Rabbit-eye varieties do best in the southern states.
Look through any catalog or website, and you’ll find information on specific USDA Climate Zones in which different cultivars grow best.
For more information on blueberry varieties, as well as a guide to planting, growing, and harvesting blueberries, see our Blueberry Plant Page.
‘Blue Crop’ blueberries take my frigid winters in stride and produce huge crops in July.
Growing Blueberry Bushes
Growing your own fruit seems overwhelming to even seasoned gardeners. There’s the pruning, endless spraying for disease and insects, and pollination issues. Many popular fruits, like apples, peaches, and pears, can be a pain to raise. But, the healthiest and—in my opinon—one of the tastiest fruits, the blueberry, is simple to grow.
‘Chandler’ is the biggest berry you can grow. Most are as big as a nickel.
You amend the soil, plant the bush, mulch, and water. That’s it! No spraying, no endless pruning, or other maintenance. Most blueberries are self-pollinating, although two different varieties will insure heavy fruit set. In return, you get gorgeous, bell-like flowers in the spring, tasty fruit, and vivid fall foliage in tones of red, rust, and orange that accent your landscape.
Don’t listen to the garden experts with their admonitions about blueberries needing acid soil. Not true! While blueberry bushes do require soil with low pH (about 4.5 to 5.5) that is porous, you don’t have to replace your alkaline or clay soil. Just amend the planting area. What I did was to stake out a 3x9-foot bed for the four bushes I planted. I added a bale of peat and a cup of soil sulfur to the existing alkaline soil.
‘Pink Lemonade’ is new to the market, but its pink berries are just as tasty as blue ones.
Blueberries have shallow root systems and they love moisture. That’s why I added the peat; it, plus the soil sulfur, brought down the pH of the bed from 7.3 to 5.2. Adding soil sulfur every spring keeps the pH in the desirable range. Test the pH before adding sulfur to see if it’s needed.
Thick mulch is a must, also. It insures that the roots stay healthy. I use pine needles from an 80-foot white pine in my yard, and I top them off with another six inches of straw. That foot of mulch insulates roots in winter so they stay frozen; freezing and thawing will kill any root system. And, the mulch keeps soil moist during growing season.
Caring for Blueberry Bushes
Very little pruning is needed, but it should be done in early spring while plants are still dormant. The first two years, the bush’s structure is formed, so specific cuts must be made to spur growth and form fruit buds. After that, spring pruning is a matter of removing dead canes and cleaning up any problems. Each bush only takes me five minutes to prune.
Disease problems are non-existent. Nothing seems to bother plants, except birds pecking the berries as they ripen. Bird netting, a pet cat or dog in the yard, or situating bushes near a house entrance takes care of birds.
Doreen Howard, an award-winning author, is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day. She has gardened in every climate zone from California to Texas to Oklahoma to the Midwest. She’s especially fond of unusual houseplants and heirloom edibles. Read More from Doreen G. Howard