. Check with your extension office to see what rust diseases in fruiting plants may be common in your area, and their alternate host.
Injury occurs during pattern of warm days followed by freezing nights. Sap gets stuck in trunk, freezes, then rapidly thaws in the warm sun the next day, rupturing cells.