With their delicious berries and beautiful foliage, blueberry plants are an excellent choice for beginning gardeners and seasoned farmers alike. The North American natives thrive from coast to coast and require minimal care and pest control. You can enjoy the fruit during the harvest season, and in the fall the foliage can turn an eye-catching red. We even keep blueberry plants in our office garden! They look charming in their matching pots, and you can bet that our staff snacks on the berries in the Summer.
Read on for basic growing information and how to maintain your blueberry plants for a lifetime.
There are many Blueberry varieties to choose from, which can be distinguished by their climate suitability and ripening season. The 5 main types grown in the United States are Northern Highbush, Southern Highbush, Rabbiteye, Lowbush, and Half-high.1
Northern Highbush blueberries are native to the Eastern and Northeastern United States, and grow from 5-9’ tall.1 There are many different cultivars to choose from, and this is the type of blueberry you will most commonly find at the grocery store.4
Southern Highbush blueberries are hybrids bred from the Northern Highbush and an evergreen species native to Florida, Vaccinium darrowii. They grow 6-8’ tall, and were developed to have a lower chilling requirement then other varieties need to bud after dormancy. This variety grows well in regions with mild winters, like Florida and California.1
Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the Southeastern United States, and were developed in regions with long summer seasons. They are sensitive to winter temperatures, and need more Summer heat to ripen than the Northern Highbush. Rabbiteye berries may be very similar to Highbush berries, or can have a darker fruit with thicker skin, depending on the cultivar.1
Lowbush berries are native to the Northeastern quadrant of the United states, as well as the Maritime provinces of Canada. They grow less than 1.5’ tall and spread through their underground root systems.1
Half-High blueberries are the crosses between Northern Highbush and Lowbush varieties, and grow from 3-4’ tall. They can tolerate lower temperatures of -35° F, and are a good choice for container planting. 1
Make sure to select a variety and cultivar that suits your growing zone, as well as your aesthetic and culinary desires! The local extension service for your area should have information available to help you choose. Some berries ripen at different times or feature large fruit (best for fresh eating and desserts) or small fruit (best for muffins and pancakes). Bushes with brilliant fall color or different growth habits offer the gardener lots of choices to use throughout the landscape. For blueberry lovers, allow at least two plants per family member.
Blueberry varieties like full sun to partial shade, so make sure to check the recommendations for your specific cultivar. The soil should be well-draining and acidic and have 3-20% organic material. Make sure you weed the area before planting! Since blueberries have shallow root systems, you won’t be able to hoe around the bushes to eliminate weeds.2
It is very important to keep the root zone moist throughout the growing season, without water-logging the plant. If you are dealing with poor or marginally draining soil, raised beds 3-4′ wide and 8-12″ high work very well for blueberries. Mixing in compost will ensure that your soil has enough organic material, and Down To Earth Acid Mix fertilizer can help adjust the soil PH while providing the three macronutrients your plants will need.
For planting directly into the ground work up a planting area approximately 2.5′ in diameter and 1′ deep. Remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soil. Add an equal amount of organic compost and/or peat moss and mix well.
For raised beds mix equal parts existing soil with compost and/or peat moss.
Blueberries can be planted as close as 2.5′ apart to form solid hedgerows, or spaced up to 6′ apart to grow individually. Allow 8-10′ between rows, depending on equipment used for mowing or cultivating.
Peat moss may decrease the PH of your soil, which is another good reason to add Down To Earth Acid Mix fertilizer when planting.3 For blueberry plants less than 2 years old, mix ½ cup Acid Mix into the soil if planting directly into the ground. For raised beds, apply 2.5-5 lbs per 100 linear feet and thoroughly mix into the top 3” of soil.
For container stock remove the plant from the pot and lightly roughen up the outside surface of the root ball. Set the top soil line of the plant about 1/2′ higher than the existing ground. Mound soil up along sides of exposed root mass and water well.
For bareroot plants spread the roots out sideways and cover with soil. Firm soil around roots and water well.
Because blueberry plants have no root hairs, they are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in soil moisture.2 Properly applying mulch to your plants will conserve water and mitigate these fluctuations. Make sure to keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged. Water at least 1” per week during the growing season, and up to 4” per week as the fruit ripens.2
Be careful! Too much water can make your fruit bland, while not enough water leads to tiny berries.
Blueberries do best with 2-4” mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds, and add organic nutrients. Aged sawdust, compost, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and other organic material work well. Repeat this application every year.
It is important that blueberries get established before allowing them to bear fruit. After that, they should be heavily pruned each year to avoid over-fruiting, which results in small fruit or poor growth.
Don’t prune the plants until they are 2-3 years old, except to remove damaged canes.2 Remove all blooms as they appear the first year after planting, to force vegetative growth and strong root development.
In years thereafter, follow these steps after the leaves have dropped:
- Remove low growth around the base. If it doesn’t grow up, it gets pruned out!
- Remove the dead wood, and non-vigorous twiggy wood. Select for bright colored wood with long (at least 3′) laterals. Remove blotchy colored short growth.
- If 1/3 to 1/2 of the wood has not been removed by the above steps, then thin out the fruiting laterals and small branches until this balance has been obtained.
Blueberries need acidic soil to thrive and produce well. Using an organic acid mix fertilizer is ideal, in order to build your soil and support its natural ecology. Down To Earth Acid Mix is the perfect fertilizer for blueberries! Our Acid Mix 4-3-6 provides the 3 macronutrients that plants love, calcium for strong blossoms and fruit, humic acids to support soil ecology, and it ensures acidic enough soil for your blueberries.
Blueberries don’t like to be over-fertilized, so don’t fertilize within the first year, and avoid manures.
To feed established berries and encourage lush growth and fruit, apply 1 cup per plant in early Spring, mix into the soil surface, and water well. Make sure to apply the fertilizer underneath the mulch (simply rake back the mulch, apply the fertilizer, and rake the mulch back on top). Repeat this application in the late Spring when blooms appear.
In the Fall, apply at half the rate using the same methods to promote root growth and mitigate stress from extreme Winter temperatures.
Blueberry Plants – Choose at least two with similar bloom times, and of the right variety for your climate and preferences! Cross pollinating your plants will reward you with better fruit!
Soil – make sure to add enough organic matter like peat moss and compost, to provide well-draining soil!
Fertilizer – Down To Earth Acid Mix 4-3-6 is generally all you need!
Mulch – Sawdust, compost, coffee grounds, etc.
This should be all the information and supplies you need to get started with your own blueberry plants! If you ever have questions, connect with your local extension office for assistance, or message us for help with picking fertilizers and amendments!
You can also download our printable guide to blueberry plants below, for an on the go information source!
- Finn, Chad, Bernadine Strik, and Patrick P. Moore. “Blueberry Cultivars for the Pacific Northwest.” Blueberry Cultivars for the Pacific Northwest | OSU Extension Catalog | Oregon State University, February 1, 2014. https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw656/html.
- Arbor Day Foundation. “Blueberry Bush: Planting, Care, Pruning and Harvesting Instructions.” Blueberry Care Instructions. Arbor Day Foundation. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.arborday.org/trees/fruit/care-blueberry.cfm#:~:text=Deep%2C%20low%20pH%20mulch%20like,per%20week%20during%20fruit%20ripening.
- Hannan, Joe. “Soil Ph in the Home Garden.” Soil pH in The Home Garden | Horticulture and Home Pest News. Iowa State University, February 12, 2016. https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2016/02-12/soilpH.htm.
- “Planting Blueberries.” Blueberry.org. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Counsel, July 30, 2021. https://blueberry.org/helpful-tips/in-the-garden/planting-blueberries/.