Blueberries in the Garden

Planting a low-maintenance bush brings blossoms in spring and fruit in summer

Blueberries are one of summer’s best fruits. They make a great addition to any garden not only for their sweet berries but also for their ornamental qualities. They have white blossoms in the spring with very attractive vibrant red foliage in the fall.

With some special attention, you can grow blueberries almost anywhere in the country, but they prefer milder winters. Site these plants in areas with full sun and loose, well-drained soil. Blueberries have very fine roots and won’t tolerate wet soil. If the soil is saturated with water, even if only for a few days, the roots can begin to die off. These plants grow best in acidic soils with a pH of 4.2–5. When planting, amend the hole with plenty of peat moss and well-rotted compost and add 5–10 cm of wood shavings or straw around the bed to conserve moisture. Water weekly to keep the soil moist, or more often when it is hot and dry.

Remove the blossoms in the first year to help conserve plant energy and direct it towards root development and growth.

Choose from four types of blueberry plants: rabbit eye, high bush, half-high and low bush plants. The type you choose is dependent on the space you have. Though keep in mind that blueberries need to be cross-pollinated. Select at least three different varieties for optimal yields.

Rabbit eye varieties like “Beckyblue” and “Tifblue” are great producers and can grow up to 5 m high. Highbush plants like “Bluechip” and “Bluecrop” are most common and shorter than rabbiteye varieties, growing 2–3 metres high. Lowbush plants are more cold-hardy than the previous two and only grow to a couple feet high. They are usually grown in the marginal areas of blueberry production, such as Northern Ontario, and in places where space is tight. Half-high plants are a cross between high- and low-bush blueberries. They grow to approximately 50–120 cm high and are great for those who have a little more room. “Northblue” and “Northcountry” are great half-high varieties.

Blueberries are low-maintenance and only require springtime pruning. For the first three years blueberries will require pruning only to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood. From the fourth year onward, light pruning will be required to remove a couple of the oldest shoots along with any dead or diseased wood. This will help keep the plant productive and allow for good light penetration and air circulation.

I recommend that you place bird netting over your plants when the berries set or the birds will reap the benefits of your hard work.

Green gardener Mark Cullen is a radio and TV personality, author of 18 gardening books and answers thousands of questions at Markcullen.com.