How to Grow Blueberries

If you like gardening, and live in a cooler climate, you might try growing your own berries. Given the right soil, berries can be very easy to grow and maintain. Strawberries are the easiest and most prolific, but raspberries and blueberries are easy as well. This article is about blueberries..

You will likely find this more "doable" in a cooler climate. The water needs for most berries are a bit much for hotter, drier climates like Texas. Berries tend to bear fruit at temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees. So If you live in a state where summer days start in the upper 70s and go up from there, you would do best to buy your berries instead!
 So, this article is based on my experience with growing blueberries in Oregon, which is a big "Berry State". Here in Oregon, you can buy 55 gallon drums of blueberries during the height of the berry season! OK, would you believe 5 and sometimes even 10 pound packages!

blueberries
blueberries

The first stage of a blueberry patch

Planting

As you see in the image, the first thing I had to do was dig up the former owner's grass! (I have an article on this - "Digging Up Grass" - which you can reach from my "Home" page.)

The first requirement is good soil! Blueberry plants, as well as any plant, grow best in rich, friable soil with lots of organic matter, usually in raised beds. I will briefly summarize the basics of prepping your soil here, however you can find this discussed in great detail in my article "Gardening Made Easy" (also accessible from a link on my Home page).

Blueberries (and probably almost all plants, given the poor soil that surrounds most homes) like raised beds. The easiest way to get a raised bed is to create mounds of a topsoil/mulch mixture. I used "Ace Potting Soil" from Ace Hardware and "Filthy Rich Mulch" (Douglas Fir based), also from Ace; the bags can be seen in the image. (We don't have Home Depot or Lowes out here on the Oregon coast!)
 Before adding the topsoil/mulch mixture, you should dig up the underlying soil a bit first, and then mix that soil in with the topsoil/mulch mixture. This way, the roots don't meet a sudden layer of hard clay soil as the plants grow.


A close-up of the blueberry bushes. This is the simplest way to have "raised beds". Just plant the bushes in mounds of amended soil (mixed with some of the existing soil). This provides drainage and helps prevent soggy root systems, but the mounds might tend to dry out faster between waterings.


So a better solution is to fill in between the mounds. Add some flagstones in between some of the mounds for access.
 TIP: If you use plant label stakes, make sure you use a Permanent marker! When Spring arrived in the next year, I noticed that all the names washed off my stakes during the winter. I had to look at these photos to see the names!

blueberries blueberries

Well, I decided that a rock border would look much nicer. So here's a pile of rocks from the nearby mountains.


And this is the finished blueberry patch. It is well to top the beds with a layer of mulch. Always top your gardens with mulch! It retains moisture and keeps the root system cool in hot weather or warm during cold winters.
 I placed coarse pine bark nuggets around the raised area.

rocks finished blueberry patch
 Some additional information:

Douglas Fir is the preferred mulch for blueberries.

The soil should be somewhat acidic: pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Using the method described above for creating raised beds should result in an appropriately acidic soil. If the new leaves are yellow on the edges, your soil may be too alkaline. Using "Dr Earth's Acid Lovers" organic fertilizer will help.

Once planted, it is well to add some organic "starter" solution, as discussed in the "Gardening Made Easy" link above. But as a very fine alternate, simply mix some of a "natural" fertilizer into the soil that you pack around the plants.

Don't forget to water your new bushes frequently! Every 3 or 4 might be in order. This helps new plants get over transplant shock more easily. A great percentage of planting failures is due to insufficient water right after planting!

Blueberries are self-pollinating, but planting several cultivars will result in larger blueberries.

During the first year after planting, I removed all but a few of the blueberries that sprouted. This allows all the energy to go into growth of the bush (but lets me get a sample of what the berry will be like).

Some cultivars for the Pacific Northwest (I used some of each one). These are all "Northern Highbush" types:

Duke

Bluecrop

Spartan

Patriot

Chandler

Some links to further information from the University of Oregon:

 Growing Blueberries in Your Home Garden

Growing Blueberries

 Blueberry Cultivars for the Pacific Northwest

Cultivars


 Want the hilarious version? Then read this take on growing blueberries!

 Redneck's Guide to Growing Blueberries   

Redneck's Guide

During the growing season

Water thoroughly once a week during dry periods of the summer, particularly when the berries are being produced. (In Oregon, there is almost no rain during the summer months!) Blueberries need anywhere from 1.5 to 3 inches of water per week during blueberry production, according to the U of Oregon article.
 If possible, direct the water spray toward the base of the bushes, so the foliage doesn't get wet. Preferably water in the morning or early afternoon, so that the bushes can dry out before nightfall. More "during the growing season" info is discussed in the paragraphs associated with the images below. This includes fertilizing, picking the berries, and the like.

Purple leaves.
 Purple leaves can mean several things, but the two most common are:

Not quite enough nitrogen. I find it helpful to fertilize a couple times during the growing season. Once in the spring and once more during the summer. Some organic fertilizers I use for blueberries are Jobe "tomato-vegetable" fertilizer (for the extra potash), and Dr Earth "Acid-loving" fertilizer.

Leaves will also turn purple after the first few autumn chills.
This picture was taken in late September, and there had been some nights in the lower 40s. So the bushes have lots of purple leaves.

purple leaves purple leaves

The following sets of images show the differences, though slight, among the individual varieties of blueberries. For some, I have pictures for "year 1" and "year 3". By "year 1" adn "year 3" I mean the first year after transplant, not the first year of growth from seed. All these bushes were purchased as container plants, usually 2 or 3 gallon size.
 These pictures aren't the best, and do not necessarily capture the differences in the berries. I will update them next year (2020).

Dukes
Here are some Dukes in July of the first year.

Dukes

Here are the Dukes in early July of the third year.

Dukes

And here's the Dukes in late July of the third year. Dukes are by far the most prolific of the varieties, and in general the smallest.

Dukes


Bluecrops
Here are some Bluecrops in July of the first year. Bluecrops are the second most prolific, and can vary in size from small to medium.
 Dukes and Bluecrops are the two most common varieties available in stores in this area.

Bluecrops


And in early July of the third year.

Bluecrops


And here's the Bluecrops in late July of the third year.

Bluecrops


Patriots
Here are some Patriots in July of the first year. Patriots tend to be larger than Dukes or Bluecrops.

Patriots


Some Patriots in late July

Patriot


Spartans
Here are some Spartans in early July. Spartans are also larger than Dukes or Bluecrops.

Spartans


Chandlers
Here is an early July picture of some Chandlers. Chandlers are almost big as grapes, and are the tastiest of all the blueberries I have tried.

Chandlers


Here is a picture of some Chandlers in late July. I forgot to get any pix when they were in full bloom. There were actually around 15-20 Chandlers in a typical grouping at full bloom

Chandlers


Another picture of Chandlers

Chandlers

Five types

Samples of the Five Types of Blueberries

So here's my take of these five varieties, based on my experience, as well as my "taste panel" of my wife, my kids, and my grandkids:

Duke

The most prolific in quantity

Usually smaller than other types

Not quite as tasty as the other types

Produce berries longer in the season than any of the others

Bluecrop

The second most prolific in quantity

Size ranges from small to medium

Good tasting, though not quite as good as the next three

Produce berries somewhat longer in the season, but not as long as the Dukes

Spartan

Larger in size than Bluecrops and Dukes

Better tasting and sweeter than Bluecrops and Dukes

Patriot

Larger in size than Bluecrops and Dukes

Better tasting and sweeter than Bluecrops and Dukes

Chandler

Largest size of all. Many are as big as grapes

Tastiest of them all

Produce berries somewhat longer in the season

General Comments:
 On the Oregon Coast, blueberries are available for harvesting from early July to mid/late August (probably a bit longer in the interior.)
 In general, the larger the blueberry, the better tasting and sweeter it is. All five types produce some larger ones, but the Spartans and Patriots have many more large berries. However almost all the Chandlers are large.
 Remember, to get large and sweet berries, water at least once a week. Be sure to water fairly deep, and try not to wet the foliage very much. So watering by hand or by drip irrigation is best.


During the other seasons

Curious what blueberries look like in the non-growing season? Here's some pix of what they look like on the Oregon coast. We are above the 45th parallel, right up there with Montana, Maine, and the like. But the winters are moderated by the Pacific Ocean and usually stay above freezing, with occasional drops to 28 F or so.

Winter
Blueberry plants are deciduous. Their leaves turn purple in the fall (picture above, after the paragraph "purple leaves").
 By January, the plants are just stalks with next season's buds showing.

in January

Early Spring
In March, the first green emerges from each bud.

in March

Late Spring
By April, the plants already have their leaves. Also they are covered with the white flowers which will become blueberries!

in April

And Finally, a Reality Check

Well, should you decide to grow your own blueberry plants, you and your family will be treated to delightful blueberries the likes of which you won't find in stores. You will really like your blueberries!
 And so will the birds.
 And so will the rabbits and chipmunks.
 Sigh. Reality's a B, ain't it?
 So if you want to eat the blueberries yourself, you'll have to secure the perimeter! If your yard is fenced, and if the fence is continuous wood slats (not alternating), and if you put blocks or rocks on the ground to fill the space between the soil and the fence, or if you staple a wire mesh along the bottom, you might keep out the rabbits (but not the chipmunks). I did staple a wire mesh with approximately 1 inch openings - but the chipmunks could glide through the mesh as if it wasn't even there!
 Then there's the aerial squadron. Can't stop that with a fence.
 But what you can do is put a net over the blueberry plants.

Here's one brand of plastic netting material

net material

I used 6 foot garden stakes and garden twine to suspend the netting over the plants and around the sides. Rocks were placed on the bottom of the net to keep the chipmunk out (this actually worked). (The rocks were placed after this picture was taken.) And two large "chip clips" were used to close the "door".

keeps the birds out

Copyright © 2019 J.A.