We associate blueberries with the Southwest, snow-covered swamps with cranberries, lingonberries, and invisible blueberries darkened by waxy coatings peeking out from beneath them. Blueberry fruit trees have been cultivated for less than a century, with F.V. Coville (Frederick Vernon Coville) first starting the wild selection process in 1906, and the 15 selected varieties were put into commercial cultivation in 1937.
By the 1980s, the United States had selected and bred more than 100 excellent varieties adapted to the climatic conditions of various regions, forming the main economic production areas in Maine, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, and Oregon. Following the United States, countries in South America, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Italy, England, Poland, Australia, Bulgaria, New Zealand, and Japan have entered commercial cultivation.
What is it about this berry that has won the hearts of gardeners so quickly that it is becoming a boom in our horticultural world? In two sentences describing its main biological characteristics, everything becomes clear. Every dacha, every garden needs such berries, and this article namely gives an overview of how to plant blueberry bushes, as well as the related growing techniques, care, and harvest.
Blueberries have the strongest anti-allergy properties, which is not unimportant in the context of the growing allergy addiction of the population.
They are effective in improving immunity to most diseases.
Blueberries are essential for the elderly as a preventive and therapeutic agent for aging. The berries slow down cellular aging, prolong brain activity, maintain memory and motor coordination. Blueberries are classified as a dietary product. They help strengthen the walls of blood vessels and have a therapeutic effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Have the ability to enhance the effect of medications taken by diabetics and contain oxidants.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT BLUEBERRIES
Blueberry is also known as Vaccinium uliginosum – a typical deciduous shrub species known in the native flora systematics as bog blueberry, bog, stunted. The plant belongs to the heath family. It has a very large number of folk synonyms, including blueberry, bog bilberry, bog blueberry, northern bilberry or western blueberry, most of which do not correspond to its properties (e.g. anesthetic effect on the body).
Vaccinium uliginosum is native to the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the lower elevations of the Arctic, and the Pyrenees, the Alps and the higher elevations south of the Caucasus in Europe, the Mongolian Mountains, northern China, the Korean Peninsula, and central Japan in Asia and the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains in Utah in North America.
A BRIEF BIOLOGICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE BLUEBERRY
For the novice gardener wishing to own this wonderful berry, it is vital to know its characteristics and external markings, which is especially important when buying “by hand” or from an unknown seller.
Blueberry is a semi-shrub or shrub that grows to 20-40inch (0.5-1m) tall. The numerous branch shoots, which become woody with age, form a continuous carpet. Shoots emerge from its root neck. Annual growth, foliage, and fruit decrease with age.
The root system of blueberry is reticulate and occupies the upper 6-8inch (15-20 cm) layer of the soil. Its roots have no suckering hairs, so in order to grow and develop properly, the plant needs to live in symbiosis with a specific mycorrhizal root through which it absorbs nutrients from the soil.
The leaves of blueberry are small – up to 1inch (2.5 cm), oblong, and obovate. They are arranged in alternating order. They are bluish in color. The leaves turn red and fall off in the fall, leaving gray berries on the bare branches.
The blueberry flowers are white with a pinkish tinge. The inflorescences merge into a pitcher shape and hang low. The flowers bloom from the end of May to the first decade of June. The flowers are arranged in clusters of 5-12 flowers and resemble small bunches of grapes when ripe, hence the name of the berry as well as blue grapes. Its inflorescence is usually located at the top of the shoot.
Blueberry fruit is a dark blueberry that turns blue when fully ripe due to a waxy coating. They can be round or slightly elongated. They take a long time to ripen between July and September and are harvested in several stages. Blueberries stay on the branch for 10 to 12 days, after which they begin to drop rapidly. The bushes can remain in one place and grow gradually for up to 100 years. They are frost-resistant and can withstand long periods of frost.
BLUEBERRY CULTIVATION TECHNIQUES
The advantage of cultivating blueberries is that it requires little protection against pests and diseases. Its requirements (which are sometimes difficult to meet) are another peculiarity. Blueberries grow only on acidic soils, pH = 3.5-5.0. There is another interesting peculiarity. Blueberry does not tolerate root inundation, but it grows quietly when groundwater stands 12-20inch (30-50cm) above the root system. There is another peculiarity. The culture is not tolerant of soils where other cultures have been grown for a long time, especially soils where organic matter has been applied for a long time. It is better to use waste areas that have not been used by other crops for a long time. This peculiarity is related to the development of the mycorrhizal roots of blueberries.
SITE SELECTION AND PLANTING PERIOD
Depending on the weather conditions in the region, 2- to 3-year-old blueberry seedlings can be planted in spring or autumn. In northern regions, it is preferable to plant seedlings in the spring in order to protect them from frost. The above-ground part of the culture can be completely frozen at -13°F to -4°F (-25 to -20°C).
Under natural conditions, blueberries conquer a sunny spot without constant wind. The site should also provide the right conditions. If grown in a place with insufficient light, the berries become crumbly and sour.
SOIL FOR BLUEBERRIES
Under natural conditions, blueberries grow in sandy and swampy areas with a sufficiently high organic content and in elevated bogs (which are more acidic).
To create suitable conditions for blueberries on their own plots, especially in areas with neutral acid soils, it is necessary to artificially acidify the soil in the root zone. This is easy to do in areas with peat bogs and more difficult in areas without conditions suitable for peat bog formation. How to proceed?
Prepare a sufficiently large planting hole of 24x24x20-30inch (60x60x50-80 cm) for blueberries. At the bottom, a good, high drainage system should be arranged. In areas with peat bogs, prepare a 1:1 soil mixture with topsoil peat. You can add to the peat conifer sawdust, sulfur, not more than 60 grams per pit, and sand. It is recommended to check the acidity of the soil mixture with litmus paper or indicator strips.
If the soil is loose and heavy, a bucket of completely decomposed mulch can be added as a loosener. Mature compost can be used for this purpose. Mix the mixture thoroughly and fill in the hole. Loosen the inner edge of the hole. To avoid the formation of a dense “sphere” between the soil mixture and the walls of the planting hole over time, this will prevent enough water and air from reaching the roots of the plants. The soil mixture in the planting hole will rest/mature for 1-2 months before the blueberry seedlings can be planted. No mineral fertilizers will be applied during planting.
If peat bogs are not available, they can be created artificially. Mix the soil with organic matter, coniferous sawdust, or pine needles. It is best to use used needles and sand as a loosening agent. Dilute 60-70 grams of oxalic or citric acid per 2.5 Gal (10 liters) of water. They can be replaced by 9% vinegar, 100 ml, or the same amount of malic acid. The acidity of the solution should not exceed 3.5-4.0%. The pit should be filled with the soil mixture, and a bucket of acid solution should be poured in. Check the acidity of the resulting soil mixture with an indicator or litmus paper. If necessary, add the acid solution. Do not use mineral fertilizers. The soil is left to mature.
PLANTING BLUEBERRY SEEDLINGS
Blueberries can easily spread as they occupy new territories. Therefore, bushes should be planted 30-60inch (0.8-1.5m) apart. Given that the roots need mycorrhizae for the culture to properly take root in the new location, seedlings should be bought in containers with closed root systems. When purchasing, be sure to test the containers containing the blueberry seedlings to see if they are newly planted. True container seedlings sit tightly in their containers. Freshly planted ones may have no mycorrhizal roots and therefore will not root, especially in artificially acidic soil.
Before planting, soak blueberry seedlings in water in the container for 10-20 minutes. Remove them from the container. Carefully loosen the roots from the soil and spread them out.
Plant the blueberry seedling to a depth of 2-2.4inch (5-6cm). No deeper than it will grow in the container. Spread the seedling’s roots along the soil cone. Pour water and soil from underneath the seedlings into the hole. Cover with soil and compact it slightly. Fill the last 2.8-3inch (7-8 cm) of the planting hole with mulch. Mulch with pine sawdust or collected needles. Other fine mulches can be used. In winter, the mulch will act as a frost protection measure, so the mulch layer should be adequate. In the fall, it should be at least 2-4inch (5-10 cm).
Young blueberry bushes can be greatly negatively affected by the weeding of other plants, especially weeds. Therefore, careful and frequent shallow 2-4inch (5-10cm) weeding must be done during the first few years before the culture grows and takes root to avoid damaging the root system located in the upper 8-12inch (20-30cm) layer of soil.
The soil beneath the blueberries should be moist until the roots are fully rooted. To do this, water every 2-3 days for the first 1-2 months, in batches. When new leaves appear (i.e., the roots start working), watering is reduced to 2 or 3 times a month, but if the weather is hot and dry, water at least 2 times a week in the morning or evening time. During the day, spray blueberries with cold water to cool them down. Mature plants need more water during flowering and berry ripening. During this period, switch to a higher watering rate, but no standing water in the root layer (therefore, a high-quality drainage system is needed for planting).
Fertilization of blueberries
Start fertilizing blueberries from the second year after planting. Mineral fertilizer should be applied 2 times in spring. Organic fertilizers should not be used. The first fertilizer application is when the buds swell, then again 1.5 months later. Apply 15-20 g of nifedipine under a two-year-old bush. Annual fertilizer application was increased 1.2-2.0 times. Monitor soil acidity annually. If it rises to pH=5.0, add sulfur mixed with sand to the mineral fertilizer or pour acidified water under the roots.
Sometimes, leftover brine from acidic cucumber plants is used to acidify the soil. Be sure to mulch the soil under the blueberry bushes each year, preferably with conifer waste or pine needles (since they are acidic). The second application of fertilizer should be made with additional micronutrients or a compound containing micronutrients.
LACK OF MINERAL NUTRIENTS
Artificial growing conditions do not always meet the needs of the crop. During crop formation, blueberries require increased amounts of mineral nutrients. This deficiency is evident in the appearance of the plant.
- Nitrogen deficiency – The young leaves of blueberries appear yellow-green, while the older leaves appear red. Plants do not develop much ground cover.
- Phosphorus deficiency – As with other crops, a deficiency of phosphorus in blueberries causes the leaves to turn red. The leaves press tightly against the shoots.
- Potassium deficiency – In the absence of potassium, the tips of young blueberry shoots and the tips of leaves turn black and die.
In addition to the basic nutrients, blueberries also react negatively to deficiencies of other macro and micronutrients, especially calcium, boron, iron, magnesium, and sulfur.
- Calcium deficiency – In the case of calcium deficiency, the edges of blueberry leaves will turn yellow, and the leaves will lose their shape and definition.
- Lack of boron – Boron is essential for blueberry plants. If there is not enough, the young leaves will turn blue, and the yellow space between the veins on the leaf disc will turn yellow. The stems of blueberries will gradually wilt. There is little to no annual growth. Plants can be treated with boron alone. Fertilizer can be applied by foliar spraying on the plants.
- Iron deficiency – Iron deficiency starts at the top of the blueberry leaves. The leaves turn completely yellow, leaving a lattice of green veins.
- Magnesium deficiency – Blueberry leaves present an unusual color. The edges of the leaves are red, but there is still a hint of green streaks near the veins.
- Sulfur deficiency – In the case of sulfur deficiency, the leaves of blueberries turn white. The color change is from green to yellowish-white to white.
If you notice any change in the color of the blueberry leaves, apply a micronutrient solution by spraying the foliage.
PRUNING AND REJUVENATION OF BLUEBERRIES
When young (about 4-6 years, sometimes 7-8 years when growth is slow), do sanitary pruning only once a year until the buds swell. Cut off diseased, bent, underdeveloped, frozen, and stalked stems and shoots.
Rejuvenate blueberries from 6-8-12 years of age. This is best done over a 2-3 year period, gradually cutting back old branches. If all the old branches are cut back at once (which is an acceptable method of rejuvenation), the annual yield of the bush will be low until the younger branches begin to bear fruit.
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PROTECTING BLUEBERRIES FROM FROST
The above-ground parts of blueberries are still sensitive to low temperatures. At -0.4 to -4°F (-18 to -20°C), young tops and in prolonged periods of low temperatures without snow, the entire above-ground portion may freeze to death. To prevent this, plants should be bent over the winter as much as possible to avoid breaking branches and covered with burlap or lutex. Cling film should not be used. Put mulch or crushed snow on the plants. In spring, after the mulch is removed and before buds swell, prune hygienically to remove frosty stem tips.
PROTECTING BLUEBERRIES FROM PESTS AND DISEASES
Blueberries are virtually unaffected by pests and diseases. However, if external signs of powdery mildew, fungal rot, or other diseases and aphid infestation appear, take the same protective measures as for other berries and treat with biological agents only.
Blueberry flowers are not subject to short-term frosts as low as 19°F (-7°C), so no special protective coverings are required.
Early cultivars reach technical maturity in the first decade of July, while mid- and late-stage cultivars are delayed by 1-2 weeks. The bluish-purple color of blueberries with a waxy sheen is an outward sign of their maturity. Ripe berries are easily separated from the bristles. Ripening is gradual. Berries will drop after a 2-week waiting period. Harvesting is completed by the end of August. Mature bushes can produce up to 11 Lb (5 kg) of berries.
Berries can be kept fresh for 4-5 weeks. For freshness and processing. They are used fresh and processed to make jams, juices, marmalades, etc.
WHAT VARIETIES OF BLUEBERRIES ARE GROWN?
Low bush blueberry varieties, as the name implies, are shorter and truer bushes than high bush blueberries, typically growing below 1.5 feet (0.5 m). Several varieties are planted in order to obtain a bountiful fruit yield. These types of blueberry shrubs do not require pruning, but it is recommended that plants be pruned every 2-3 years. Top Hat is a dwarf shrub variety used in ornamental landscaping and container gardening. Ruby Carpet is another dwarf shrub that grows in USDA zones 3-7.
Northern highbush blueberry shrub varieties are native to the eastern and northeastern United States. They grow to between 5-9 feet (1.5-2.5 meters). They require the most consistent pruning of blueberry varieties.
Ripening order of blueberry varieties
Since the varieties grown are selected based on climate and region, we have grouped these varieties in the way that will be most useful to you, according to their general type and ripening order. Keep in mind that actual ripening dates and even order may vary from farm to farm, year to year, state to state, so consider this a general order!
Northern Highbush Blueberry
Northern highbush blueberries are usually self-fertile; however, if you plant several different varieties (species) nearby for cross-pollination, you will get larger, earlier maturing berries.
Bluetta – very hardy, small dark berries
Collins – medium size, light blue berries with excellent quality is excellent.
Duke – large, easy to pick. Mild, low acidity.
Earliblue (or Early Blue) – one of the earliest, very popular
Hannah’s Choice – medium large fruit with high sugar content, firmer, better flavored than Duke.
Reka – Medium size with strong huckleberry-like flavor.
Spartan – firm and very large, very good flavor. Later than other early varieties, large crop.
Sunrise – Large size and excellent flavor, not as heavy yielding as Duke
Late Early to early Mid-season
Patriot – large, firm berries, early bloom, but more midseason ripening.
Toro – large size, easy to pick, good flavor.
Weymouth – excellent flavor, a derivative of the wild varieties.
Berkeley – light blue, firm, and very large with very good storing but only average flavor
Bluecrop – Medium to large size, variable picking; old variety taste.
Bluejay – moderate crops of medium, sized, high-quality fruit
Blueray – medium size with good flavor and high yieldsl
Cara’s Choice – medium sized fruit with 30% more sugar than Duke or Bluecrop and the berries stay good on the plant for an extended period
Chippewa – large firm fruit, productive and winter hardy
Draper – very good fllavor
Hardyblue – Small size but easy to pick; sweetest berry. Good for cooking.
Legacy – Large, firm, sweet, aromatic, excellent flavor, and stores well
Northland – medium-sized, dark, soft berries; extremely productive
Nui – Very large size and excellent flavor but light yields
Olympia – Medium to small size, excellent flavor
Rubel- derived from a wild variety, small, firm, dark berries, similar to low bush varieties, but the only average flavor
Sierra – large firm berries
Mid to late season
Bluegold – Medium to large size, yields vary from season to season
Chandler – Very popular due to its large size and good flavor.
Darrow – Their size varies. Easy to pick, excellent flavor.
Nelson – Large size, very good flavor, the berries can stay on the bush for extended periods.
Aurora – a new variety, 5 days after Elliot; firm, large berries that store well excellent yield.
Brigitta – large, firm, flavorful fruit that stores well. The plant grows late into the fall.
Coville – Large, firm, highly aromatic, tart, very good flavor
Elliot – Late season, large size, easy to pick; tart flavor. Very good shelf life, 30-45 days in a fridge, Beware not to pick early. It turns blue before ripe.
Liberty – ripens 5 days before Elliot with better flavor. Stores well
Jersey – an old cultivar dating to 1928, small, soft berries
Southern Highbush Blueberry
Don’t let the name fool you; while they can be grown in hot climates, they are still more difficult to grow than rabbit-eye varieties and are better suited to warmer northern regions. If you grow these, you should plant several different cultivars (varieties) nearby for cross-pollination.
Rabbiteye Blueberry Varieties
Be sure to plant more than one cross-pollinated variety to ensure a good fruit set. This is important!
Austin – large, blue firm berries with good flavor,
Alapaha – medium sized with good flavor and smaller seeds
Climax – large, medium-dark blue and good flavor.
Delite – small and light blue, pretty but not a consistent producer
Montgomery – very productive, medium to large berries, good firmness, and flavor
Premier – Large berries with good flavor. The plants are vigorous, disease-resistant, and productive.
Prince – blooms a few days before Climax, medium-sized berries, with good color, firmness, and flavor
Savory – large berries with light blue color and good firmness and flavor, but the plant is susceptible to fungus.
Titan – largest berries
Vernon – large berries
Woodard – large, light blue.
Late early to early mid-season
Briteblue – moderately vigorous, firm, large, light blueberries, good producer.
Brightwell – medium in size, medium blue color, vigorous plants that produce many new canes
Garden Blue – very small, light blueberries
Powderblue – disease-resistant, and productive, similar to Tifblue but more leafy plant, holds up to rainy periods better
Tifblue – large, round, light blue, sweet, very firm, stays good on the plant for days, most productive of all rabbiteye varieties.
Baldwin – good flavor and firm, dark blue fruit; with a long ripening period; good for home gardeners and U-pick
Centurion – Ripens after Tifblue; good flavored berries, medium firmness, darker than Tifblue.
Ochlockonee- medium-sized with good flavor and smaller seeds
Sharp blue- developed at the University of Florida for areas receiving 600 hours or less of temperatures below 45 degrees.
New Pink Rabbiteye blueberry variety
Pink Lemonade – Pink blueberries, with a great, very sweet flavor
Pink Champagne – Even better than pink Lemonade, in my opinion; more antioxidants and sweeter than blue blueberries.
Dwarf bush variety blueberry varieties
Usually only grows to 18 inches tall
- Top Hat is – used for ornamental landscaping
- Ruby carpet – grows well in USDA zones 3-7.
The best blueberry varieties for home growing
- Biloxi (Zones 8-10) – This Southern Highbush type is a relatively new variety, developed by Mississippi State University. It is well suited for low or no chilling environments. 2.
- Bluecrop (Zones 4-7) – The most popular variety in the world! An upright, open-growing, spreading northern highbush variety, you can expect ‘Bluecrop’ to grow at a moderate rate and mature to about 5 to 6 feet in height with a spread of 4-6 feet.
- Blueray (Zones 4-7) – The sweet light blueberries of this northern highbush variety begin to ripen in early to mid-July and are considered excellent for planting with other highbush types for cross-pollination. 4.
- Brightwell (Zones 6-9) – This is one of the larger varieties, reaching a maximum height of 8-10 feet, with almost equal distribution and large berries. It is a rabbit-eye type, which means that its berries change from pink to blue as they ripen. 5.
- Legacy (Zones 5-8) – According to the USDA New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, this northern highbush variety is known for the sweetness and great taste of its large berries. 6.
- Pink Icing (Zones 5-10) – Ripe to 3-4 feet in height with an upright mound spread of 4-5 feet. Blueberries are ready for mid-season harvest and are known for their intense flavor.
- Pink Popcorn (Zones 4-8) – One of the more unusual varieties, these blueberries are actually pink when ripe, with the same flavor you’re used to. They also freeze well.
- Powder Blue (Zones 6-9) – Ripe to a height and spread of 6-10 feet. This is a hardy variety with an upright growth habit and a medium growth rate.
- Sunshine Blue (Zones 5-10) – This variety stands out in terms of ornamental value, with pink flowers in spring and attractive blue-green foliage that turns burgundy red in fall. Not to mention the sweet and savory medium-sized fruit, which are ready for harvest in late July and mid to late August.
Top Hat (Zones 4-7) – Developed at Michigan State University with a semi-tall growth habit, at maturity, you can expect ‘Top Hat’ to reach a total height of 18-24 inches with a spread of 1-2 feet. White flowers in spring and their tough green leaves turn bronze in fall.
Blueberries have a firm place in our list of berry plants. Please share your experiences in growing and caring for this amazing berry.
More related information about growing blueberry bushes