With the growth in edible gardening, blueberries and other fruits have become increasingly popular in gardens. I received a gift of a blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum 'Chippewa') from my brother Jon for my birthday last month. Knowing that birds like to eat the berries, often leaving none for us humans, I decided to plant the shrub in a large container and leave it on our deck where I could supervise it more closely. We have one bird (we think an Eastern phoebe) that will come up and snatch a berry or two while we are sitting only six feet away, but we don’t mind sharing the occasional berry.
I spoke with Cheryl Hearty, community horticulture educator at our local cooperative extension (Cornell Cooperative Extension), about growing blueberries. Here are some things I learned from Cheryl:
Birds are the biggest frustration, unless you are cultivating the berries primarily to attract and feed the birds. If you aren’t, bird netting can be purchased and draped over the bush just as the berries begin to ripen. Birds won’t go for the berries when they’re still green any more than people will. Our blueberries are just ripening now. I took the top photo on June 23 in Dutchess County, New York.
Blueberries, and other fruits, like sun, so make sure to grow them in a sunny location.
Blueberries are probably the easiest fruit to grow, according to Cheryl. In addition to being pest free (unusual for a fruit) they self-pollinate, they don’t need much pruning and they have pretty red fall foliage. They are a little bit fussy about their soil. They need acidic soil, so Cheryl advises testing your soil before deciding to plant blueberries. It should be pH 5-7. You can amend alkaline soil to make it acidic, but it will keep reverting back to its natural alkaline state, causing the leaves to turn an unhealthy yellow with visible green veins.
To increase your fruit crop, plant multiple varieties near each other that bloom at the same time. They will cross pollinate and generate a higher yield.
In the early spring, before leaves begin to appear, cut any older canes that are more than one inch in diameter down to the ground. The most productive canes will be half an inch to one inch in diameter. Berries will set in the spring after the blooms disappear. Once the berries set, there won’t be any additional berries coming on until next year.
Blueberries are known as highbush and lowbush, referring to the size. The 'Chippewa' variety is a highbush and it grows to four feet tall and wide. I am accustomed to the wild lowbush kind we see in Maine. The fruit of these native plants is much smaller as well, but it’s a treat to come upon them when walking along the shoreline of our little island.
Select a variety that is right for your zone and enjoy! I plan to have blueberries on my cereal every morning as long as the blueberries last.
Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.