As of July, 2012:
A couple of years ago my
wife, Margaret, decided that since I enjoyed blueberries so much (and that
they’re so good for you) we should grow them in our garden. She brought
home a couple of the traditional northern deciduous type plants along with
three evergreen “Sunshine Blue”
hybrids developed from southern varieties. I have to admit to being
skeptical about the whole project. Many years prior to this we had
attempted to grow blueberries with a huge 30-year-old plant we bought from a
blueberry farm going out of business. Among other things we learned why
farmers usually replace their plants after 15 to 20 years of production!
Additionally, I didn’t believe that an evergreen hybrid like this could
produce a decent crop of tasty berries and also function as a lovely
ornamental plant all winter long.
For the first two seasons
I mostly ignored the new berry plants out of my skepticism and further
because it is recommended that you limit your harvests for the first one or
two years on young plants. Then early in the third summer Margaret told me
I better check out the new berries and that I might want to take a container
with me and pick some. When I finally got around to sampling the crop, I
found I needed to go back and get a second container to pick all the
wonderfully sweet berries that were ready for harvest.
During the course of the
summer I harvested at least 10 quarts of berries from those plants for
wonderful pancakes, waffles and pies. Only a handful came from the “normal”
highbush plants while the shorter “Sunshine Blue” produced nearly all the
crop. Admittedly the former plants were tucked behind the latter in a
shadier spot. But the Sunshine Blue’s yield and taste quality were both
great. And with the many reports continuing to come out regarding the
health aspects of eating blueberries I have become a proponent of the grow
your own blueberry movement.
It seems with each passing
year there is more information that links blueberry consumption with better
health. There is lots of evidence that eating blue fruit provides the body
with many compounds that slow down several things commonly associated with
aging process: antioxidants to keep cell types from premature changes
associated with cancer and vascular diseases, resveratrol now thought to
also inhibit some of those same processes, compounds suggested to help
prevent some of the destructive mechanisms of the brain leading to
Alzheimer’s disease and, of course, lots of vitamin C in the fresh berries.
The common blueberries
found in most supermarkets are grown on Northern Highbush type plants.
These are commercially grown descendents of the lowbush varieties still
found growing in the wild throughout much of Northeastern North America.
Many of the “wild” blueberries sold today are picked from these lowbush
varieties in places like
Maine, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The largest commercial producers of
berries are in Michigan with additional product coming from the Pacific
Southern varieties were
developed from native southern lowbush type plants and crosses with northern
plants. Some varieties are better in certain climate zones than others.
For example, the southern varieties are not cold tolerant and will not
survive the colder winters of the Northern North America. Likewise some of
the northern varities need a certain amount of cold and will not thrive in
warmer regions of the world. In moderate climates, such as the Pacific
Northwest, both types of blueberries do well and more attention can be paid
to taste and productivity than to survivability of a particular variety.
Since the size of the
mature plants can range from less than a foot to more than 12’ attention
should be paid to the planting space available. For small gardens, consider
a lowbush plant rather than one of the larger highbush varieties. While we
haven’t yet explored many other southern types, my own favorite is the
Sunshine Blue. It has a slightly tart but very flavorful taste and it
produces very well for us in Seattle over the course of the entire summer.
If the weather cooperates you might even be harvesting into October.
Blueberries will produce
the most fruit when grown in full sun. Most will tolerate some shade but
the production will usually decline in direct proportion the amount of shade
the plant receives during the day. Ideally your berry plant will get at
least 7 - 8 hours of direct sun during midsummer. These plants are not
what we would call drought tolerant. They do need plenty of water during
the growing season. For those plants that produce a harvest early in the
summer, they will benefit from additional water during the late summer so
they do not go dormant until the cold weather arrives in the early fall.
This enables them to store up more energy for use the following year. You
can tell when they are going dormant by their leaf color. As the leaves
begin to shut down they start to change to varying shades of red and
orange. Once this starts to happen it is usually too late to stop so keep
those plants watered from harvest time until frost-time (if you are in a
frost forming region).
require a soil that is quite acidic. For those of us in the rainy Northwest
this is often our norm, but in other areas you may have to amend your soil
to achieve a good harvest. Several methods can help to lower your soil pH.
The goal is soil of a pH of 5 or less. Adding peat moss, fly ash, elemental
sulphur and using acid type fertilizers all will help.
Pruning is relatively
simple and should be carried out early in the spring. Remove dead and
broken branches. Remove no more than 20 to 25% of the branches, taking care
to cut out the oldest, largest canes. Leave the newest canes to produce the
fruit for the next several years.
Harvest the berries when
they are ripe to taste. Which means you’ll have to do a bit of taste
testing when the end of spring starts to roll around. Some varieties have
different looks at ripening than others so it is important to be familiar
with what your varieties look like when they are ripe. One of the varieties
I grow is not ripe until all signs of green are gone from the bottom of the
berry. The other varieties I have do not have this green spot on the bottom
of the fruit so that color method doesn’t work for them.
Relatively few problems
plague blueberry farming. One that many of us urban farmers seem to have is
competition form birds. In my own case, I believe there are two factors
working in my favor: 1.) The variety I primarily grow (Sunshine Blue) is
slightly on the tart side and think this helps make those particular fruits
somewhat less desirable to the birds and 2.) It appears we several
neighboring cats that seem to lurk beneath the berry bushes acting as guards
over our crop. There is bird netting that can be used but is a bit
troublesome to move each time you have to get to the plants. However, if
that is the only alternative it is better than giving much of your harvest
to the winged predators.
information is from one of our suppliers, Monrovia Nursery:
(Description): Blueberries work well with other acid
loving shrubs such as Normandy Rhododendron, (Rhododendron x
'Normandy'), Girard's Hot Shot Azalea, (Azalea x 'Girard's
Hot Shot'), Marge Miller Camellia, (Camellia sasanqua 'Marge
Miller'), and Blue Sapphire Ceanothus, (Ceanothus x 'Blue
Blueberries need not be limited to the confines of a kitchen
garden or orchard. Makes an attractive accent in shrub
borders as well with great seasonal changes. Ideal against
fences and foundations of outbuildings. Well suited to areas
around the acidic transitional edges of conifer canopy
driplines or openings in natural woodlands. Line them up for
a delicious and beautiful hedge for easy picking access.
Share fruit with birds by adding to habitat gardens.
Performance and Requirements
Needs regular watering - weekly, or more often in extreme
Widely grown, often considered the best variety for overall
performance. Very adaptable to soil types, high yielding,
disease resistant, great tasting. Grows to 4 to 6 feet
tall and wide.
A very tasty variety
producing good desert quality berries on a 4 to 6 foot
plant. A mid-season producer with rosy pink blooms
turning pure white as they age.
berries of any blueberry on a 3 to 4 foot plant. A mid
to late season harvest gives you up to six weeks of great
A crisp and sweet
tasting variety producing large quantities of berries on a
mid sized 3 to 5 foot plant. A midseason plant giving
you a lots of fruit for both fresh and frozen storage.
Northcountry blueberries are great for patio
containers producing good quantities of berries in a
small amount of space as it only gets 2'x3'. It is adaptable to a wide
range of soil types so it may produce better than other
more particular varieties. A hardy, deciduous Shrub,
hardy to zones 3-7.
Cold hardy and vigorous blueberry
produces an abundance of small dark blue fruit. Compact
plants are better suited to small gardens. Produces small
white bell shaped flower clusters in spring. Bright green
leaves brighten to orange in fall. Prefers acid soils pH 4.5
to 5.5. Deciduous. Full sun protected from wind and hot
afternoons in summer. Moderate growth 6 feet tall, 5 feet
wide. Zone 3-7.
Half high dwarf blueberry, yields 1 to 3 lbs per plant per
season. A compact plant, it is good as a border plant or even in small pots.
Gets 1 to 1.5 ft. tall, 2 feet wide. Full sun, zones 3-7.
Liberty is a hot new variety! Its
berries are firm, wonderfully flavored, and easy to pick.
They ripe later in the summer. Liberty is adaptable to many
different growing conditions and grows vigorously once
This is the very first pink blueberry on the market! The
berries are bright pink, medium sized and have a mild,
delectable flavor. The bush reaches 4-5 feet and grows in
zones 4-8. This blueberry has color all year long, beginning
with pink flowers in spring, fading to green leaves with
pink fruit in summer, to brilliant fire tones in autumn and
finishing with reddish brown stems in winter.
Blueberry is an example of a true wild blueberry and has
been around for over 100 years. It has consistently remained
popular due to its adaptable nature and wonderfully tasty
berries. Great for all manner of baking including muffins,
pies and sauce. A consistent producer, Rubel is hardy in
zones 3-7 and is a vigorous grower.
Hot pink bell shaped
flowers are decorative before fading to
white. Blooms in late spring. Yields an
abundant crop of large tangy fruit with
as few as 150 hours of chill. Self
pollinating, but produces best when
planted with another variety. Dwarf
stature is far more suited to ornamental
gardens and small space landscapes than
other varieties. Semi-evergreen shrub.
Full sun. Moderate growth 3 to 4 feet
tall and wide. Zones 5-10.
Blue description from Weeks Berry Nursery (another
grower of our stock):
For gardens from San Diego to Seattle, Sunshine Blue has it
all. This semi-dwarf evergreen blueberry features a
highly-branched compact habit to 3 feet tall. The showy hot
pink flowers in spring yield large crops of dime-sized,
delicious blueberries with a unique tangy flavor for up to 9
weeks in the summer. Sunshine Blue tolerates higher pH soils
better than other blueberries. It is self pollinating. The
low chilling requirement of 150 hours makes it suitable for
Southern California, but we find it is surprisingly cold
hardy and a wonderful addition to our Northwest gardens.
Top Hat Blueberry
A very small plant with small tasty berries. Great for
containers or border plantings at only 1 to 2 feet in size.
A mildly sweet berry produced on a stocky mid sized plant (4
- 6 feet). Easy to pick mid season variety with lots
of large berries.
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium
Native blueberry in the Pacific Northwest.
Evergreen, glossy leaves and small, dense clusters of
Huckleberry Performance and Requirements
Full sun to shade but produces more fruit with more sun
Needs regular watering to establish, reasonably drought
tolerant, especially in the shade.
Moderate growing, average height 5 to 6' in sunny sites,
taller in shady spots
Arching, bushier in the full sun
Provide an acidic, well-drained soil.
Water regularly during the growing season to maintain a
deep, extensive root system. Feed with an acidic fertilizer
to promote growth. Mulch well for better drought tolerance.
Blueberries at our New Online