Blueberries are the ultimate fruit bearing shrub for people who want to make the most use of planting shrubs for beauty, but will also produce a tasty and healthy treat.
Easy to grow and integrate into an established garden, blueberries are attractive shrubs in their own right, that people really don’t think of using when planning their landscape. Easy to fit into a small landscape, blueberries exhibit wonderful fall color as well as being attractive shrubs the rest of the year, especially in the fall when they turn a spectacular red color as the days turn cooler. An unexpected source of fall color for most people, and a great provider of breakfast blueberries-what’s not to love?
A half dozen blueberry bushes are planted in the high shade of large trees on my property, and I amended the soil with plenty of moistened peat moss. Planting the shrubs about five feet apart gives them enough growing space. If you plant them in the landscape as a shrub accent in a flower bed, you can group them a little closer for a bigger impact. I find that deer leave the shrubs alone but will browse on the ripe berries, as well as birds. Bird netting set up over a framework of PVC pipe keeps the berries going into your pies instead of feeding the wildlife. But if you plant enough bushes, you will have enough for the wildlife as well as yourself.
Plant as early in the spring as possible is best, though I have been quite successful planting them later in the spring and into the summer. Resistant to most pest and diseases, I have been growing my blueberries for over 25 years with bushes that keep on producing plump juicy berries. Offering scarlet fall foliage and pale-yellow bell-shaped spring flowers, my honey bees flock to gather nectar and pollen from them, and is one of the reasons I grow them.
Steps for Planting
Select a spot in full sun or partial shade.
Test your soil pH by digging a small sample and take to a nearby nursery to have tested. The soil pH should be optimally between 4 and 5. To acidify your soil or to lower the pH, mix a small amount of granulated sulfur into the soil several months before planting. Also mixing organic materials such as peat moss, pine bark, leaf mold, aged sawdust, and pine needles into the soil will help acidify your soil and lower the pH before planting.
Buy a blueberry bush that is at least one year old or older to get a head start on bearing.
Dig hole about twice as wide and deep as the root ball and add some loamy soil and compost to the hole.
Place the shrub at the same level as the pot into the hole and back fill with soil and pack firmly.
About one month after planting, fertilize with a general 10-10-10 granular fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.
Blueberries are self-pollinating but will grow larger fruit through cross-pollination with a companion bush.
Blueberries are one of the easiest plants to harvest with very little effort. The berries are held upright on small shrubs so are easy to reach with little bending over, unlike strawberries and raspberries. It is important to wait until the berry ripens completely with a rich blue color all around as the berries will not ripen any further after you pick them. The berry will reach its full flavor and aroma a few days after the blue color appears.
Hanging an old cut off gallon milk jug around my neck, which frees both hands to pick, is the most efficient way.
The berries ripen over several weeks, so my harvest is spread out and I enjoy them on cereal and pancakes for about a month in late June and early July. My excess berries are washed, spread out to dry, and packed into freezer baggies for future use.
People are quite successful growing blueberries in large containers. Use the same soil mix as above and use a large enough container that the plant can grow, but that you can also move around if needed. Overwinter the container by wrapping burlap or straw around the plant and placing in a protected location from winds. Successful blueberry growing though, is having the right soil mix with plenty of peat moss added, in a container or in the ground.
When your bushes get older, at least 4-5 years old, it is time to start pruning to keep them producing each year. The berries are produced on newer canes, so the best strategy is to remove older and diseased canes as well as crossing branches with a sharp pruner. Then trim the rest of the longer arching branches back by about 1/4 to 1/3. The goal when pruning is to achieve a narrow base and open top that allows sunlight to penetrate and good air circulation. The best time to do this is late winter while the bushes are dormant, and it is easy to see the structure. To ensure plentiful harvests, you should continue to do this every year. For a great description and diagram, go to Ohio State Extension Service.
It’s time to get out my crystal ball and find out whats coming up in the gardening world for 2016. Traveling to lots of nurseryman’s and flower shows, cutting edge gardens, and keeping up with my blog, gives me a good handle on what is up and coming in the gardening world. Some of these are trends have been around and are still going strong, while others are just getting a foothold, like Cauliflower!
According to the National Garden Bureau, 2016 is the year of the Carrot. I have to defer though to the rise of cauliflower, a cruciferous vitamin packed veggie, that has a unique ability to absorb flavors from other ingredients, rather like a chameleon. From cauliflower grilled steaks to peanut butter brownies, cauliflower has landed on top of the heap for a lot of people! Look at this great video on how to make the brownies.
There is actually a shortage of cauliflower due to cold in California’s Imperial Valley and the high demand for this sought after vegetable. Last time I bought it, the price was $5 per head. I have grown it several times but it is always done in by cabbage pests before I get to harvest it. Maybe I’ll give it another whirl.
2. Kale & Other Edibles-Horticulture Tied to Wellness
Just ten years ago, Kale was not on the radar of the backyard grower. There were a few varieties which people planted occasionally, but now Kale is the “in” vegetable. In fact, Kale’s growth in the seed industry is “off the charts”. Farmers can’t keep up with demand. Personally, when I go to a nursery that sells seeds, Kale is usually sold out. Full of iron, vitamin A and C, Kale is the ultimate health food. Easy to grow, even during the winter, Kale packs a powerhouse of nutrients and is also a visually beautiful vegetable. Used in containers for color and texture, kale comes out on top of all the vegetables that I grow for no bother and “forget about it”. Virtually every month of the year, I am harvesting Kale!
The ever-increasing interest and use of edibles in containers and in the garden is still up there. Think berries, fruit, and lots of kale. Okra is another super food that is coming into its own. Go to Okra-Superfood Superstar for more information on growing it.
A beautiful new Kale variety I saw at a recent horticultural trade show was Kosmic Kale, a unique variety that has a cream-edged margin. When I first spotted it, I thought it was a new perennial, not a vegetable. I will be looking for this variety in the spring. What we put into our mouth and bodies has become increasingly important to the a generation of gardeners.
3. Pollinators & Milkweed
Native pollinators as well as the honeybee are still high up on the concern list for most people, gardeners or otherwise. Monarch butterflies are topping the list with an incredible outpouring of support and interest on how to increase the numbers of these beautiful pollinators and keep them healthy. Fortunately, the efforts to help monarchs, providing more and better habitat, reducing pesticide use, and raising the public’s awareness has spilled over and helps other lesser known varieties, like many of our native bees. Monarchs and honeybees are the poster children of this movement. If you provide bett
er habitat for these canaries in the coal mines, then everyone benefits. One way to help out is to create a monarch way station to feed the monarchs on their long migration. Go to Monarch Way Station to see how to set your own up.
Ordering milkweed plugs (tiny rooted plants) has become easy by going to The Milkweed Market . Order now to provide a safe haven for monarchs! Go to Got Milk….Weed? to check out the importance of growing milkweed.
As anyone knows, when you have monarch caterpillars munching down on your milkweed, they can run out fast especially with aphids joining in, so you never have enough of the stuff!
4. Bambi Proof
With the skyrocketing growth of deer and the distress of seeing your hard-earned cash become salad, people are demanding low maintenance deer resistant plants. More and more nurseries are setting aside areas that sell deer resistant plants to satisfy this huge market segment. Sprays and other deterrents cost money and aren’t very effective. Why not plant varieties that deer hate and forget about all those sprays?
Hellebores have been the hot ticket for hybridizers and dozens of varieties have hit the shelves just in the last 5 years. Black ones are hot!
5. Houseplants- Bringing the Outdoors In
Houseplants were big in the seventies and then went out of flavor for a long time. Back in favor now but with new smaller and easy to care for varieties, air plants or tillandsias fit the bill. Anyone with an apartment or windowsill can have a thriving plant kingdom with little effort.
Green walls are popping up in homes, hotels and other indoor spaces, utilizing air plants and other houseplants. Providing a sanctuary of green living things and removing toxins from interior air pollutants, green walls are also a mood enhancer. Hotels have jumped on this bandwagon as providing an oasis away from home.
6. Vintage Gardening
Anyone on Pinterest or Etsy, knows about vintage gardening. The popularity of old tools, historic seed art, and the nostalgia of old-fashioned gardening has started an industry of eBay listings selling well-used and well made tools.
I call it flea market gardening. Is it just me, but when I shop flea markets or goodwill, am I the only one who is looking for gardening stuff? I thought not! Vintage means less than 100 years old. Antique is 100 years or more. When I visited the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle this past February, there was an entire show area devoted to vintage gardening paraphernalia and I went crazy! See Vintage Gardening for my post. Just think- Leave It To Beaver meets Martha Stewart. Re-purposing is the name of the game.
Seed packet art is really interesting and there are some funny ones as well as beautiful. Go to Seed Art to check out an interesting post on the history of this illustrative art form.
7. Re-Wilding-Integrating Tech Into Nature
Technology is often regarded as something that creates an artificial world, removing people from nature. To the contrary, however, technology is bringing humans into contact with wildlife and nature like never before. Wild turkeys, foxes, beaver, and coyotes, are very urban animals that have learned to live with man. Home gardeners and conservationists are working on creating wildlife habitats for creatures, inviting them in to restored nature in their backyard and parks. And we want to watch and photograph them. Gopro cameras are enormously popular and are used mostly in the outdoors. Attach one of these to a bird feeder or the dog to get unique natural outdoor views. Or attach it to your mountain biker or skier.
Nowadays, we carry our phones with us everywhere, even sleeping, so why not bring it into nature with a purpose? For purists who say you need to totally disconnect while in nature to enjoy, I am of two minds on this. I do love a walk with my dog with no music or any other distractions so I can enjoy a calming green experience with no distractions. But I always carry my phone with me to catch an interesting photo, like the one above of beaver activity or use it as a trail map.
If you want your kids to get out in nature, why not entice them with geo-caching? I have enjoyed this activity with my daughter where you search for a “cache” using coordinates with a GPS using your phone. Like a scavenger hunt in nature, it’s a lot of fun and gets kids engaged in the outdoors.
Broodminder is another example of technology meeting nature. I purchased a “Broodminder” which measures temperature and humidity inside my bee hives and can be downloaded using my phone. Bee hive telemetry! Important measurements that can tell you a lot about your hive without having to leave your house and opening up a hive which can be disruptive to the colony.
8. Layered Landscapes
Instead of having acres of perennials stretching as far as the eye can see, as a landscape designer, I am designing more “layered” landscapes. Including evergreens, conifers, woody shrubs, bulbs, and annuals, in a design ensures an interesting landscape to give multi-season interest. I love perennials, but I am definitely seeing more varieties of woody shrubs and conifers at the trade shows.
Layered means using a greater variety of plants, so you can have many things going on at once to enjoy in the garden. Multi-season interest is a over-used garden trope, but one that has instant recognition and conveys an idea with a purpose. Leaving dried and spent stems in the garden to enjoy in the winter is part of all season gardening. Underplanting small trees which are limbed up with bulbs, perennials, and annuals, mingling allium bulbs into plantings are all techniques that I use to get a layered effect.
9. Pet Scaping and Chemicals
The statistics are bad. Half of all pet deaths over the age of ten is due to cancer according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation. Pet owners are waking up to this and using less toxic chemicals around their loved ones. New organic pesticides are becoming available to the home owner who tends to apply more pesticides per acre than farmers! A new one called Spinosad, an organic substance found in soil from an old rum distillery (no, I am not making this up!), can be used on outdoor ornamentals, lawns, vegetables and fruit. Produced by fermentation, Spinosad kills chewing insects when they ingest the chemical within one to two days. Even better, it will not persist in the environment. Spraying in the early evening hours, means that the spray will dry and won’t harm my honeybees. Organic lawn sprays and chemicals are becoming the norm, rather than the rule.
Pet Scaping is just landscape design with your pets in mind. Where to set your designer dog house or doggie ranch and what landscape specimens to plants around the dog house for shade and beautification just like your own house. How about a trickling water fountain or sprinkler next to the dog house to play in? Or a sandbox to dig in? Or straw to roll in?
10. Gardening With Purpose
We are gardening with goals in mind. Planting a pollinator garden, growing hops for making beer, growing healthy heirloom vegetables, raising cut flowers, keeping the bees fed and happy are happening across the gardening world. Instead of just planting a beautiful ornamental garden, consumers are thinking: How can I use/preserve this? Go to Plant These For the Bees to check out the best way to plant for our important pollinators.
Residential landscapes are no longer just grass and trees spotted into the lawn. We want to enhance our everyday lifestyles by creating relaxation or meditation areas, or watch birds and butterflies. You can make this a reality by landscaping and gardening with specific goals in mind.
No matter what you hear about growing your own veggies or flowers, you are not going to save a wheelbarrow of money as some people claim. Start up costs and ongoing costs usually are an unpleasant surprise for beginning gardeners. You have outlays of seeds and plants, soil, stakes, tools, watering costs, containers, mulch, and fencing for pests. On the plus side, you do have the satisfaction of growing something for yourself that is healthy and free of pesticides, and the often overlooked benefit of being outdoors and keeping active.
There are some penny-wise strategies on gardening which you should consider before plunking down a whole bunch of money, or till up a huge patch of virgin soil and become frustrated by the heat, the bugs, and lack of rain.
Here are some tips on cutting costs so you can have healthy food and decorate your home with fresh-cut flowers all season long.
Starting Seeds-Waste or Savings?
Yes, starting seeds will save you some money if you do it right. But think of your startup costs – grow lights, heating mats, growing medium, containers, seeds, fertilizer, space, and unexpected happenings like forgetting to water for a few days. See my post on To Seed Or Not To Seed to see how to use recyclables for containers and how I start my seeds. Also go to Art of the Seed to see how to make newspaper seed starters for ways to cut your costs.
So many garden forums tout the cost savings of starting plants from seeds, but beginners beware-It ain’t easy! Do you really want to tend the seedlings for months, and battle damping off (fungal disease), commitment of house space, and if you don’t have a grow light- leggy seedlings? And once you get them outside and don’t acclimate them in a cold frame, the seedlings wilt from the unaccustomed wind and hot sun, and months of work just melted away! If I sound pessimistic about starting seeds inside, I still struggle after 30 years. Go to newgardenerblues to check a fellow blogger’s post on starting seeds at Will I Ever Start Seeds Again?
There are some plants that are a waste to buy; cucumber, corn, beans, melons, squash, lettuce, and some herbs. For those veggies, direct seed them when the soil warms up. For flowers, direct seed zinnias, poppies,cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, and tithonia as they grow easily from seed and it would be throwing money away to buy plants of these. Usually the larger the seed, the easier it is to germinate. Also, direct seeded plants will outstrip transplants as they are already rooted in.
For veggies, grow what your family likes and will eat. And try to grow things that are pricey at the market, such as asparagus, fancy mixed greens, artichokes, tomatoes, and peppers. Also, you have the opportunity to grow things that you can’t buy at the market. If space is a premium, don’t grow things such as pumpkins, corn, and winter squash which eat up the ground and produce too little produce for the room invested.
Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are a great investment. We eat a lot of berries and they are so easy to grow and pick. Go to Blueberry Bonanza and Rolling In The Blackberries to find out the best way to grow these. I still have blueberries in the freezer from July.
Add bulbs to your garden every year, and you will get years of enjoyment from them blooming in the garden, as well as cut flowers in a vase. For example, a King Alfred daffodil bulb at a big box store is about .90 a piece. Daffodil bulbs will multiply many times over while in the ground and you would recoup that investment in no time. Bulbs are the gift that keeps on giving! Be wary of planting bulbs like tulips that attract deer and are tasty treats for squirrels. But planting daffodils is like money in the bank.
Composting all your organic table scraps and yard waste is a huge savings for me in fertilizer costs. Compost adds valuable nutrients to your soil, and keeps it healthier than using chemical fertilizers. Have you checked the prices on fertilizers lately? Expensive! Go to Here’s the Dirt on Composting to see ways that you can compost in your kitchen or in your yard.
Don’t bag up those leaves for the landfill this fall. Dedicate a corner in your yard as a compost heap where you can dump all your organic debris. It could be an open air pile or one of the enclosed composters on the market if you are a neatnik.
Composting is the sustainable way of gardening, plus saves you money!
Tools-Get the Right Ones
A digging knife is indispensable
You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. If I were on a desert island and could just have three gardening tools, I would pick a digging spade, a digging knife, and a rake. Oh, and my Felco Pruners! A digging knife will outlast any trowels that you can buy, will cost a little more initially, but will never break or bend like trowels do.
Be a good housekeeper in your garden shed and to ensure that your tools last, clean and oil them in the fall so they don’t rust while not in use.
Water is expensive and can add a lot to your gardening bill, especially if you have a large vegetable garden. Make or buy some rain barrels for each of your downspouts. I picked up my empty barrels from a cola bottling plant for $7, and with a few pieces of hardware, converted them into rain barrels. Go to my post Rain Barrel Eye Candy and see how easy it is to make one in about an hour. Easy, even I could do it!
I love Rebar (reinforcing bar) which is used for concrete strengthening work. Made in different lengths and available at Home Depot, you can make just about anything with it in the garden. Stakes, fences, gates, arbors- the possibilities are endless. I place rebar across my pond in the late fall and drape a net over it to keep leaves from falling in. Rebar is a couple a dollars a piece and will last forever, unlike those wimpy bamboo stakes that always need replacing. Another idea is to simply stick rebar in the ground and wrap snow fence around it for a compost pile.