What better plant to have in your backyard than one that grows delicious, healthy fruit and is beautiful to look at? This blueberry guide to growing blueberry bushes will lead in the right direction.Full of antioxidants and juicy as can be, blueberries have numerous health benefits—and growing them yourself is rewarding and a cheaper, healthier alternative than buying them in the store. Plus, growing and picking your very own blueberries is a great way to spend more time outdoors with the family and show the kids just how easy and fun gardening can be!
Here is a quick and easy guide on how to grow blueberries to get you on your way to deliciously blue-filled days!
Blueberries require cross-pollination to produce fruit. We suggest purchasing three plants of at least two different varieties for best fruit production. Consider also choosing varieties that fruit at different times in the season to extend your berry harvest. Rabbiteye is the most common type of blueberry grown in the south according.
Blueberries require a certain amount of “chill hours” to set fruit during bloom time. Chill hours are the number of hours during the winter that the air temperature is between 35°F and 45°F.
There are three main categories of blueberries typically cultivated:
- Northern Highbush Blueberries need 800-1000 hours of chilling, depending on the variety;
- Southern Highbush varieties need 150-800 hours; and
- Rabbiteye varieties, most popular in the southeastern United States, need 350-700 chill hours.
Read more about Differences Between Blueberry Varieties here.
Our Blueberry Varieties
- Beckyblue blueberry is tolerant of hot and humid summers, and needs only 350 chill hours for ideal fruit set. This rabbiteye variety offers early season (late May to early June) ripening, exceptional production of medium to large sized berries, and showy fall color. Beckyblue gets 6-15’ tall and 6-10’ wide.
Tifblue blueberry produces big, delicious berries on hardy bushes 3-15 feet tall and 3-10 feet wide. Tifblue tolerates colder weather than other Rabbiteye blueberries, and needs around 650 chill hours to fruit properly. The berries are large, light blue and ripen later in the season, usually in mid-June to late July.
- Premier blueberries are large, light powdery blue and ripen early in the season, around late May to early June. Premier needs around 550 chill hours for the ideal fruit set. This variety gets 6-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. Premier tolerates a higher soil pH than other blueberry varieties.
- Climax blueberries need around 450 to 500 chill hours and offer exceptional performance in hot and humid climates as well as attractive fall color. The climax is an early season fruiter and the bushes max out around 8-15 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide.
- Powder Blue blueberry is a heavy producer of large fruit that ripens later in the season, generally from late June to mid-July. It has attractive foliage, especially in autumn, and is a good choice for a shrub border or hedge. Powder Blue gets 6-15 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide. Powder Blue needs around 600 chill hours for ideal fruit set.
How to Plant Blueberries
Once you have chosen the appropriate blueberry varieties for your specific climate, you will need to select the location in your landscape to plant them.
Blueberries prefer full sun and a well-drained soil (sandy is OK), acidic soil. Have the pH of your soil tested before starting. Blueberries do best with a pH of 4.5 to 5.0. If your soil pH is above 5.0, you can lower it by adding granular sulfur to the soil. Work the sulfur into the soil about 6″ deep and follow the label instructions.
If possible, you should get the soil pH corrected nine months to a year before planting blueberry bushes. If your soil is chalky or alkaline (pH higher than 7.0), forget about growing blueberries in the ground; instead, consider growing some in containers or raised beds. They are so versatile, easy to grow and can be grown in any home garden. Blueberry production will begin in the first year of planting.
Perfect Plants also offers a special blended Blueberry Soil Mix if you do not want to go through the hassle of testing your soil pH!
Mark where the bushes will be planted (6-10 feet apart), and dig the holes twice as wide as the root balls and just as deep as the root balls.
Thoroughly water the soil in the plant’s pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it.
Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass. It shouldn’t be necessary to prune any of the roots. The exception is if one or more large roots are wound around the circumference of the pot. In this case the offending root should be shortened so that when it is in the ground it will grow outward and not continue growing in a circle.
Build up a rounded mound of soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the plant’s root crown on top of the mounded soil so that the top of the crown will be 1-2 inches above ground level. Spread the side roots out over the mounded soil while backfilling the hole. Work the soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, give it and the roots a good soaking of water. When the water has drained, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down with your hands.
Use your hands to build up a 3-6 inch high embankment of soil on the ground over the outside of the root zone. This will help impound water over the roots while it sinks into the soil. Water thoroughly. Spread 3-6 inches of an organic matter, mulch or other soil amendments over the root zone and beyond to help hold in soil moisture. You can use peat moss, hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost. Do not use mushroom compost as this contains garden lime and can raise the pH.
Prune the tops back a foot or so, but don’t remove more than one-half of their height. Do not fertilize blueberries during their first year. Blueberries are shallow rooted and easy to transplant if the planting site does not work out.
Blueberry Bush Care
Once your blueberry bush is planted and growing, follow the tips below for optimal growth.
Watering Blueberry Bushes
Keep the blueberry bushes well watered during their first growing season. If planted in the fall or winter, you can water once every week or two. Planted during the growing season, your bushes should get watered every 2 or 3 days for 3 or 4 months. If you’re having a dry spell, or your soil is very sandy, you should water every day for the first 3 or 4 months. The most common reason for a newly planted shrub to die is the lack of enough water.
Once established (after a year of growth), your blueberry bushes can tolerate moderate dry spells and should not need any supplemental watering unless it hasn’t rained in three weeks or more.
Blueberry pruning is a constant process of renewal: Removing older canes and encouraging the growth of new, upright canes.
Pruning Blueberries First Year
During a young blueberry bush’s first and second years you should be training it to create the proper structure. An open, vase-like shape that is narrow on the bottom, spreading on top, and allows sunlight to penetrate into the bush is the best growth habit. You can work on this throughout the year. Remove low hanging canes, those that are crossed, and any that are damaged or broken. Shorten overly long, fast-growing shoots.
For blueberry bushes in their first year, you should cut off all the developing flower buds as they appear. It hurts, we know, but the young plants will be better producers in subsequent years if they can direct all their resources into vegetative growth in that critical first year. You should remove half of the fruiting buds in the second year for the best fruit production. This will help the root systems establish and allow the plant to grow. It is best to start training young blueberries early to perform the best pruning practices.
When to Prune Blueberry Bushes
The best time to prune established blueberry bushes is in late winter while they are still dormant. We recommend doing this every winter for an annual pruning. By early spring, berries have already started forming and it is too late to prune. Berries are produced on young canes which are generally more reddish in color and lack the shredded bark characteristic of older canes.
Every winter growing season, remove broken and crossing branches. Remove low spreading branches and any that would touch the ground under the weight of berries. Remove canes that are more than seven years old, and save strong, upright canes that are two to four-years-old. Head back the tallest canes to a manageable height.
A rule of thumb is to completely remove at least the two oldest canes each winter. Fruit bearing blueberry bushes should be pruned so that they are narrow at the bottom and have a spreading, open crown that lets the sun in.
How to Prune Overgrown Blueberry Bushes
If your mature blueberry bushes have not been pruned in several years, they should be rejuvenated. Productivity is greatly reduced on branches that are more than six years old. Cut off about one-third (no more) of the oldest canes to within a few inches of the ground each winter for two or three years until there are no canes older than seven years. Remove any dead wood, crossed or damaged branches, as well older than 6 year old wood.
Fertilizing Blueberry Bushes
Apply ammonium sulfate or a fertilizer formulated for blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons in early spring just before the leaves break out. Follow label directions and do not over-fertilize.
Excess fertilizer, along with fertilizers too high in nitrate nitrogen, easily damages blueberries. We highly recommend a slow release fertilizer spread around the bush and three or four feet out.
It’s a good idea to mulch your blueberry bushes annually to prevent weeds and to keep the soil moist. Blueberry roots grow close to the surface, so it is not advisable to till or cultivate the soil for weed control. Rabbiteye blueberries have few pests or diseases to worry about.