Blueberry Bonanza

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.

You can buy a blueberry bush anywhere for around $25

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?

There is nothing like fresh picked blueberries for breakfast

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.

Blueberries used in the landscape can screen utilities

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.

The flowers are creamy yellow and bell-like

 

Steps for Planting

  1. Select a spot in full sun or partial shade.
  2. 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.
  3. Buy a blueberry bush that is at least one year old or older to get a head start on bearing.
  4. Dig hole about twice as wide and deep as the root ball and add some loamy soil and compost to the hole.
  5. Place the shrub at the same level as the pot into the hole and back fill with soil and pack firmly.
  6. Water thoroughly.
  7. About one month after planting, fertilize with a general 10-10-10 granular fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.
  8. Blueberries are self-pollinating but will grow larger fruit through cross-pollination with a companion bush.

Harvesting

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.

Wait until the berries are deep purple before picking

Hanging an old cut off gallon milk jug around my neck, which frees both hands to pick, is the most efficient way.

Using an old milk jug with the neck cut off and a shoestring to hang it, is the best way to pick hands free

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.

Freezing my berries for later use
Weighing my berries

Container Growing

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.

A plentiful harvest

Pruning 

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.

Pine straw is the best mulch for blueberries

Blueberry Bonanza

The Invasion of the Blues

I have been growing blueberries for years and this has been a banner year for picking them.  We have had plenty of rain and the weather has been perfect for growing.  I have only 5 shrubs but that is enough to keep us in berries, as well as providing the birds all they want to eat. I used to cover them with nets, but they are so prolific, I let the birds have at them.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing

Blueberries are so unbelievably easy to grow, I am surprised that not everyone has at least one of these shrubs planted on their property.  They don’t get very large and have beautiful scarlet fall foliage that makes them worthwhile to grow just for that feature alone.

Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium) in autumn foliage t...

I have several varieties to extend my picking season and there are more than 100 varieties to pick from.  There are even dwarf ones suitable for container growing.

My blueberry bushes

Acid Soil

Blueberries require an acidic soil, 4.5 – 5.5 pH, much like rhododendrons and azaleas.  If you can grow rhodies and azaleas successfully, then you are golden.  But my soil tends to be more like 6.5 to 7 on the pH scale, so I add plenty of peat moss when planting. I continue to add it every year around the plants.  I also mulch with pine needles and add an acidifier in liquid form periodically to keep the soil on the acid side.  If you are unsure of your pH, you can always get a soil test done at a local garden center or the agricultural extension service.  Add some cottonseed meal or blood meal as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer twice in the spring.  Coffee grounds rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium are an inexpensive organic fertilizer to add some further nutrients to the soil.

pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds
pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

Pests are never a problem except for the birds, and aren’t an issue if you have prolific bearers.

My blueberries are in partial shade and do fine with that light.  They will also perform well in full sun.

Pollination

There is really no secret to pollination other than planting several varieties close to each other.  For healthier, more productive blueberries, regardless of type or variety, you should plant different varieties so that bees can travel and cross-pollinate the plants. My bees are all over the shrubs when they are blooming.

Watering

Consistent watering of blueberries is important because they have a shallow, fibrous root system.  But I rarely water my shrubs as they are pretty distant from the hose reach. To avoid watering I layer on tons of mulch around the whole area. Once in a while when we have had some long periods of drought, I run the hose out to the plants for a good soak.

Picking the Harvest

The only thing that I don’t enjoy about growing blueberries is I hate to pick them! They are small and tedious to pick and take up time. The berries ripen over a couple of weeks, so you need to pick the ripe ones every couple of days. I have tried different methods, like placing a sheet underneath and shaking and pulling off the ripe ones, but I have gone back to my normal picking one by one into a Tupperware container.  The shaking method pulls off too many immature berries and wastes them.  I enlist help and ask people who want some berries to pick them and leave me some too.

Pruning

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pruning the shrubs to make them more compact, and to get rid of older branches that bear less fruit, is a matter of a few minutes in the late winter.  This annual pruning forces the shrub to produce new wood that will bear larger, more abundant berries.

Simple Seasonal Care 

Winter – prune

Early spring – fertilize

Late spring – fertilize again

Summer –  harvest fruit and enjoy!

Fall – mulch

Healthy Eating

Blueberries are the perfect health food. They are nutritious, have anti-oxidants, and require little preparation. Freezing easily and going well with so many foods and desserts are among their many attributes.

Blueberry Temptation
Blueberry Temptation (Photo credit: kitsunebabe)

Everyone has recipes for muffins, pies, and cakes using blueberries so I wanted to pass along a great recipe that I use for meat! This is a great sauce and you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries.

Savory Blueberry Steak Sauce

3 T unsalted butter

2 small shallots, finely chopped

2 T flour

1/4 C sherry vinegar

1/4 C ketchup

3 T dijon mustard

1/4 C orange juice

1/4 C molasses

1/2 Tsp dried thyme

1/4 Tsp dried sage

2 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet and saute shallots for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, blending and stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Add vinegar, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, molasses, thyme, and sage, and stir until combined.  Add blueberries and raise heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cool, stirring often for about 15 minutes until the mixture is thickened and glossy.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm over steak.

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic ...
English: A pack of blueberries from a organic farm co-op program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)