Berry impatient for beautiful blueberries

Posted on May 11th, 2009 – 9:16 AM
By Jaime Chismar
blueberries.jpg

This is my second year growing blueberries. My tiny plants came with such great promises, but I have to wait another year or two before I can taste the fruits of my labor.

I know a few things about blueberries, but not much. I know there are two types, low-bush and high-bush. They like acidic soil with lots of loamy matter. Some are self pollinating, but most prefer a partner.

Blueberry bushes are beautiful in a home landscape. They are covered in white blossoms in the spring and red foliage in the fall. They have few problems with insects, but birds like the fruit and bunnies like the brush. (They waited all winter for me to uncover my bushes, then nibbled one blueberry to nubs this spring.)

The U of M Extension Service says it’s easy to grow blueberries, but I’m not so sure. (Sadly, after introducing seven blueberry varieties, the U of M is phasing out their blueberry breeding program.) Polaris, Northcountry, Chippewa — I don’t know what variety tastes best or what variety grows best. I followed their online directions but I am not sure I prepared my site properly. I have no idea how fast blueberries grow — and I have no idea how much fruit three high-bush blueberry bushes will produce.

(For the blueberry curious, I highly recommend this site http://www.canr.msu.edu/vanburen/bluebweb.htm.)

It’s all one crazy botany experiment in my backyard. Intellectually speaking, I love a challenge. Gastronomically speaking, I’m only in it for the berries.

Do you grow your own blueberries? What tips would you give to us beginners?

14 Responses to "Berry impatient for beautiful blueberries"

SeeSaw says:

May 11th, 2009 at 11:00 am

I’m doing blueberries for the first time this year. I got some great advice from a gal at Gerten’s. Her first advice was to get your soil tested… or, if you are growing them in a whiskey barrel then you need half garden soil and half super-acidic peat moss mixed well. I’m thinking I’ll just dig a really big hole in my yard and add the soil and peat moss…. I am not organized enough to get it together to get my soil tested!

Deflower the plants for the first two years (OUCH!) in order to produce the most fruit. I noticed my lovely, yet tiny, plants were flowering out and I plucked off of the potential fruit. So So sad.

So, I’m waiting and hoping that I will enjoy the fruits of my labor at some point.

Jennifer Twin Mom says:

May 11th, 2009 at 1:10 pm

This is my first year with blueberry bushes. We put the tiny little plants in two weeks ago, and not much is happening. My biggest question is how do you acidify the soil on an on-going basis?

I have never heard of this deflowering business, guess I better add that to my list.

kiwi says:

May 11th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Blueberries need acid soil. Test your soil (the only way you will know what the PH level is!) then add aluminum sulfate per package directions. Alum Sulfate is available at any garden center.

laura says:

May 11th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

thank you so much for posting about blueberries! and thanks for the link, i will go investigate now!

how do you tell if they are self pollinating or if they need a ‘partner’?

is there a ‘natural’ way to acidify soil? (i have to go look into what alum sulfate is).

Peter Hoh says:

May 11th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I got two low bush and one high bush blueberry 8 years ago. The high bush produced well, but the berries were disappointing. Turns out the one that I thought was a high bush blueberry was really a mislabeled serviceberry.

Lovely flowers, and the birds love the fruit.

I’m seriously thinking about getting rid of the low bush plants and starting over again with high bush varieties. I’m going to be making a serious bunny-proof fence around them.

Bluebird74 says:

May 11th, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Greengirls, do you have an email address for topic suggestions? I can never remember which perennials I should fertilize every year, and which don’t want to be fertilized. Also, I lost two of my three delphiniums over the winter, they were only 1 or 2 years old. I wonder why. They were mulched, and are supposedly hardy. They typically love my plot. The white one is already 18 inches high, but the other two are just sticks, apparently dead. :(

Curtis Johnson says:

May 12th, 2009 at 8:37 am

I have grown blueberries for about 20 years. There are some basic things and first is to test your soil and make sure it is acidic, if not modify it with soil sulphur, use fertilizer that will keep and enhance the acidity. Plant plants that are appropriate for our area. The U of M releases but also the U of michigan has good varieties. High bush varieties do not necessarily do well here. The half high varieties are best. Blueberries are heavy feeders so they need plenty of fertilizing. Then above all be patient, not many berries for several years. Good luck, they are great landscape plants.

Carly says:

May 12th, 2009 at 10:57 am

No blueberries here, but discovered that rabbits like strawberries just as well…my two little strawberry plants had all the leaves eaten off them w/in two days!

Jaime Chismar says:

May 12th, 2009 at 11:53 am

I have heard that you can fertilize blueberries with azalea fertilizer. If that is true, that would totally simplify the growing process. Anyone know for sure?

Peter Hoh says:

May 12th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

bluebird, fwiw, I’ve given up on delphiniums. I’ve never had one live for more than 2 years.

hsl says:

May 13th, 2009 at 5:32 am

Azalea fertilizer works fine for blueberries since both are real acid soil lovers.

I had a huge blueberry patch in my yard in NJ but am having a slow start in getting one going here in MN. Keeping the soil acid is a real challenge, along with a lot more bunnies here and the colder climate with fewer varieties that survive. But they are DEFINITELY worth the effort. In the third year for a couple of my berries, I am hoping for at least a handful of berries this year. If all goes well, by the fifth year, there should be lots of those wonderful fruits to gather in on a summer morning for the best of all breakfasts!

Jaime Chismar says:

May 13th, 2009 at 9:10 am

Thanks HSL! It looks like I have a few more years to wait. Luckily, there is a great blueberry grower at the Mill City Farmers Market for our homegrown needs.

Nick Reynolds says:

May 15th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

I had the very good fortune of buying a home with two established blueberry patches. One tip I’d offer for new plantings is to protect them from bunnies by a fence or screening of some kind. I’ve read, and experienced, that rabbits use the prior summers new growth of blueberry shoots as winter food so, without a fence, I’ve had difficulty getting new growth established to replace the old, less productive canes the pruning books recommend be taken out..until I installed a fence around one of my patches. Now the new growth is getting fully established as the old growth above it dies away.