Planting blueberry bushes is great for for both large and small yard landscaping, but did you know they also make wonderful hedges and living fences?
Fresh picked blue berries always taste better than the mushy texture of store bought, with skins that almost "pop" in your mouth, and they're also easy to pick!
It's fun comparing the flavors of different blue berry plants, some tasting mellony, while others are sweet-tart. Did you know they even have a pink lemonade variety? (yep, it's a pink - blueberry!) I remember the happy squeals coming from my nieces as they ran through our garden for the first time, picking and eating. (Yay organic!)
Planting blueberry bushes can come in handy for a lot of delicious treats. There's the classic blue berry muffins, pancakes, blueberry pie, yogurt parfaits, blue berry cobbler, but my favorite is to eat them by the handful, or throw them in granola's, smoothies and protein shakes.
Blueberries and huckleberries (which are closely related but come from the Pacific NW) also taste great in salads with a little gorgonzola cheese, walnuts or pine nuts, (Yum!) or in pasta dishes, lightly sauteed fresh corn, and blended into salad dressings. You can also freeze blueberries and they don't stick together!
In this article, I've assembled tips for planting blueberry bushes in both northern and southern varieties, dropping and controlling soil ph, a DIY blueberry soil recipe, plus lots more!
With so many varieties, planting blueberry bushes can be mind boggling, so take it slow. The best way to get started is with several different varieties, that way they can cross pollinate each other. By the way, hummingbirds LOVE blueberry flowers!
Don't be fooled by the growing zone they say you're in. For example: If you live in the south, you may be able to grow northern varieties depending on the number of chill hours, wind, and light your yard gets.
What you want to look at is the number of days the average temperature is below 55 degrees, and the location you choose for each is a big factor. Eric has had great success with northern varieties by planting blueberry bushes in the shadier areas, despite the fact we're supposed to be in zone 10. He generally uses the sunnier parts of the yard for his southern varieties but not always.
Now that you're all excited, I have to level with you, planting blueberry bushes isn't for slackers. Unless you're growing them in areas where soil conditions are already near perfect, like the New Jersey pine barrens, you'll have to work on getting the soil ph just right, or you won't succeed.
Since you can't buy the perfect blueberry soil at your local garden center, you have make it! OK, before you go running off, hear me out.
The up front energy you invest to get started will be a lasting legacy your family can enjoy for generations to come, but even if you decide to sell or rent your home down the line, having a beautiful yard filled with edible landscaping is a definite plus.
One way to make you're hard work payoff faster, is planting blueberry bushes that are 3 years old. They cost a little more than the 2 year olds, but they pump out twice as many berries in the first few years. Older bushes cost around $25., so figure out what works best with your budget and patience level. You can also plant a mixture of both young and older bushes.
Growing blue berry plants requires a soil ph of around 4.5 to 5.5. The problem many have in the southwest is alkaline soil, while city water used to irrigate is in the 7 range.
One solution is planting blueberry bushes in containers or raised beds. In the photo above, blueberry bushes are planted directly in the ground of this two foot high terrace and in pots. Not only does that make it easier on your back, but you'll have more control over the soil ph. Container gardening also gives you much more room to plant so you can maximize growing space.
Ideally, let this mixture sit for 90 days and keep it slightly damp so that the sulphur can help create "good" soil bacteria. If you have the room keep your soil in a large garden cart or wheelbarrow. Just like a bread starter, Eric's keeps a small portion of his soil mix after the 90 days to help "start" the next batch.
If you can't wait the 90 days for your soil ph to drop, you can do the quickie method, which is to water once a week with a mixture of 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon water and that should lower the ph over time.
You can also use the vinegar watering whenever he sees the pots getting too much white sediment on the outside, meaning there's most likely too much calcium and minerals built up in the dirt.
Every 4 months (approximately) you might want to add a half handful of sulfur granules to each pot 18" and up, or each bush planted in the ground, by sprinkling on top of the soil.
Even where you have ideal soil for planting blue berry bushes, commercial growers still add sulphur regularly through their irrigation systems.
Spraying Lime Sulpher periodically is an excellent organic pest and fungus control for many types of fruit trees and brambles, including blueberry bushes.
If you can't drop the ph of the soil to a more beneficial level, then plants can't absorb nutrients, so best case, you'll miss out on a growing season when they fail to make new shoots. Worse case scenario they'll die.
Too high of a soil ph and blueberry leaves can turn reddish with red spots. Another sign this plant is in trouble is that there are no new shoots this season. Other blue berry bushes planted at the same time as this have 1 to 2 foot shoots of new growth and dark green leaves. These red leaves are not to be confused with seasonal changes since this photo was taken in August, and plants of the same variety would typically change about the same time. Some stay green all the time depending on your climate or variety.
Here you can see white sulphur granules sprinkled on top of the soil in this pot in order to help lower the ph. The opposite can happen if you get too low of a ph (below 4%) as leaves may turn pale yellow with green veins. (similar to colorosis) It's a lot safer to pick up a an inexpensive ph meter for around $20. instead of waiting for the leaves to tell you, but FYI, the cheap meters don't last very long. We pretty much go through one per year.
Blue berry plants make beautiful hedge rows and since many varieties can reach 6 feet tall, they can also be planted close together to form a living fence. What a great alternative to the traditional wood fences since your neighbors get to enjoy a bounty of delicious fruit on their side too. Hey, maybe if you get them excited about it, they'll go in halves on the cost or at least help you plant? Why not send them a link to this article or share it on facebook?
I always thought those English gardens with their mazes of hedge looked cool, but what if you did something similar using blueberry bushes? Then, you could eat your way through the maze, or send your kids out with pails to pick berries as they play hide and seek.
Below are some of the favorite "southern" blueberry varieties, many of which are bred in Florida for milder climates.
Good For Living Fences: (6 feet tall) Emerald, which is very prolific, Sunshine, Misty and Sharp Blue.
Good hedges: (3-4 ft tall) Farthing - which has HUGE berries, Sunshine, and Prima Donna, the latter like its name, is a little temperamental.
We'd like to thank Eric Furman, PHD for his tips on planting blue berry bushes. Eric is a biochemist/patent attorney, and his garden is one big experiment with at least 70 blueberry plants, but you don't have to be that over the top. "It's easy" he says, "if you group plants together according to their preferred soil type and sunlight preferences. Make your plants feel at home, by getting as close to their native conditions as possible."
We hope you enjoyed this article on planting blue berry bushes. Please stop by the raspberry/blackberry page too, or any of the links below for more back yard projects!