Blueberry basics

Blueberries are one of the most popular and healthful fruits, are easy to grow, and can be grown as an ornamental shrub. Many have colorful red fall leaves. If you like eating blueberries from the store or picking your own, consider if you might have the space and conditions for growing them in your landscape. The most important aspects for growing blueberries successfully are choosing hardy varieties and having the right soil.

There are five main groups of blueberries, representing three main species. The northern highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) and lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) are the main species for northern gardeners, as well as hybrids of these called "half-high". While the highbush reach from 6 to 15 feet high, depending on climate and cultivar (cultivated variety), the lowbush only reach a foot or so high. The half-high reach from 3 to 5 feet high. These northern groups need sufficient cold to produce flowers, then fruit, so are not suitable for southern gardens. There you'll see rabbiteye and southern highbush cultivars. There are many cultivars to choose from within each of these groups, varying mainly in time of bloom and fruit size.

When choosing blueberry cultivars, you'll want at least 2 if not 3 different ones for cross pollination unless they are one of the few listed as "self fertile". Make sure to choose ones from the same group as, for instance, a low bush wont pollinate a highbush type. Make sure too that they are listed to bloom the same time. You'll find cultivars listed as early, mid, or late season. Although this often refers to ripening of the berries, relative bloom time is similar except for some commercial cultivars. So the bees can move the pollen among your different bushes, plant them near each other or preferably intermixed.

Other than getting the right cultivars, you'll need the right soil for blueberries to succeed. They like plenty of organic matter in the soil, and well-drained soils so roots don't rot. Perhaps the most important point though is to have acid soils-ones with a low pH of 4.5 to 5.2. You can probably get by with a pH of up to 6.0 if you use plenty of peat moss which is acidic. Sulfur also can be used to lower the pH. If soils are more alkaline (most plants grow best with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0-the latter being neutral), it may be more work yearly to try and lower the pH than worth it.

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