Blueberry Grow Guide
What better plant to have in your backyard than one that grows delicious, healthy fruit and is beautiful to look at?
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 to get you on your way to deliciously blue-filled days!
Perfect Plants Nursery offers five different varieties of Rabbiteye blueberry bushes. One advantage to buying our potted blueberry plants is that they already have a well-developed root system that will get them off to a good start in your orchard or yard. 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 to Extension Daily.
Blueberries require a certain amount of “chill hours” to set fruit. Chill hours are the number of hours during the winter that the air temperature is between 35°F and 45°F. Check out our December 2015 blog “Chill Out!” for more in depth information on chill hours. Hours when the temperature is below 35°F do not count. Your local Agricultural Extension Agency can tell you what the average number of chill hours is for your area. 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.
Beckyblue 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 produces big, delicious berries on hardy bushes 3-15’ tall and 3-10’ 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 berries are large, light powdery blue and ripen early in the season, around late May to early June. Premier needs around 550 chill hours for ideal fruit set. This variety gets 6-10’ tall and 6-8’ wide. Premier tolerates a higher soil pH than other blueberry varieties.
Climax needs around 450 to 500 chill hours and offers exceptional performance in hot and humid climates as well as attractive fall color. Climax is an early season fruiter and the bushes max out around 8-15’ tall and 6-10’ wide.
Powder Blue is a heavy producer of large fruit that ripen 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’ tall and 6-10’ wide. Powder Blue needs around 600 chill hours for ideal fruit set.
Plant Your 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 need full sun and a well-drained (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!
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 mulch over the root zone and beyond to help hold in soil moisture. You can use hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost. Do not use mushroom compost as this contains 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.
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 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.
After their first year, you should prune blueberry bushes right after the berry season has ended enough to prevent over production of fruit and to keep the bushes to a manageable height. Don’t prune off more than 1/3 of the bush each year.
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.
Mulch your blueberry bushes annually to prevent weeds and hold in soil moisture. 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.