Blueberry is a crown forming, woody, perennial shrub in the family Ericaceae grown for its fruits, or berries, of the same name. Blueberries are native to North America and its is widely distributed and widespread group of perennial flowering plants with blue or purple berries. They are classified in the section Cyanococcus within the genus Vaccinium. The scientific name of blueberry is Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus. Vaccinium also includes cranberries, bilberries, huckleberries and Madeira blueberries.
Blueberry bushes have pointed, oblong leaves that are leathery to the touch and turn a brilliant red color in the fall. The flowers appear in clusters of small, white, bell-shaped blooms in the late spring, leading to deliciously edible berries that ripen from green to a deep purple-blue. Hailed as a “superfood,” blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, iron, and a number of antioxidants.
Table of Contents
1 - 15 feet (depending on variety)
2 - 10 feet
4.0 - 5.2
Types of Blueberries
There are four main types of blueberry plants: highbush, lowbush, half-high, and rabbiteye. They are primarily classified by their size, and plant breeders continue to cultivate new varieties to improve their vigor. The main types include:
Northern Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a common variety that grows best in colder climates and can reach six feet in height. Varieties good for cold winters include ‘Bluecrop,’ ‘Blueray'. ‘Herbert', ‘Jersey', and ‘Meader'. Types known for big berries include ‘Berkeley', ‘Bluecrop', ‘Blueray', ‘Coville', ‘Darrow', and ‘Herbert', There is also a variety that produces pink berries called 'Pink Lemonade.'
Duke: Duke blueberry is very popular in the mid-atlantic region since this is an early-season variety of blueberry. Duke blueberry plant is high-yielding as it can grow up to 5-6 feet tall with a hard body. Its fruits can be medium to large, light blue, and slightly tart.
Darrow: This is a mid-to-late season variety of northern highbush blueberry plants. Like other highbush varieties, Darrow bushes are self-pollinating but will produce larger amounts of better-tasting fruit if you cross-pollinate them with other blueberry bushes.
Jersey: Jersey is a highbush type that produces small, soft berries late in the season into early August.
Spartan: The Spartan varieties could grow up to 1.5 meters tall and its bush has small leaves that turn yellow and red in autumn. The flowers are small white and will appear in late spring and early summer. The large, good-flavoured, blue-black berries can be expected in mid to late summer.
Chandler: Also known as Vaccinium corymbosum, chandler is a variety of blueberry that produces large fruits which have a nice flavor. Expect that this blueberry will bear fruit over a period of 4-6 weeks. These blueberry plants will bear fruit 1 year after planting it.
Elliot: This northern highbush blueberry exudes a big and flavorful fruit. They are easy to pick types of blueberries that are native in the southeastern and south-central United States. This blueberry also bears more fruit at an earlier age than other varieties.
Berkeley: This variety of Vaccinium bears large, firm, pale blue fruit that stores well. The 5- to 6-foot-tall and wide plants have yellow stems in winter.
Bluecrop: Vaccinium reliably produces large, light blue fruits with good tart flavor. The 4- to 6-foot-tall bushes are hardy and thrive in a short growing season.
Blueray: This blueberry variety has very large, firm, sweet fruit. This upright plant thrives in many climates and grows particularly well in the Pacific Northwest.
Coville: The large, light-blue fruit of this Vaccinium variety remains tart until near harvest. The fruit of this tall, upright plant are good both fresh and for cooking.
Patriot: This Vaccinium variety grows 4 feet tall and produces large, sweet, dark blue fruit. Use this medium-size cultivar in the landscape and enjoy showy spring flowers and bright orange fall foliage.
Pink Lemonade: This blueberry that produces pink fruit instead of blue.
Southern highbush (hybrids of V. virgatum, V. corymbosum, or V. darrowii) varieties are mainly cultivated at the University of Florida. Most of its types are produced at this university but there are other blueberry types that are cultivated in different regions.
These blueberry plants could survive humid climates, thus they are good for travelling goods. Southern highbush blueberry came from the species of Vaccinium in the blueberry group. These are shorter, three- to six-foot-tall bushes with a four- to five-foot spread. Some of the southern highbush plants can reach heights as tall as eight feet.
Farthing: This is a new variety in the world of blueberries as it was released in 2007 by the University of Florida. Farthing is an early ripening variety that has a high-yield plant that can produce a medium due to heavy berry size. The blueberry fruit has a darker than average color. Since its fruits are firm and strong, this berry has been harvested successfully with the use of commercial harvesting machines.
Meadowlark: The plant of the meadowlark grows in an extremely upright bush position which has a very narrow crown. The berries of the meadowlark ripens at an early stage and it could produce heavy crops. This southern highbush has a mild flavor and also darker in color when compared to other blueberries.
Biloxi: This southern highbush blueberry cultivar works produces medium-size berries and works well in no-chill or low-chill environments.
Springhigh: Springhigh produces large, soft and flavorful berries that tend to be dark in color. Due to its softer texture, Spring high variety often crashes into post-harvest issues and some packers may not accept this variety due to its quality. Blueberry production of these varieties are often controlled and limited.
Chickadee: Chickadee is also produced in the University of Florida and released this variety in 2009. This is an early ripening blueberry which has better firmness and larger fruit than typical blueberry plants. The fruits are large, sweet with low acidity and the texture is semi-crisp.
Lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) are the wild blueberries as you can expect them to be thriving in the wilderness. But you can also expect the lowbush to be harvested in semi-wild areas as some harvesters are already cultivating these varieties on their own. Lowbush blueberries are popular for ground cover.
The lowbush blueberries have small, narrow and glossy dark green leaves that will turn red in the fall. Its flowers are formed in clusters of white or slightly pink bell-shaped which measures half-inch in size. The lowbush edible blue-black fruits will usually ripen in summer.
Half-high blueberries are a newer breeding development, including varieties developed by crossing highbush and lowbush species. Most of these grow 18 to 48 inches high. Popular cultivars include 'North Country', 'Northblue', and 'Northland'. The berries are typically a little less sweet than highbush blueberries, but they work well in pies, jams, and preserves.
Northcountry: This variety of blueberry produces large, sweet fruit with a mild flavor. A mature 1- to 2-foot-tall plant produces 2-3 pounds of fruit.
Northblue: This variety of Vaccinium grows just 1-2 feet tall and is self-pollinating, so you only need one plant to get fruit. The sweet fruit is dark blue and large.
Northland: Coming from the Vaccinium corymbosum and Vaccinium angustifolium family, northland blueberry is a hybrid of cold hardy and Half-High variety from cross pollination. This type of blueberry has been developed at the Michigan State University by a team, which was released in 1967. It is also a high-yielding plant with a rapid growth rate when compared to the other varieties.
Northsky: Vaccinium yields a large crop of sweet, sky blue blueberries. The 1- to 2-foot-tall shrub has yellow-orange fall color.
Top Hat: You can grow this half-high blueberry cultivar in pots. The plants remain small—one to two feet high and wide—but produce full-size fruit.
Rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum) was previously categorized as Vaccinium ashei. It is grown mostly in the southeastern U.S. Growing as high as 15 feet, it requires two or more varieties to pollinate correctly. Recommended varieties include ‘Powderblue', ‘Woodard', and ‘Brightwell', 'Delite' is another good late-bearing variety.
Powderblue: A type of rabbiteye blueberry, the Powderblue variety is known for light blue blueberries that are especially sweet. This variety yields berries later in the season than other types.
Brightwell: The Brightwell variety can grow up to ten feet high and nearly as wide. It is a rabbiteye plant, so it prefers warmer temperatures. It is a self-fruiting variety, but gardeners can get larger yields by cross-pollinating Brightwell with other blueberry plants.
Tifblue: One of the most famous rabbiteye blueberries, tifblue fruits are large, light blue in color which ripen late in the season. Its bush is very productive and considered as vigorous as it bears a lot of blueberry fruits. Tiflue’s cold hardiness makes it suitable to be planted in areas located near the southern hemisphere.
Woodard: Woodard blueberries are the shortest of the rabbiteye types but they have the most spreading blueberry bushes. This is the kind of blueberry that ripens faster when compared to the other blueberries. The fruits of the woodard blueberry are high quality and they are large, light blue.
Climax: Climax blueberry plants produce a medium-sized, dark blue berry that will ripen between late spring and early summer. If you are looking for blueberries that you can use for cooking, baking, drying, freezing and being eaten fresh, climax blueberries will not disappoint you. You can even turn these blueberries into jams, jellies or a fresh blueberry juice.
Delite: Delite is actually an ornamental type of blueberry with small and light blue fruits. It produces the fruits in late season and expects these rabbiteye blueberries to have a light red blush when ripe.
When to Plant
When selecting blueberry bushes, the best choice is bare-root plants that are two to three years old. Older plants suffer more transplant shock and will take a few years to begin producing large harvests. Blueberry bushes are generally planted in the early to mid-spring. In USDA Hardiness Zones 6 and higher, they also can be planted in the late fall.
Selecting a Planting Site
Pick a spot that receives full sun but is sheltered from strong winds. Avoid a planting site that is close to tall trees or shrubs that might block the sunlight or compete for soil moisture and nutrients. Make sure the planting site has good soil drainage. You can mix some peat moss into your planting hole to keep the soil loose, acidic, and well-drained. Blueberries also can be grown in containers if they receive sufficient sunlight and moisture.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Blueberry bushes should be spaced in a row about four to five feet apart; adjacent rows should be spaced nine to ten feet apart to provide plenty of room for harvesting. For bare-root plants, spread the roots out into a prepared hole, then cover them with soil and ensure the root ball is no more than 1/2 inch below the soil surface. For container-grown blueberries, plant them the same depth that they were in the nursery pot. Blueberry bushes are sturdy plants and generally don't need any support structure.
How to Grow Blueberries From Seed
Before blueberry seeds can be planted, they first must be put in the freezer for 90 days to break their rest period. Fall is the best time to plant seeds in warm climates, while spring is best in cool climates. Fill a flat tray with moistened sphagnum moss, sprinkle the seeds on top, then lightly cover them with more moss. Cover the tray with newspaper and place it in a room that stays between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the moss consistently moist.
Seedlings should emerge in about a month, at which point you can remove the newspaper and keep the tray in bright, indirect light. Once the seedlings are two to three inches tall, they can be planted in an equal mix of peat moss, sand, and soil. Continue to keep them moist. They should be large enough to plant in the garden during the spring of their second year after the threat of frost has passed.
How to Grow Blueberries in Pots
Blueberries are popular in home gardens because they can grow in a small space, even in containers. In fact, they are one of the easiest berries to grow in containers. Containers are especially ideal if you don't have adequate soil conditions for blueberries. Use a container that’s at least 18 inches deep with ample drainage holes. An unglazed clay pot is ideal because it will allow excess soil moisture to escape through its walls.
Use one container per plant and choose a blueberry variety that remains fairly small. Select a potting mix made especially for acid-loving plants, then plant your blueberries at the same depth they were in the nursery pots. Keep the soil lightly moist but never soggy, and make sure the container gets plenty of sunlight. Use a fertilizer made for acid-loving plants in the spring.
Blueberry Plant Care
Blueberry plants need full sun to grow and fruit well. This means at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight on most days.
Blueberries must be grown in very acidic soil with a soil pH in the range of 4.0 to 5.2. They also grow best in soil that's rich in organic matter. If your garden has heavy clay soil, blueberries will fare better in raised beds where you can control the soil composition and pH. Sandy soil is preferable to dense clay.
Add a layer of mulch after planting: Evergreen wood chips, sawdust, and pine needles will help to keep the soil acidic. To get the right soil pH for growing blueberries, it’s best to amend the soil the season before you intend to plant. Garden sulfur or aluminum sulfur can be mixed into the top six inches of soil to lower the pH as needed. Your local garden center or extension office can test your soil to tell you how much sulfur you’ll need. It’s wise to retest your soil before actually planting to make sure you’ve achieved the best results. Continue amending the soil periodically, because soil tends to revert to its original pH.
It’s also common for blueberry leaves to begin to yellow. Although this is usually a sign of iron deficiency, it is probably not caused by a lack of iron in the soil. More likely, this symptom indicates that the soil pH is too high and the blueberry plants cannot access the iron that is available in the soil. If you see yellowing leaves worsening, have the soil pH tested and make adjustments as necessary.
Be sure the plants get a deep watering at least once per week. Blueberries are shallow-rooted and need at least a couple of inches of water each week (more during dry spells). You can also utilize an automatic irrigation system to ensure consistent water for your plants.
Temperature and Humidity
The temperature requirements of blueberry bushes vary according to the species. The traditional highbush types prefer humid air and a cold winter climate, but variants bred for Southern gardens do not tolerate freezing temperatures. Most types prefer protection from drying winds.
Don’t fertilize your blueberries in their first year. The roots are sensitive to salt until the plants are established. Once your blueberries have been planted for one year, you can begin feeding them based on two main indicators: when the flower buds first open, then again when berries start to form. Remove weeds regularly to ensure soil nutrients are not being consumed by weeds rather than your blueberry bushes.
Ammonium sulfate is usually used as a fertilizer for blueberries, as opposed to the aluminum sulfur used to lower the pH. You can use any fertilizer for acid-loving plants, including blueberry food and azalea food. Gardeners can either do foliar applications (applying directly to the leaves) or by fertilizing the soil, and many choose to use organic fertilizers like fish emulsion, compost, or manure tea.
Blueberries can self-pollinate. However, for best results, plant more than one variety: two is good but three is better. The diversity will result in a higher fruit yield and larger fruits. Make sure the varieties you choose bloom at the same time to ensure cross-pollination between the plants takes place.
Blueberries will typically be ready to harvest between June and August. Most blueberry plants will start to produce a small harvest by their third year, but they won’t produce fully until about their sixth year. Mature blueberry bushes yield around eight quarts of berries per bush. It’s possible to extend your blueberry harvest by planting early-, mid-, and late-season varieties.
The only reliable way to know whether blueberries are ready to pick is to taste them. Blueberries are their sweetest if allowed to stay on the plant at least a week after turning blue. Ripe blueberries will readily come off the stem. Simply hold a container under berry clusters, then gently pick them off with your other hand to drop the fruits into the container. Put them in the refrigerator unwashed as soon as possible. They typically can keep up to a week when refrigerated (wash them right before use). The berries can be eaten fresh or used in baked goods, and they also can be frozen and keep in the freezer for around 6 to 12 months.
Pruning and Propagating Blueberries
Blueberries will continue producing at their best with some maintenance pruning. In the first two years, remove any flowers that appear to help your plants grow bigger and more vigorous. You can leave the flowers on for the third year. They won't produce many berries, but no pruning is necessary until the fourth year.
Beginning in the fourth year, prune your blueberry bushes in late winter or early spring while they are still dormant. A good rule of thumb is to prune about 1/3 of the plant to encourage new growth. Using clean, sharp garden shears or a small wood saw, remove any dead, broken, crossed, or weak branches where they meet the main stem. The goal is to open up the bush so light can reach the middle, so it's also important to trim any branches that cross each other.
Maintenance pruning in subsequent years should aim at thinning out the older branches. Cut back the oldest, thickest branches to near ground level, then prune back branches that have grown too long or too thin. Older branches will look gray in color; newer branches will have more of a reddish tinge.
Like many woody shrubs, blueberries can be propagated by rooting cuttings taken from softwood or hardwood. Not only is this a cost-effective way to get a new plant, but it also helps to thin out mature plants. The best time to take softwood cuttings is in the early spring, while hardwood cuttings are best taken in late winter before new growth begins. Here's how:
Choose a healthy branch. Use pruners to cut off the last five inches of growth from the tip of the branch, then remove all but the top two or three leaves.
Apply a rooting hormone to the cut end.
Plant the cutting in a moistened soilless potting mix in a small container. Place the container in a warm room that isn't exposed to drafts or temperature fluctuations.
Keep the container in bright, indirect light, and make sure the growing medium stays moist but not soggy. It can take a few months for the cutting to root.
Once new leaves have developed and you feel resistance when gently tugging on the cutting (indicating that it has grown roots), it is ready to be planted in the garden. For hardwood cuttings, wait until spring to transplant outdoors.
Potting and Repotting Blueberries
It’s generally ideal to start with as large of a container as possible when growing potted blueberries. If you see roots emerging from drainage holes or the top of your container, it’s time to repot into something larger. Choose a container that comfortably fits the root ball.
Fill your container with fresh potting mix or a soilless medium of equal parts shredded pine bark and sphagnum peat moss. After removing the plant from its current container, gently shake off any excess soil. Replant the shrub at the same depth it was in its previous container. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Blueberry bushes go dormant over the winter, and they’re generally hardy to the coldest conditions of their hardiness zones. However, they can be susceptible to fluctuating winter temperatures that trigger new growth. If your blueberries are growing in pots, it's helpful to cover them in frost blankets to minimize freezing air and wind chills. To protect the bushes in the ground and maintain consistent soil temperatures, add a layer of mulch around them before the weather gets cold.
Pests and Plant Diseases
By far the biggest problem growing blueberries is keeping birds at bay. Placing bird netting over your blueberries or using a scarecrow can be successful if you have only a few bushes, but if you have a large blueberry patch, consider trying a bird deterrent that sends out a bird-in-distress call to repel birds.
Insects to be on the lookout for include: scale, blueberry tip borer, cherry fruit worm, cranberry fruit worm, and plum curculio. If these are common pests in your area, check with your local extension for the prescribed deterrents and treatments.
There are some fungal diseases that can affect blueberries, including powdery mildew and rust (which can be treated with neem oil) along with leaf spot diseases. Your best defense is to plant genetically resistant varieties. It also helps to give your plants plenty of space for good air circulation, plant them in full sun, clean up any fallen debris, and replace the mulch annually so that fungal spores cannot overwinter in the area. If you experience these problems, you might need to use a fungicide labeled for use on edible plants.
Some other common blueberry diseases to be aware of include:
Anthracnose: This fungal disease spreads rapidly in damp weather. Symptoms are bright pink clusters of spores on the developing berries.
Botrytis: Another fungus that thrives in damp conditions, botrytis will cause the fruit to shrivel and rot.
Canker: This disease begins in the lower parts of the canes. You’ll notice small reddish spots that will enlarge into a bullseye. If left untreated, they will eventually circle and girdle the cane, causing it to die back.
Mummy berry: This is one of the more serious diseases to affect blueberries. Mummy berry is caused by a fungus. The first sign of an infestation is the blackening of flower clusters, which eventually die. Because it is a fungus, the spores can linger and infect the remaining blossoms. The resulting fruit turns tan and hard, looking like mummified berries.
Twig blight: Twig blight can start off looking very similar to canker. As twig blight progresses, it can affect the crown, smaller branches, and twigs, and it can also cause leaf spotting.
Benefits of Blueberries
It is really important that you maintain quantity for maintaining proper digestive health. Blueberries are filled with fiber and consuming them will help you in many problems related to digestion and stomach.
Blueberry consumption is considered really helpful in controlling the aging process. Scientific studies show that blueberries contain antioxidants that help in the anti-aging process.
Controlling and removing acne
Every anti-acne diet should include blueberries. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce skin swelling and can help in removing acne.
For eyes and hair
Blueberries contain vitamin A, which is considered very crucial for eyes health. For hair growth, you need biotin and some other minerals. It can be fulfilled by consuming blueberries. According to scientific studies, blueberries help in fighting dandruff and make hair strong.
Higher antioxidant levels
Blueberries are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants. While antioxidants aren’t necessary for your body to function, they help protect your body from damage by free radicals. Your cells produce free radicals as waste products, but these particles can go on to hurt other cells. Eating blueberries regularly for just two weeks can help reduce damage to your cells by as much as 20%.
Better cholesterol levels
High cholesterol is dangerous for your heart because it can build up in your arteries. The cholesterol that builds up eventually gets oxidized, and this damages your body if it happens in large amounts. Antioxidants in blueberries help prevent cholesterol in your blood from being oxidized and may even help keep cholesterol from building up in the first place.
Manage high blood pressure
Eating blueberries regularly can help reduce high blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome and protect cardiovascular health. The current hypothesis is that blueberries help the body produce more nitric oxide, which reduces blood pressure inside blood vessels and helps with smooth muscle relaxation.
Blueberries can help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that eating blueberries regularly can help improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. Blueberries can also help reduce fasting blood sugar levels by nearly a third in people with type 2 diabetes, helping them to manage their blood sugar levels more effectively.
Help in strengthening bones
Blueberry fruit contains ample nutrients like manganese, iron, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. These nutrients increase the nutritional value of blueberry. Iron and zinc play essential roles in maintaining the strength and elasticity of bones and joints. At the same time, calcium helps increase bone density. As a result, it reduces the chances of osteoporosis, especially in women after the age of 40. Weak bones are prone to fracturing easily, taking longer to heal. Nutrition rich blueberries enhance bone strength and fasten the healing time with the help of vitamin
Blueberries can be eaten fresh or can be dried or baked for further processing.
Frozen or pureed berries are commonly used to make jams and preserves and baked goods.
Frozen blueberries are used to make smoothies, flavoring drinks and snacking.
Lowbush blueberry is commonly used to make wine.
Blueberry sauce is a sweet sauce prepared using blueberries as a primary ingredient.
The dried fruit and leaves are used for diarrhea.
Tea made from the dried leaves is used for sore throat and swelling (inflammation) of the mouth or the skin lining the throat.