Once established, blueberries are easy to grow and require little care, but there are things you need to know at planting time for long-term success. In this video, I share tips for ensuring your blueberry plants will thrive.
Blueberries are one of my favorite plants to grow. In addition to producing amazing fruit, they offer three seasons of ornamental value. They make a great addition to an edible garden but will look great anywhere sunny.
Choosing Blueberry Plants
There are several types of blueberries to choose from: highbush, half-high, lowbush and rabbiteye.
Highbush blueberries grow 5-6 feet tall and will spread just as wide. Generally, they grow best in zones 4-8. To get more specific, there are northern highbush types and southern highbush types, with the southern types being less cold tolerant. A good local garden center will only sell the type that is suited to your region.
Half-high blueberries grow about 2½ feet tall and 2 feet wide. Some varieties, under the right conditions, will produce two harvests a year. Half-high, like highbush, is hardy in zones 4-8.
Lowbush blueberries are the predominant type in New England. These are the smaller, wild blueberries that reach 1-3 feet high in zones 3-8 and are tolerant of colder climates.
Rabbiteye blueberry plants are best suited to zones 6-9, in the South and West, and are known for their heat and drought tolerance. These reach 15-18 feet tall and spread 5-6 feet wide. Rabbiteye varieties are also more tolerant of poor soil conditions.
Keep in mind that for efficient pollination — and more production and yield as a result — you’ll need to plant two to three varieties from the same blueberry family together. Blueberries are also classified as early-, mid- and late-season varieties. By planting a few of each, you can get consecutive blueberry harvests for weeks on end.
Acidify Soil for the Best Performing Blueberry Plants
Blueberry plants, like all plants that bear fruit, require full sun and well-draining soil. What sets blueberries apart from most plants is they love acidic soil — soil with a low pH. Neutral soil has a pH of 7.0, while blueberries prefer a pH of 4.0 up to 5.5 at the highest.
To determine the soil’s pH level, you will need a soil test. The results will tell you what you are starting with, and then there are a few ways to get that pH level where it needs to be.
To lower the pH, soil test results will likely recommend a sulfur-based soil acidifier. You can find such products at just about any garden center. Be sure to closely follow the instructions on the bag to get the desired effect.
You can also take the natural route: Finely ground shredded pine bark mulch, pine bark nuggets or peat moss will all lower soil pH. These inputs should be mixed into the entire growing area for the roots to get at.
Once your chosen soil amendments have had a chance to work their way into the soil, it doesn’t hurt to get another test to determine if the pH has hit the mark.
How to Plant Blueberries
The ideal time to get blueberry plants into the ground is from fall to early spring. Be conscious of how large the plants will be when they reach maturity, and space them out accordingly.
To set blueberry plants up for success, dig a planting hole that is two to three times wider than the root ball, but no deeper. Set the plant in the hole with the base of the stem above ground level. Then backfill the hole with plenty of acidic organic matter, and water in.
After the blueberry bush is planted, apply 2-3 inches of acidic organic mulch, such as partially rotted leaves, rotted pine needles, or finely ground pine bark. Acidic natural mulch will retain moisture, acidify the soil and provide nutrients as it breaks down.
Blueberries have a shallow root system and are susceptible to weed competition — another reason why mulching is a can’t-skip step.
How to Water Blueberries
As mentioned above, blueberries need well-draining soil. However, blueberries do enjoy plenty of moisture. The soil should stay as wet as a wrung-out sponge. I find a drip irrigation system is ideal for this. An inch of water during the course of a week is what to aim for.
For instructions on caring for blueberries once they are established, you can listen to my in-depth conversation with Lee Reich, Ph.D., an authority on growing fruit.
What’s your favorite variety of blueberry plant? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Exmark, Greenhouse Megastore, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Wild Alaskan Seafood Box. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.