High bush blueberry plants

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Blueberry Varieties

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We have Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick Colville to thank for producing the first cultivated crop of blueberries, which were grown in New Jersey, at the turn of the 20th century. Since then, dozens of varieties of cultivated highbush blueberries have come to flourish across in the U.S., Canada, South America and beyond.

Depending on the climate and ripening season, certain highbush blueberry varieties will grow better than others. Some tend to grow best in southern climates (like the West Coast, the Southeast, and the Southern Hemisphere), and some fare better in northern environments (Northern U.S. and Canada). While all of them are classified as “highbush blueberries,” each variety is unique in its season, size, shape, color and taste. If you are thinking of growing your own blueberries, talk to your local nursery to find out which variety grows best in your region.

Sources for information on Blueberry Varieties:

Blueberry Varieties – Characteristics, Ripening Order and More – PickYourOwn.org

Looking for Blueberry Varieties – Characteristics, Ripening Order and More in 2020? Scroll down this page and follow the links. And if you bring home some fruit or vegetables and want to can, freeze, make jam, salsa or pickles, see this page for simple, reliable, illustrated canning, freezing or preserving directions. There are plenty of other related resources, click on the resources dropdown above.

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Blueberry Varieties – Characteristics, Ripening Order and More

The first cultivated blueberries were developed in New Jersey in the early 1900’s. Since, many plant breeders have developed new varieties, suitable for growing in almost all parts of North America and Europe. They have different ripening dates, flavor variations and even different colors, aside from blue!

Major branches of the blueberry family

There are 4 main types of blueberries:

  • Northern Highbush blueberry varieties which grow best in the northern U.S. and Canada
  • Southern Highbush blueberries do well in moderate areas like southern parts of the north and the northern parts of the South (think TN, KY, VA, NC, and west coast) but they are not as commonly grown as either northern highbush nor rabbiteye types.
  • Rabbiteye Blueberries are best suited for the Southeast, and the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Lowbush – typically wild varieties. More commonly grown in Maine and other parts of New England. Intense flavor.

Similar berries:

While the true blueberry is a native American, there are similar berries around the world. Most are closely related to blueberries

  • Aroniaberries – also callled Chokecherries
  • Bilberries – smaller cousins of the blueberry in Europe
  • Bblaeberry in Scotland and Ireland, smaller, intense flavor; like a bilberry-
  • Honeyberries – Honeyberries are not related to blueberries, but they are blue berries! Related to honeysuckle,(Lonicera caerulea) they are also called haskap berry, blue-berried honeysuckle, deepblue honeysuckle, and sweetberry honeysuckleThey are edible with an unusual sweet and tart flavor.
  • Huckleberries – larger blue berries, a bit less sweet, common to the northern US and Canada
  • Saskatoons – Canadians know about Saskatoons. They are native to western Canada and the northwest of the U.S.. They are larger, a bit less sweet; almost identical to a Huckleberry, with a hint of apple.
  • Serviceberries – another name for Saskatoons
  • Whorlberry or whortleberry grown in the United Kingdom. Much like a bilberry.

Varieties of Blueberries in general order of ripening

Since the varieties planted are selected for the climate and area, we’ve grouped these to be most useful to you, by their general type followed by order of ripening. Keep in mind, the actual ripening dates and even the order can vary considerably from farm to farm, year to year, state to state; so take this as general order!

Northern Highbush Blueberries

Northern highbush blueberries are generally self-fertile; but you’ll get larger and earlier ripening berries if you plant several different cultivars (varieties) close by for cross-pollination. For those in the northeast, see Rutgers University Blueberry Growing Guide

Below, Alphabettical within season

Early season

  • Bluetta – very hardy, small dark berries
  • Collins – medium size, light blue berries with excellent quality is excellent.
  • Duke – large, easy to pick. Mild, low acidity.
  • Earliblue (or Early Blue) – one of the earliest, very popular
  • Hannah’s Choice – medium large fruit with high sugar content, firmer, better flavored than Duke.
  • Reka – Medium size with strong huckleberry-like flavor.
  • Spartan – firm and very large, very good flavor. later than other early varieties, large crop.
  • Sunrise – Large size and excellent flavor, not as heavy yielding as Duke

Late Early to early Mid-season

  • Patriot – large, firm berries, early bloom, but more midseason ripening.
  • Toro – large size, easy to pick, good flavor.
  • Weymouth – excellent flavor, a derivative of the wild varieties .

Mid-season

  • Berkeley – light blue, firm and very large with very good storing but only average flavor
  • Bluecrop – Medium to large size, variable picking; old variety taste.
  • Bluehaven
  • Bluejay – moderate crops of medium, sized, high quality fruit
  • Blueray – medium size with good flavor and high yieldsl
  • Cara’s Choice – medium sized fruit with 30% more sugar than Duke or Bluecrop and the berries stay good on the plant for an extended period
  • Chippewa – large firm fruit, productive and winter hardy
  • Draper – very good fllavor
  • Hardyblue – Small size but easy to pick; sweetest berry. Good for cooking.
  • Legacy – Large, firm, sweet, aromatic, excellent flavor and stores well
  • Northland – medium sized, dark,soft berries; extremely productive
  • Nui – Very large size and excellent flavor but light yields
  • Olympia – Medium to small size, excellent flavor
  • Rubel- derived from a wild variety, small, firm, dark berries, similar to low bush varieties, but only average flavor
  • Sierra – large firm berries

Mid to late season

  • Bluegold – Medium to large size, yields vary from season to season
  • Chandler – Very popular due to its large size and good flavor.
  • Darrow – Their size varies, easy to pick; excellent flavor. /li>
  • Nelson – Large size, very good flavor, the berries can stay on the bush for extended periods.

Late season

  • Aurora – a new variety, 5 days after Elliot; firm , large berries that store well; very good yield.
  • Brigitta – large, firm, flavorful fruit that stores well. The plant grows late into the fall
  • Coville – Large, firm, highly aromatic, tart, very good flavor
  • Elliot – Late season, large size, easy to pick; tart flavor. Very good shelf life, 30-45 days in a fridge, Beware not to pick early, turns blue before ripe.
  • Liberty – ripens 5 days before Elliot with better flavor. Stores well
  • Jersey – an old cultivar dating to 1928, small, soft berries

Southern Highbush Blueberries

Don’t let the name fool you; while these can be grown in hot climates, they are still more difficult than rabbiteye varieties and are better suited for warmer areas of the North. If you do plant these, you should plant several different cultivars (varieties) of them close by for cross-pollination

Early season:

  • Suziblue
  • Palmetto
  • O’Neal
  • Camellia
  • Jubilee
  • Magnolia

Rabbiteye Blueberry Varieties

Be sure to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination to ensure good fruit setting. This is important for Rabbiteye’s! See this UGa article for information about growing rabbiteye blueberries Also, this artiicle by Texas A and M has more Rabbiteye Blueberry Growing information. And for those on the west coast, see this SFGate Article about Rabbiteye Varieties

  • Austin – large, blue firm berries with good flavor,
  • Alapaha – medium sized with good flavor and smaller seeds
  • Climax – large, medium-dark blue and good flavor.
  • Delite – small and light blue, pretty but not a consistent producer
  • Montgomery – very productive, medium to large berries, good firmness and flavor
  • Premier – Large berries with good flavor. The plants are vigorous, disease resistant, and productive.
  • Prince – blooms a few days before Climax, medium sized berries, with good color, firmness and flavor
  • Savory – large berries with light blue color, and good firmness and flavor, but the plant is susceptible to fungus.
  • Titan – largest berries
  • Vernon – large berries
  • Woodard – large, light blue.

Late early to early mid-season

  • Briteblue – moderately vigorous, firm, large, light blue berries, good producer.
  • Brightwell – medium in size, medium blue color, vigorous plants that produce many new canes
  • Garden Blue – very small, light blue berries
  • Powderblue – disease-resistant, and productive, similar to Tifblue but more leafy plant, holds up to rainy periods better
  • Tifblue – large, round, light blue, sweet, very firm, stays good on the plant for days, most productive of all rabbiteye varieties
  • Baldwin – good flavor and firm, dark blue fruit; with a long ripening period; good for home gardeners and U-pick
  • Centurion – Ripens after Tifblue; good flavored berries, medium firmness, darker than Tifblue..
  • Ochlockonee – medium sized with good flavor and smaller seeds
  • Sharpblue – developed at the University of Florida for areas receiving 600 hours or less of temperatures below 45 degrees.

New Pink Rabbiteye Varieties

  • Pink Lemonade – Pink blueberries, with a great, very sweet flavor
  • ‘Pink Champagne – Even better than pink Lemonade, in my opinion; more antioxidants and sweeter than blue blueberries.

Lowbush varieties

Generally only growing up to 18 inches tall

  • Top Hat is- used for ornamental landscaping
  • Ruby carpet – grows well in USDA zones 3-7.

Blueberry Recipes

  • The world’s best Blueberry pie, recipe and directions and illustrated!
  • Blueberry buckle coffee cake: illustrated directions for this great crumb-topping blueberry coffee cake
  • Other easy directions to make blueberry desserts: cobblers, etc.

Canning and freezing Blueberries:

  • How to Freeze Blueberries
  • How to Can Blueberries
  • How to Make Homemade Blueberry Jam
  • How to make blueberry jelly
  • How to make and can blueberry syrup (it works for strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, too)
  • blueberry pie filling to use later,
  • blueberry butter

Blueberries

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How to Plant Blueberries

Welcome to Homegrown/Homemade, a video series from FineGardening.com and our sister site FineCooking.com. We’ll be following a gardener (Danielle Sherry) and a cook (Sarah Breckenridge) as they plant, maintain, harvest, store, and prepare food crops. Now that the peas, arugula, and potatoes are planted, they turn their attention to blueberries.

Episode 1: How to Plant Blueberries

Unlike typical garden crops, blueberries are perennial shrubs, and once they mature, they will grow and produce fruit each season. They are valuable landscape plants as well: In spring, they are covered with white blooms, berries ripen in summer, and the leaves turn red in the fall.

Plant blueberries at least 4 feet apart, to allow them space to grow. Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper than the container the shrub is in. After setting the shrub in the hole, backfill with a mix of peat moss and topsoil. Blueberries thrive in acidic soil, and the peat moss (or a sprinkling of sulfur) will keep the pH at the proper level. Then mulch, and water frequently until the plants establish themselves.

Episode 2: How to Care for Blueberries

Give newly planted blueberry bushes a few weeks to get over transplant shock, then offer them a side dressing of fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Spread the fertilizer in a shallow trench 18 inches away from the crown, cover, and water well. As the berries form, watch for the first sign of ripening: a blue tinge. That’s the time to set out netting to protect your crop from birds.

Episode 3: How to Harvest Blueberries

The trickiest part of harvesting blueberries is knowing when they are at peak ripeness. Look closely at each berry; if it still looks reddish, it isn’t quite ready. Ripe berries are uniformly blue and plump. Shrunken or shriveled fruit is a sign of mummyberry, a fungal disease. Remove and dispose of affected berries, then mulch in the fall to cover any diseased fruit that has fallen to the ground. Blueberry bushes younger than three years don’t need pruning. For older plants, cut one to three of the oldest canes back to the ground. Fruit is produced on younger shoots.

Episode 4: How to Preserve and Store Blueberries: Blueberry Compote

You can preserve blueberries by freezing them. Spread them out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, then transfer them to a freezer bag after they freeze solid. No blanching is required. A second way to preserve berries is dehydrating. To dehydrate berries, blanch them briefly in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then dehydrate for about 22 hours. A third way is to prepare a quick refrigerator jam, or compote. Cook the berries 7 or 8 minutes with raw sugar, crème de cassis, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Cool the mixture, then store in the fridge for up to a week. Compote can be used on ice cream, waffles, pancakes, or pound cake. You can also make berry tarts by spooning the mix into pre-baked tart shells. If you’re feeling decadent, make Blueberry Fool by folding the mixture into whipped cream.

Get the full Blueberry Compote recipe on FineCooking.com

Recipe: Blueberry Galette

A galette is a quick-to-make rustic pie. Make the crust first (a stand mixer helps), then mold into a round and chill for about 20 minutes to make it easier to handle. Next, roll out the dough into a 13- or 14-inch-diameter circle. Chill again while you prepare the filling: blueberries, sugar, honey, flour, lemon zest, and salt. Spread the filling in the middle of the pastry circle, then fold up the sides. Brush the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle sugar over the top. Bake for about 55 minutes at 350°F.

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Hardy, easy to cultivate, resistant to disease, and quick to yield, berry bushes are perfect for just about any garden environment. Whether you have a large lot in which to plant fruit-bearing hedges, or a sunny balcony that would be perfect for hanging baskets, there’s a berry plant that’s ideal for your home. Best of all, if you choose a perennial species, you’ll only have to put in a bit of maintenance work now and then in order to enjoy a beautiful, bountiful harvest year after year.

*Note: when it comes to choosing a berry bush or shrub for your garden, most birds and animals are wired to regard blue, purple, and red fruits as “ripe”, so if you’ve had any problems with squirrels, raccoons, or voracious birds, you might wish to consider a variety that bears white, green, or yellow fruits instead. The wild foragers will assume that the fruit is unripe, and won’t decimate your crop!

Keep in mind that most berry bushes and shrubs prefer acidic soils, so it’s important to do a soil pH test to determine whether your soil needs any amendments before establishing the bushes: it’s better to test ahead of time than risk disappointment from a failed crop later.

Raspberry

Tart and delicious, raspberries pop up in wild spaces all over the world. They’re as common in woodlands as they are in roadside ditches, and seem to be able to thrive in even the harshest conditions. Although there are a few different species, depending on the country in which they happen to grow, they’re all very, very tasty, and easy to grow. You can grow raspberries from seed, but they’ll take a couple of years before they start to produce fruit—it’s far easier to buy bushes from a local garden centre if you’d like to start harvesting as soon as possible.

Raspberries like a lot of sun, and well-drained soil that’s a bit on the acidic side, but make sure that you don’t plant them in an area that had nightshade plants (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes) or flowering bulbs in previous years, as those plants can carry a wilting fungal disease that thrives on fruit- and nut-bearing plants.

Currant

This fruit is one that nearly any gardener in any zone can plant with hardly any effort whatsoever. It’s cold-hardy, deer-resistant, as beautiful as it is delicious, and comes in several different varieties to suit anyone’s taste and aesthetic preferences. Like most other berries, currants prefer a slightly acidic soil, but will grow just fine in neutral soil as well; just make sure it’s well-drained, cool, and moist, and keep a couple of inches of mulch around the roots at all times. Currants can thrive in partial shade, which is ideal for urban gardens and heavily treed spaces, and will start bearing after 2 to 3 years.

Like golden raspberries, white currants aren’t decimated by birds and other animals the same way that red or black ones are, as the pale flesh registers as unripe to animals on the lookout for lunch.

Blueberry

Who doesn’t love blueberries? These luscious little blue beads have a lovely mix of tartness and sweetness, and are as amazing raw as they are cooked. You can scatter them on your cereal, add them to smoothies, bake them into pies and muffins, or even add them to savory dishes like salads or quinoa bowls.

When it comes to planting them in your own garden, it’s important to plant a couple of different species so they can cross-pollinate: this will encourage your berries to develop larger fruit (and more abundant yields), and if you plant varieties that mature at different times of the season, you can enjoy these luscious berries for a good 2 months every summer. Choose a bright, sunny spot for your plants, and ensure that the soil has plenty of peat moss worked into it. Blueberries enjoy soil that’s quite acidic—pH 4.0 to 5.5 is ideal. If your soil is a bit too alkaline, you can amend it with sulfur the season before you plan to plant your berries, and all should be well.

Serviceberry

There are a couple of different species that are referred to as serviceberries, but the two most common ones are the Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and the Juneberry (Amelanchier canadensis). Both are flowering shrubs that are native to North America, with the former ranging from Alaska through half of Canada, and into the northwestern USA, and the latter trickling down along the eastern coast from Newfoundland down to Alabama.

I’ve only had Saskatoon berries, but was blown away by their flavour, which is sweeter and “nuttier” than blueberries. They like to grow in soil that’s fairly pH neutral, but be sure that you don’t plant them anywhere near juniper bushes, as they can cause a rust disease on one another. One-year-old bushes are best planted in springtime, and tend to do best on sunny, east-facing slopes.

Gooseberry

There’s really no solid answer as to why gooseberries are named such, since they’re not favoured by any sort of waterfowl, but these sweet, musky berries are fabulous regardless of where their name originated. This is one of the most common and well-loved berries in the UK, and it’s also well-known and adored throughout most of mainland Europe. The berries are wonderful both raw and cooked, and you can find hundreds of recipes for gooseberry pies, preserves, and other desserts. Depending on the variety you choose to plant, you may end up with berries that taste somewhat like apricots, or grapes, or even apple, so be sure to research different species so you know what flavour profile you’ll end up with.

Gooseberries like well-drained, compost-rich soil and plenty of sunlight, and if you plant a 2-year-old bush, you’ll start getting berries the following year. The best yields tend to start when gooseberry bushes are 4 to 5 years old, at which point it’s probably good to have some large empty buckets handy to gather them all.

Honeyberry

Also known as haskap, the honeyberry is an unusually shaped fruit that really should be more popular than it is. A member of the honeysuckle family, its berries taste like an interesting hybrid of blackberries, cherries, grapes, and kiwis, and are great both raw and cooked/baked.

One reason why the honeyberry should be far more popular is that it’s an incredibly hardy plant that can grow in almost any soil, in zones ranging from 2 to 9; it doesn’t need overly acidic soil (a range of pH 5 to 8 is just fine), and as long as it gets full sun and has another variety to cross-pollinate with, you’re good to go.

Blackberry

These succulent, dark, meaty berries leave our mouths and hands purple when we cram them into our faces, and are as great raw as they are in baked goods. (If you’ve never eaten blackberry pie, you must amend that posthaste.) Blackberries grow in wooded areas all over Europe, North and South America, Asia, and even parts of Africa, and are so easy to grow that they can easily become invasive.

Blackberries like well-drained, sandy, loamy soils, and full sunlight, and if you can plant them on a hill or a slope, even better: try to avoid placing them in any low-lying area, as rain and meltwater can accumulate there and drown their roots. As with raspberries, don’t plant blackberries in the same soil where you’ve had nightshades in previous years.

Jostaberry

You won’t find jostaberries mentioned in many old cookbooks because it’s a recent hybrid: a three-way cross between black currants and two species of gooseberry. It was created in Germany in the late 1970s, and has grown in popularity in recent years because of its hardiness and the sweetness of its berries, which are described as tasting like a cross between a blueberry and a concord grape.

Pronounced as “yust-a-berry”, this amazing fruit is hardy to zone 3 and is remarkably disease resistant. It also prefers a compost-rich, well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight, and will start producing fruit in its second year. By year 4 or 5, you can look at a yield of several pounds of fruit per plant, though you probably want to cover everything with bird-proof mesh so they don’t eat everything before you can.

Mulberry

There’s a reason why generations of kids danced around mulberry bushes, singing their hearts out: the berries are absolutely delicious, and singing would probably keep birds away long enough for wee ones to get their hands on the sweet, crunchy little nuggets. This is one berry bush that can thrive in just about any soil as long as it’s moist, and is hardy from zone 4 and upward. Mulberries can also be grown indoors very successfully: you just need a big, bright, sunny window area that’s protected from drafts in wintertime.

It’s best to plant a young shrub from a garden centre rather than trying to grow it from a seed, and if you’re only getting one plant, be sure to get one that is self-fruitful. As a note, the fallen fruits will stain whatever they land on, so it’s best to plant your bushes well away from sidewalks or driveways. If you’re growing them indoors, it’s probably a good idea to keep them on mats that you can dispose of once they’re too heavily stained. Mulberries can grow quite tall, so be sure to cut them back regularly if you’d like to keep them bush-sized.

Strawberry

One of the most well-known and well-loved berries of them all, strawberries are utter delights that pop up every spring/early summer. They’re gorgeous right off the vine, or mixed with coconut cream and a sprinkle of sugar, added to smoothies, made into popsicles, baked into every sort of dessert imaginable, and sliced into salads. Whichever way you like them, strawberries make just about everyone smile.

Most strawberries like compost-rich (and slightly acidic) soil, and full sun, with the exception of the alpine or woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), which prefers partial shade. I like to grow strawberries in hanging baskets, since I’ll actually be able to enjoy the fruits instead of losing them all to chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and slugs; all of which seem to enjoy them a great deal. When growing strawberries in hanging baskets, make sure there’s a lot of peat moss and compost to keep the roots moist and nourished, and don’t place more than 3 plants in the same hanger, so there’s plenty of room for the roots to spread.

Lingonberry

If you’ve never heard of a lingonberry before, don’t feel bad: they’re most popular in northern Europe (the Scandinavian countries in particular), and just a few areas of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, where they’re known as “redberries” or “foxberries” respectively. Nearly as tart as cranberries, lingonberries are loaded with vitamin C, and have been a staple food for both people and wildlife for thousands of years.They’re normally blended with sugar or honey before being eaten, and if you ever visit Sweden, you’ll likely come across lingonberry jam, jelly, juice, and even sauce or gravy. In Denmark, the berries are often used alongside currants and other red berries to create the signature rød grød med fløde sweet berry porridge normally served with cream.

This is a short, low-growing evergreen shrub similar to a low-bush blueberry, but it will not do well in a warm, dry climate: lingonberries need cold winters and moist soil in order to thrive. In areas that get really brutal snowfalls, you’ll want to cover the bushes with burlap, but they’re hardy enough to withstand temperatures down to -30F. Although you might have a “yay” moment if you live in a colder zone and realize that you can grow these easily, take note that they’re really slow to establish, and it could take up to 5 years before you see a single berry.

Elderberry

Gorgeous in jams, jellies, pies, cordials, and wines, elderberries have been treasured little fruits since the dawn of time. You have to be sure to cook the ripened berries well, however, as they’re quite toxic if eaten raw. (No, you won’t die if you eat a handful of raw berries, but you will get rather ill… in all directions.) The berries are high in vitamins C and B6, and a simple Google or Pinterest search will yield countless recipes for them, including delicious home remedies for colds and flus.

Plant 1- or 1-year-old bushes in well-drained, damp soil, in a patch that’s either sunny, or just partially shaded. You’ll have to plant another variety of elderberry within 60 feet so the two can cross-pollinate, and be sure to treat them to a great compost mulch every year. By year 4, you can expect about 15 pounds of fruit from each tree, especially if you keep birds away with netting.

If you’re planning to add a few berry bushes and shrubs to your garden, it’s good to have a few different varieties that ripen at different times of the year: that way, you can ensure that you have a steady supply of fruit from spring right through autumn. A good blending would be something like this:

  • Strawberries for early June (or all-season strawberries to keep coming up until autumn)
  • Saskatoon berries for late June/early July
  • Raspberries and gooseberries for July through to early August
  • Elderberries for August through September

Be sure to do your research before planting anything to ensure that you get the fruit plants that are best for your growing environment, and keep in mind that some plants (like elderberries) need to have other similar plant species nearby in order to cross-pollinate. When in doubt, schedule some time with a consultant at your local garden centre or organic nursery. Most importantly, enjoy the process! Growing your own food is fun and rewarding, and if you get the entire family involved, chances are that everyone will gain a greater appreciation of where food comes from, and how amazing it is to grow your own.

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Blueberries can be one of the most low-maintenance and pleasurable berries to grow in the temperate permaculture homestead. They are incredibly long-lived plants, ranging from 30-50 years and contain phytonutrients called polyphenols, which not only give these berries their deep blue colours but help decrease inflammation in the human body as well. They are also one of the top temperate-climate fruits to deliver a kick of Vitamin K, an important fat-soluble nutrient. Here is the catch: they die easily; require extremely acidic soil; and have no taproots. In this article, I hope to discuss how to establish and maintain a low-input, long-term, highly-producing, and stable blueberry guild.

How to establish your blueberry guild

There are four fundamental things you need to consider in your blueberry guild.

1) Blueberries need good drainage

To grow optimally, blueberries need a porous soil ecosystem that fosters a healthy water cycle above and below ground. A good rule of thumb to follow is: if it rains on Monday and the water is still standing in your desired location by Wednesday evening, then do not plant a blueberry bush there. They will drown.

That being said, there are some caveats to this general rule. A good permaculture blueberry stand design should begin with deeply considering the handling of above-ground water flow. Do we need to decrease water flow and saturation in the design area via diversion swales to mitigate or reduce the water cycle? Or, do we need to direct, pacify, and “sink/store” the energetic water that flows over/through the design area?

Another important caveat is that blueberries have shallow root systems that easily dry-out. Deep-rooted plants can more easily pull up moisture from the subsoil. This helps them maintain hydration during periods of sparse precipitation. But shallow-rooted plants, like blueberries, struggle in dry and brittle-tending environments. Therefore, the blueberry guild design must account for just enough water to nourish but not drown the blueberry’s root systems.

It is important to observe your design location and determine your water-handling needs. During a rain event, stand in the rain and watch the water move through the landscape. Get on your knees and witness the creative interaction between the soil, its many covers and the dancing water.

Idea to mitigate standing water:

Orient your blueberry design in rows on contour. Then, swale the rows to pacify and sink the water flow. Plant the swale with your berries and its berms with perennial and nitrogen-fixing shrubs and ground-covers, punctuating the design with fruit trees to help firm up the swale’s berms and soak up excess moisture. You can plant fast-growing chop-and- drop plants to aid in mulching in the years to come (comfrey, for instance). Don’t forget that, when you pacify and sink water-flow, because your berries do not like standing water, perhaps you orient the swales a degree or so off contour to encourage the excess water (in large
weather events) to move gently across the landscape and out of your system (and hopefully into another system!!)

2) Blueberries need acidic soil

Blueberries require soil with a pH between 4.5 to 5.0. It is best not to “fertilise” your soil to make it more acidic, but rather, to actually “create” the soil you need from scratch.

We have found that this is best achieved by combining shredded pine bark mulch, leaf mould and topsoil during the establishment process. We then add more leaf mould as the year’s progress to maintain the deep mulch and acidifying cover. You can also employ chop-and-drop methods to mulch your system if leaf mould is hard to come by.

Idea to enhance soil acidity:

Dig a 4 foot x 4 foot x 1 foot hole (swale) to plant your blueberry bushes in. During the digging process, you can pile the removed dirt on the downhill side of the hole to form a miniature berm/swale for water soakage. Fill the hole with a mix of shredded pine bark mulch, leaf mould and some topsoil or compost. Plant your bushes directly into this medium. As blueberry roots grow outward and not downward, this acidic cocktail will provide the perfect pH for optimal growth, while also acting as a mulch cover for weed suppression, moisture retention, and optimal microbial growth.

3) Blueberries need room to grow

Permaculture seeks to optimise living systems. In a sense, permaculture’s ethics understand that living systems have an upper bound of productivity and abundance that cannot be “pushed.” This is one of the foundational permaculture principles—the difference between optimal and maximum yields. But more on this in another article!

Most, high-bush blueberry bushes, (low-bush bushes are wild types that are either grown at higher altitudes or far up north in the USA) reach optimum potential at 10’ (3 metres) x 10’ (3 metres). What is important to remember is that, wherever two blueberry bushes touch each other, no (or very very little) blueberries will grow there. It is, in the fullest sense, wasted space.

It does not take a mathematician (although that is what I technically am) to realise that planting blueberry bushes too closely lowers each of those bush’s growth and optimal yield by nearly 20 – 50%. The math is simple: if a row of blueberries are planted too closely, the lateral sides of every bush will not fruit optimally, depending on the initial placement of the bushes of course. Although you will create a living hedge, it will be a hedge that produces significantly less food for your farm or family than you may anticipate.

Food for thought: nature does not cram life into overly confined areas to maximise its yield’s potential. Not at least in a temperate climate. Look at the temperate forest and its many layers of succession. For a seedling on the forest floor to optimally grow, some life already in the upper or lower canopy has to die. It’s just that simple.

Idea to capture optimal yield from your blueberry guild:

Plant your blueberry bushes in rows that are spaced 15’ (4.5 metres) apart from each other and each bush within the rows no closer than 10’ (3 metres) apart. You will need to take into account the topographical slope and sun-positioning to calculate the total space needed between rows, but this general equation should get you started.

4) Blueberries need sun

This last point is quite simple. Make sure that your blueberry bushes receive at least 75% of the daily sunlight in your area. Optimal growth occurs when solar capture is also optimal. Morning through afternoon sun is preferred, as evening shade is tolerated well.

Consider how tall your bushes will be at maturity and design with that in mind. Additionally, strategically placing supporting upper or lower canopy tree species with your guild (stacking) may help firm up swale berms, bolster the water cycle, increase mineral flow, diversify pollination and ultimately provide more food for humans and wildlife.

As with all well-designed systems, start with deep observation and site understanding. Plant a diversity of supporting species within your blueberry guild to encourage pollinators, deter pests, provide sources of living mulches, increase biodiversity and to foster disease resistance. Below is a sample list of possible temperate plants to establish within and around your patch:

Nasturtium, Heather, Comfrey, White Clover, Yarrow, Vetch, Bee Balm, Lemon Balm, Sage, Annual Rye Grass, Field Pea.

Happy designing!

About the author

Daniel Griffith is a regenerative grass-farmer in Nelson County, Virginia.

Daniel came to permaculture with a background in history, computer science, and mathematics. In 2013, he was diagnosed with life-altering medical conditions and ultimately found health, peace, and a regenerative life in the supreme abundance of our wonderfully created natural world.

Along with his wife (Morgan), daughter (Elowyn), and son (Tecumseh), Daniel owns and operates Timshel Permaculture Farm, a three hundred acre regenerative and grass-based permaculture farm and nursery. Timshel supplies nutrient-dense foods and perennial products to Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and the many surrounding Central Virginian counties.

A tenacious autodidact, Daniel’s passions of forestry, horticulture, and animal husbandry saturate Timshel’s philosophy and mission: to regenerate the land; feed the soul; and nourish the body. His ardour for regenerative health and land management led him to study under the guidance and teaching of Geoff Lawton of Zaytuna Farm in Australia.

Daniel is a certified permaculture designer, Traditional Chinese Medicine student, horticulture and tree enthusiast, and regenerative farmer. Daniel is also a published author on both regenerative agriculture and American history genres. His written work includes topics of animal husbandry and permaculture ethics within publications such as The Stockman Grass-farmer and The New Lyceum. His scholarly work of the Early American West includes his current project, “Daniel Boone: The Enigmatic Legend of American Mythology,” to be published in 2020. Daniel has degrees in Computer Science, Mathematics, and American History. Most importantly, however, he is the father of the sweetest girl and an undeserving husband to the most wonderful wife in the world.

Farthing’ is vigorous and survives well in commercial fields. It is a vigorous but not a tall-growing plant. It has the somewhat squat bush structure of ‘Windsor’, but with more branchiness. The leaves are unusually dark-green in color. The plant makes numerous flower buds and flowers very heavily. Flowering is not as late as for ‘Star’ and ‘Windsor’ but later than for ‘Emerald’, ‘Jewel’, and ‘Millennia’. The berries begin to ripen at about the same time as ‘Star’, ‘Windsor’, and ‘Emerald’. Because of the high crop load typical of ‘Farthing’, the harvest continues for 6 weeks, similar to ‘Emerald’. Plant survival in the field has been good. The plants can be propagated readily by softwood cuttings. ‘Farthing’ is partially self-incompatible and requires cross pollination for full fruit set. The berries of ‘Farthing’ are potentially very large on plants that have a light crop, but the typical heavy crop reduces berry size somewhat. The berries are high in most quality components. The color of the berries tends to be dark. Berry firmness is exceptionally good, and the texture is somewhat but not fully crisp. Berry scar and flavor are good. The berries have been harvested, packed, and shipped commercially with no reported problems.

Highbush Blueberry Plant Care: How To Grow Highbush Blueberry Plants

Growing blueberries at home can be a challenge, but they are so delicious when homegrown, it is definitely worth the effort! Blueberry plants come in two main types: highbush and lowbush. Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) grow in a wider geographic range than lowbush, and they are a common choice for home gardeners.

What are Highbush Blueberries?

Highbush blueberries are the ones you usually find in grocery stores. They are members of the Vaccinium genus, along with lowbush blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries, and lingonberries.

The highbush blueberry is native to eastern coastal regions of North America. Along with azaleas, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons, Vaccinium species belong to the Ericaceae or heather family. Like other heather family plants, highbush blueberries are acid-loving plants that are adapted to living in low-fertility habitats such as bogs and heaths.

How to Grow Highbush Blueberry Plants

Highbush blueberry plant care begins with proper site selection and soil amendment. Blueberries are long-lived perennials, so taking care at the beginning will pay off for years.

The most important thing to remember when growing highbush blueberries (or any plant in the heather family) is that the soil needs to be quite acidic, in the range of pH 4.5-5.2, for highbush blueberry plants to take in nutrients effectively. Sometimes, gardeners are puzzled because they’ve grown healthy-looking blueberry plants that fail to produce fruit. The reason might be that they haven’t made the soil quite acidic enough.

Aluminum sulfate or, preferably, finely ground sulfur are used to reduce the pH for blueberries. Invest in a soil test to determine how much to add, and keep in mind that sandy soils require half the sulfur quantity as clay soil to reduce pH the same amount. Avoid adding sulfur year after year without testing, because this will eventually make the soil too acidic.

Plant your highbush blueberries in a well-drained site with full sun. The soil should be high in organic matter and should preferably be sandy. Growing highbush blueberries in clay soil is difficult.

To increase the organic matter in the soil, dig a large planting hole, remove ½ of the soil and replace it with peat and/or compost. Mix well, and use this to fill in the planting hole. Then, place organic mulch over the plant’s root zone.

Additional Highbush Blueberry Plant Care

One month after planting and once each year, feed the blueberries with 1 ounce per plant of 12-4-8 fertilizer. Also, fertilize each year with magnesium, an important nutrient for blueberries. Or use an azalea/rhododendron fertilizer. Water the plants regularly during the growing season.

In the spring of the first two years, remove all flower clusters to allow the plant to establish itself well. Allow a few flower clusters to develop in the third year. Wait until the plant’s fourth or fifth year to allow plants to produce a full crop of blueberries. After that, a healthy plant can produce berries for more than 40 years.

Highbush blueberry plants typically produce ripe fruit from mid- or late July until mid-August. Protect the berries from birds by placing netting over the plants.

Cooperative Extension Publications

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Table of Contents:

    • VIDEO: Site Selection: How to Grow Blueberries (YouTube)
  • Suggested Varieties
  • Table 1. Highbush Blueberry Varieties for Northern New England
  • Planting
    • VIDEO: Planting Blueberries (YouTube)
  • Care and Maintenance
  • Table 2. Amount of Fertilizer to Apply to Blueberry Plants
    • VIDEO: How to Prune a Blueberry Bush (YouTube)
  • Harvesting
  • Pest Management

Blueberries are native to North America, and the delicious fruit has been harvested in the wild for centuries. However, growing blueberry plants in gardens and on farms is a relatively recent occurrence, since breeding and propagation of blueberry plants did not begin until early in the 20th century.

Highbush blueberries belong to the same family of plants as cranberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas. They have limited adaptation to the cold winter temperatures of northern New England but may grow satisfactorily on warmer, protected sites where the winter temperatures do not fall below -25 degrees F.

Selecting and Preparing a Planting Site

Choose a planting site with full sunlight and protection from strong winds. Avoid low areas that drain poorly or are prone to early frosts. Blueberries prefer a well-drained, sandy loam soil, rich in organic matter. Heavy clay soils should be avoided, but may be made more suitable for blueberries with the addition of organic matter such as peat moss, rotted or aged sawdust, and/or compost. All perennial weeds should be eliminated from the site before planting. If necessary, grow cover crops such as buckwheat, rye, or oats on the site and plow them under for one to two seasons before planting blueberries to eliminate the weeds. Planting cover crops will also add valuable organic matter to the soil.

Have your soil tested to determine its pH and fertility status. Unlike many other garden crops, blueberries require relatively acid soil for good growth. The soil pH should be within the range of 4.5 to 5.2. Soils with a higher pH may require additions of finely ground sulfur or aluminum sulfate to lower the pH. It requires approximately 1.2 pounds of ground sulfur, or 7.2 pounds of aluminum sulfate, per 100 square feet to lower the pH of a loam soil one half of a pH unit (e.g. 5.0 to 4.5). Sandy soils require only half these amounts to accomplish the same pH change. Follow the recommendations of your soil test results. Soil tests are available through your University of Maine Cooperative Extension County Office.

Suggested Varieties

Because of Maine’s cold winter temperatures and short growing season, you should select blueberry varieties that are described as very hardy and that ripen early or midseason (Table 1). It is usually best to plant more than one variety. Although some blueberries are self-fruitful, cross-pollination among different varieties will improve fruit set and fruit size. In addition, using two or more varieties that ripen at different times will lengthen the harvest season.

Table 1. Highbush Blueberry Varieties for Northern New England

Variety Plant Characteristics Fruit Qualities Ripening Season
Patriot Short, upright, moderate vigor Medium-large, firm, excellent quality Early–midseason
Northland Short, spreading growth habit, vigorous Medium-small, soft, fair quality, high yields Early
Bluecrop Full-sized, upright Large, firm, good quality Midseason
Blueray Full-sized, spreading growth habit Large, firm, good quality, high yields Early–midseason
Meader Full-sized, upright, vigorous Large, firm, fair quality Early–midseason
Jersey Full-sized, upright Medium-size, firm, fair quality, high yields Late
Nelson Full-sized, upright Large, firm, good quality Mid-late
Blue Gold Short, upright, moderate vigor Medium-sized, good quality Mid-late
St. Cloud Short, spreading Medium-sized, dark, good yields Midseason

Planting

Plant blueberries in the early spring. Healthy two- or three-year-old plants from a reputable nursery generally perform best. Younger plants, such as one-year-old rooted cuttings, tend to grow very slowly for the first two years and take longer to bear large crops of fruit. Plants older than three years are more expensive and the additional cost is usually not justified by earlier production.

Space the plants five to seven feet apart in rows eight to ten feet apart. Dig a planting hole about two times the diameter of the plant root ball. Blend the removed soil with premoistened peat moss, compost, or rotted sawdust in a 1:1 ratio. Set the plants slightly deeper than they were in the nursery and fill the hole with the soil mixture. Do not place any fertilizer in the planting hole. Water the plants thoroughly immediately after planting. Prune out any dead, weak, or broken branches.

VIDEO: Planting Blueberries (YouTube)

Care and Maintenance

After planting, apply a four- to a six-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plants to conserve soil moisture and reduce weed growth. Coarse sawdust, woodchips, shavings, bark, pine needles, or composted leaves can be used as mulching materials. Make sure the mulch is free of weed seeds. The soil should be moist before the mulch is applied. A new layer of mulch should be applied when the old layer starts to break down.

Three to four weeks after planting, apply two ounces of a balanced fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10) or one ounce of ammonium sulfate around each plant. Organic equivalents, such as bloodmeal or composted manure, may also be used. Apply the fertilizer in a circle 15 to 18 inches from the base of the plant. Use the same amount the year after planting. Each year following, increase the amount of fertilizer according to Table 2. Fertilizer can be applied once in the early spring or, for best results, split the application, and apply one half of the recommended rate in the early spring and the other half four to six weeks later. Blueberry plants generally do not require high amounts of fertilizer. Over-fertilization could lead to excessive tender growth and increase the potential for winter injury.

The plants should be watered regularly throughout the growing season. A blueberry planting should receive one to two inches of water per week.

Newly planted blueberries should not be allowed to fruit for the first two years after planting. Remove all flower clusters in the spring to encourage root development and vegetative growth. Leave a few flower clusters on the plants to produce a small crop of fruit in the third year, and plants may be allowed to set a full crop four or five years after planting.

VIDEO: How to Prune a Blueberry Bush (YouTube)

Pruning

Blueberry bushes should be pruned every year to produce high yields of good quality fruit. Prune the plants when they are fully dormant during the late winter or early spring (January through March). For the first two years after planting, simply remove any dead branches and all weak, spindly growth. For plants that have been established for three years or more, follow these steps:

  1. Prune out any weak, low-growing or diseased canes.
  2. Prune out any canes that are more than six years old (these are usually the thickest canes, which are gray in color with peeling bark). Blueberry canes tend to be less productive once they are more than six years old and should be pruned out in favor of younger, more productive canes. Cut the old canes back to ground level unless new cane growth has been sparse; in which case, leave a four- to eight-inch stub above the ground. New canes may sprout from these stubs.
  3. Thin the remaining canes, leaving those with the most vigorous shoot growth (long, thick branches with good fruit buds). Leave six to seven vigorous two- to five-year-old canes and two or three one-year-old canes per bush. A mature blueberry plant should have six to ten healthy canes varying in age from one to six years old.
  4. Remove any weak fruiting branches on the remaining canes, especially those less than six inches in length. Most fruit is produced on vigorous one-year-old shoots on healthy two- to five-year-old canes. The fruit buds on these shoots are large and teardrop-shaped. Each bud will produce a cluster of five to eight flowers. The shoots also have smaller, pointed vegetative buds that will produce leaves (Figure 1).

Harvesting

Fruit should begin to ripen in mid to late July and peak production generally occurs from early to mid-August. The fruit is borne on clusters of five to eight berries that ripen in succession over a period of several weeks. Pick the berries only when they are fully ripe, generally one to three days after they turn blue. Be sure there is no tinge of red color on the fruit before harvesting.

Pest Management

Although blueberries are not bothered by many pest problems, it is wise to become familiar with the different blueberry pests, their life cycles, and the damage they cause. The key to good pest management is prevention. Keep your planting free of weeds. Weeds compete with blueberries for nutrients and water, and may also harbor insects and diseases.

The most common insect problem in blueberries is the blueberry maggot. This is the larva of a small fly that feeds inside the developing fruit. It can be managed with appropriate insecticide sprays applied when the fruit starts to color — or with baited traps.

The most common disease problem for blueberries is mummy berry. This is a fungus that causes the fruit to shrivel and turn hard. It may be managed with fungicides applied in the early spring, or by vigilant removal of all the infested fruit (“mummies”) from the planting every year to prevent new infections.

Birds are typically the most serious pests of blueberries. Covering the plants with netting is the most effective control. Plastic or cloth netting is available through garden supply dealers. It is best to use a post and wire frame to support the netting over the plants. This will provide the best protection of the fruit and prolong the usable life of the netting. Drape the netting over the frame just as the first berries begin to turn blue. Be sure the edge of the netting is weighted or staked to the ground to prevent birds from getting under. Remove the netting as soon as all harvesting is complete, and store it in a cool, dry place. This will prolong its useful life.

For information regarding the identification and management of insect and disease pests, contact your University of Maine Cooperative Extension county office.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1992, 2008

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