How to Grow Blueberries: Your Go-To Guide for Plant Care

While blueberries take time to get established, they require little maintenance.

Blueberry Bunch
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Wild blueberries have been a North American treat since the end of the last ice age when they occupied the soil left by retreating glaciers. Today, blueberries are bred to be garden-friendly, sun-tolerant, and larger than ever before. They are productive perennial shrubs, adapting to many climates. While blueberries take several years before they bear a lot of fruit, they can live for decades, so planting a blueberry plot is a long-term relationship.

Here are some of our expert care tips around planting, growing, and storing blueberries.

Botanical name Vaccinium corymbosum
Common name Blueberry
Plant type  Perennial shrub
Size  1-6'
Sun exposure  Full sun
Soil pH  Acidic
Hardiness zones  2-9
Native area  North America
Toxicity  Non-toxic

How to Plant Blueberries

Preparing your location and amending the soil can ensure many years of abundant harvests. To start, you can use a simple pH test to determine how to adjust conditions to your blueberries’ liking.

Growing From a Transplant

Order your blueberry plants well in advance of transplant time. When they arrive, whether bare-root or in containers, keep them in a cool, dark, moist place. Plant them before buds begin to open, in April or early May for cooler climes.

The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program recommends these particular steps for warm, west coast terrain: Plant in late fall in raised beds 8-18 inches high and a yard wide.

Plan to space the bushes 2.5-6 feet apart, then make each hole about twice as deep as the root ball. Amend the soil for each plant by adding soil with composted pine needles or pine sawdust to each hole or, ideally, throughout a strip no more than 3-feet wide around the holes. You can experiment with adding sulfur to the planting area the fall before planting since it takes some time to alter the pH. Coffee grounds can also be mixed into neutral pH compost.

Place each plant in its hole so that the top of the root ball is a couple of inches lower than the soil surface. Fill in mulch several inches deep using pine needles, oak leaves, or untreated wood or rice straw. Water thoroughly. Do not fertilize at the time of planting.

Blueberry Plant Care

While blueberries take time to get established, they don’t take much work on the gardener's end. Keep an eye on leaf color and growth, do a little pruning and feeding, and check the soil pH annually.

Light, Temperature, and Humidity

Plant blueberries in full sun, as shade will keep temperatures cold in early spring when the plants want to bud. In very hot locations, like central California, plants will appreciate some afternoon shade. Cold hardiness and chill-hour requirements vary by variety, as does humidity preference. For example, some rabbit-eye types thrive in warm, humid locations like Florida while southern highbush varieties can handle Sacramento’s dry heat.

Soil, Nutrients, and Water

Blueberries commonly grow in northeastern regions where small shrubs live at the edges of woodlands and there are plenty of pine needles that break down in the soil, making it acidic and rich in humus. Most other locations will need soil amendments to match that requirement.

Once planted, check on the soil pH each year and add amendments as needed. Organic fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants can be applied after the first year as needed. Keep a thick straw, wood, or leaf mulch around the plants. As these break down, they feed the plants as well as block weeds.

Give your blueberries the equivalent of one inch of rainfall per week (whether that is from rain or irrigation) and keep the soil regularly moist.

Pruning

Blueberries should be trimmed of any unhealthy branches at planting time, leaving a few strong canes that are approximately 10-12 inches tall. Prune again every year. Remember: Plants should not be allowed to make fruit for the first 2 years, at least. Pruning blueberry bushes during dormancy will help them develop a healthy, attractive shape and produce a better crop. The resulting shape of the bush should be narrow at the base but wider, open, and uncluttered above.

Common Pests and Diseases

Most garden-variety blueberry plants have few pests and diseases to worry about. Hungry birds, however, will compete with you for berries. The National Gardening Association recommends making a walk-in blueberry “gazebo” with upright poles joined by PVC pipes and covered with netting that reaches down to the ground. Pull the netting tight to keep birds from getting tangled. Netting and poles can be removed after harvest.

Blueberry Varieties

Choose varieties adapted to your climate for best results. If you buy from the nursery, they will have types that are appropriate for your area—but if you buy online, you may want to do some research. Some varietals require more chill hours than others. Other considerations include harvest time (early or later in the season), plant shape and size, berry size and color, and flavor. Smaller berries, for example, tend to have a bolder flavor.

When in doubt, call your local extension office for specific recommendations. Most blueberries are self-pollinating, but cross-pollination between different varieties can improve your harvest—that may be something to ask the extension office about, as well.

  • High-bush are large plants that thrive in northern climates, as they require upwards of 800 chill hours.
  • Lowbush are best for northern climates, as they require more chill hours
  • Rabbit-eye varieties are native to the Southeast and like mild, humid weather.
  • Southern Highbush varieties such as Jewel and Misty thrive in the Zone 9 heat and can grow very tall. They require very little cold weather.
  • Wild berries such as Brunswick or Burgundy are small but potent, grow low to the ground, and propagate by both seed and spreading rhizomes. They like northern climates and especially acidic soil.
  • Huckleberries may be a better-adapted alternative for the Pacific Northwest Coastal region.

How to Harvest and Store Blueberries

Berries will not all ripen at once; it can take more than a couple of weeks. They are ready to pick when they are totally blue, tender, and easily come off the stem. Taste-test to be sure.

For eating fresh, do not wash the berries until you are ready to use them. Simply store them in the fridge spread out on a plate. For freezing, wash blueberries immediately, let them dry, freeze them on a cookie sheet, and transfer them to an air-tight, freezer-safe container. They can also be processed as jam or pie filling.

View Article Sources
  1. Yarborough, David. "Blueberry History." The University of Maine, 2019.