Blueberries are one of the most nutritious berries. While packing a powerful antioxidant punch, they also offer 24% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, 36% of Vitamin K, 25% of manganese, and 4 grams of fiber in a one cup serving. All this nutrition for just 84 calories!
Blueberry bushes are beautiful landscape shrubs with three seasons of interest – flowers in spring, blue fruit in summer, and spectacular fall foliage in shades of yellow, orange and red. Beautiful shrub + delicious, good-for-you berries = garden win!
Blueberries plants require soil with a pH of around 5.0. (pH is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14. Neutral is 7; alkaline soils measure higher; and acidic soils measure lower.) Our northern Illinois soils are not naturally acidic. A soil test will indicate the current pH of your soil. The pH can be adjusted by amending the soil with peat moss and adding sulfur when planting bushes. The soil test service often recommends the quantity of sulfur needed. Annual applications of sulfur are needed to maintain a reduced pH. Do not use aluminum sulfate. It can be toxic to blueberry plants.
Blueberries also require well-drained soil rich with organic matter and a spot where they bask in sunshine.
Dig a hole for each plant at least twice as wide as the pot it is growing in – more is even better – and position it at the same depth as it was growing in its pot. Mix abundant amounts of compost with excavated soil and fill in the hole. After planting, give plants a deep watering to help them settle into their new home. Spread a two to three inch layer of mulch over the planted area to keep the roots cool and the soil moist. Space plants four to six feet apart.
Blueberries are shallow rooted and require supplemental water when Mother Nature is not providing at least an inch of rainfall every week. It is especially important to keep plants well watered when berries are developing.
Blueberries should be fertilized with an organic, balanced fertilizer in early spring as new growth begins.
There are several types of blueberries – the highbush types are recommended for our area. They do not require different varieties to cross pollinate for berry production, but plants will produce more and bigger berries if planted with two or three of their peers.
Cultivars of highbush blueberries often found at local garden centers include Blue Jay, Bluecrop, Blueray, Elliott, Northland, and Patriot.
If space in the garden is limited, plant blueberries in containers. There are new varieties in a series called Bushel & Berry that are perfect for containers. They are more compact, ornamental and self-pollinating, eliminating the need for different cultivars planted nearby. Imagine sitting on your deck or patio on a cool summer morning, picking a handful of fresh blueberries to add to your yogurt or bowl of cereal.
Choose a large container. Create the acidic soil blueberries prefer by mixing equal amounts of peat moss and potting soil. Mix in fertilizers meant for acid-loving plants. Err on the side of too little fertilizer to avoid burning the roots.
Apply a thick layer of mulch after planting to help keep the soil moist, and plan on watering frequently. The trick is to keep the soil moist, but not wet. I use water from my rain barrel to water since our well water has a high pH.
Container-grown blueberries need protection to survive the winter. Containers can be buried in the garden and mulched heavily around Thanksgiving. I have had luck wrapping pots with many layers of bubble wrap and moving them into our unheated garage.
Blueberries taste good, are good for us, and the plants that they grow on are beautiful. If you haven’t already grown blueberries, this is the year to try. Go get some plants and garden with me!