Growing Blueberries

Blueberry Northsky

Mmmmmm, blueberries.  Sun warmed blueberries plucked right off the bush and popped in the mouth.  Blueberries sprinkled liberally over vanilla ice cream or in the cereal bowl.  Blueberry crisp, hot out of the oven.   Blueberry muffins…I could go on but I think you get the picture and maybe you’re salivating for blueberries now.  That’s good because with a little planning and planting now you can have all of the above this summer out of your own back yard!

Blueberry bushes are in great demand now with their high source of anti-oxidants and the overall health benefits of growing your own food.  A half cup of blueberries is all it takes to meet the recommended daily serving of the Canadian Food Guide.  Not only can you enjoy the fruits of your labour but blueberries make an attractive shrub in the garden especially with its beautiful fall foliage.

Spring is the best time to plant blueberry bushes and they are in stock at the garden centre now.  Generally more than one variety should be planted to ensure cross pollination by the bees and therefore produce a better crop of berries.  There are many varieties of blueberries and every one of them tastes or looks just a little different from the next one, whether it’s a smaller, darker berry packed full of flavour or a large berry with a milder, sweet taste.

Just a few of the varieties we carry are Blue Crop with large berries that make you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you pick a handful.  Blue Gold is another good one with outstanding shelf life apparently but usually blueberries don’t last long enough to store at my house so I can’t attest to that.  There’s Northsky, a dwarf variety which is great for a container on the patio.  Imagine reaching over from your deck chair to pluck a fresh blueberry.  These also work well as a low plant at the front of the garden bed.  There’s even a new variety but in limited supply with pink fruit called Pink Lemonade.  Not sure why they’d make a BLUEberry pink.

Vacinnium corymbosum, as they are properly known as, belong to the family Ericaceae which is also home to plants such as cranberry, rhodos and heathers so if you know those plants then you already have an idea about what type of growing conditions blueberries require.  Since we have naturally acidic soil here on the wet West Coast they do quite well but a little help is required in most gardens.  Work a liberal amount of peat moss into the planting hole and make sure you mulch every spring with Sea Soil to help keep the moisture in and the weeds out, not to mention Sea Soil is a great natural fertilizer.  Aluminum Sulfate can help change the acidity of the soil during the growing season.  Use a pH meter to test the soil before amending.

Full sun is essential for healthy and productive blueberry plants.   They can be planted in groups (3 to 6 feet apart), dominating their own spot in the yard or they can be planted amongst shrubs and perennials in the garden bed.   They grow just fine in a large container for a number of years but really do best with space to stretch their feet in the ground.  Moist but well-drained soil through the summer months is essential.

Blueberries do not like to be over fertilized so ‘less is more’ comes into play here.  Use a fertilizer specific to acid loving plants like GardenPro Rhodo/Azalea in late spring and perhaps a small amount of Blood meal.  Plant now and before you know it you’ll be enjoying ice cream with a handful of blueberries on top.

Shirley Eppler

April 2011