Blueberries are Easy to Grow
By Doug Chapman, Regional Extension
folks have shown an interest in blueberries in the last few years.
Much of this interest has been generated by reports of the health
benefits associated with the blueberry. From a gardening standpoint,
blueberries are fairly easy to grow. If you can grow azaleas,
you can grow blueberries. Depending on who is counting, there
are about 450 species of Vaccinium in the world. Most
of these blueberries grow in the Northern hemisphere and a number
of them grow in North America. People have used blueberries as
a food source since before recorded history. In fact, a good
portion of the annual production in some areas still comes from
berries harvested in the wild.
Two species of lowbush blueberry, V. angustifolium and
V. mytilloides, are still harvested in the wild in the
United States. These species are also cultivated in places like
Maine and Michigan. The flavor of lowbush blueberries is said
to be superb. The Northern highbush blueberry, V. corymbosum,
is the most commonly cultivated type of blueberry in the United
States. A good portion of the production comes from the Northeast
and the Pacific Northwest. Northern highbush will grow and produce
on elevated sites as far south as Alabama. The most commonly
planted blueberry in the Southeast is the rabbiteye, V. ashei.
Like a lot of other fruits that grow well in the Deep South,
the rabbiteye is a true Southern native. Vast areas of the Southern
woodlands are covered by wild rabbiteye blueberries.
Along the Gulf Coast, many acres are being
planted to Southern highbush blueberries. This is a hybrid, primarily
between Northern highbush and V. darrowi, as well as other
species. The Southern highbush was bred to incorporate the superior
fruit characteristics of the Northern highbush with the heat
tolerance and low chilling requirement of the other species.
The Southern highbush is a temperamental plant and needs special
care and attention to grow. Some growers actually plant them
on raised beds of pure organic matter and irrigate them. This
special attention results in a high quality berry that can be
grown farther south and harvested a little earlier than rabbiteye.
Regardless of the species, one thing all
blueberries have in common is a love of organic matter. When
planting blueberries, it is important to incorporate some organic
matter into the planting hole. This can be peat moss, compost,
or fine pine bark. After planting, it is a good idea to mulch
the plants. Container grown blueberries can be planted locally
from October through March. Bare root blueberries have the best
chance of living when planted from December through February.
Fertilizing blueberries is tricky. They
cannot tolerate the nitrate form of nitrogen; therefore many
of the commonly available fertilizers are unsuitable. Ammonium
forms of nitrogen, such as urea or ammonium sulfate, are better.
There is no substitute for a soil test when determining the other
elements that are needed. Also, blueberries need to be grown
on acidic soil. In reality, you are far more likely to kill blueberry
plants with fertilizer than with anything else.
Once the plants are in the ground, it would
be a good idea to pull the young fruit off, preventing the plants
from fruiting for the first couple of years. That way, all of
the energy the plant makes goes into establishment rather than
producing a fruit crop.
Blueberries usually bloom early in the
spring and are subject to late spring frosts. Newer cultivars
of rabbiteye blueberry, such as Alapaha, Ochlockonee, Vernon,
and DeSoto, bloom a little later than older cultivars, such as
Tiftblue, Climax, and Premier.
Contact your county Extension office
for more information on growing blueberries.
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