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!


The first stage of a blueberry patch


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! (And, it helps to lightly sand the label stakes as well.) 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.

 These bushes were planted in 2018. To see what they looked like 1 and 4 years later, please see the bottom of the page.

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 days might be in order, or every 2 or 3 days if there is no rain. 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:






Some links to further information from the University of Oregon:

 Growing Blueberries in Your Home Garden

Growing Blueberries

 Blueberry Cultivars for the Pacific Northwest


 I used to have a link to a hilarious version: "Redneck's Guide to Growing Blueberries". But, alas it's gone. So I had to remove the link.

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 "Chandler" variety can have purple leaves from time to time, and this is apparently normal for the variety. Here's a newly-purchased Chandler plant (which was a bit spindly when I bought it).

And here's my established Chandlers. In late July some of their leaves had purple splotches, and yet none of my other varieties did so.

purple leaves purple leaves

On watering (!):

 In Oregon, the rainy season runs from September to May or June. But the rains sometimes begin to be intermittent in May, in drier years. There may be quite a few days of rain, but the amount might be a tenth of an inch or so each day. Don't let this fool you! This is not enough water for blueberry plants that are starting their Spring growth!
 The image on the right shows what could happen if you think "Oh, the blueberries are getting plenty of rain." And those were my prized Chandlers!
 In May, blueberry plants are producing their berries as well as their leaves, and they must have that 1.5 to 3 inches discussed above. So supplemental watering is in order unless the rains have been fairly substantial.

Not enough water

Here is a Chandler bush that I didn't water soon enough. The winter rains were tapering off, but had not yet stopped. I should have begun supplemental watering about a week or two before this picture was taken. Chandlers are particularly sensitive to absense of water when producing the berries in the early spring. Thus, many of the berries shriveled up!

As a corollary to this, make SURE you add mulch in the early spring, to help keep the soil moist.

water mulch

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" and "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. Some better ones, taken in 2020, are below the first four sets of pictures.

Here are some Dukes in July of the first year.


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


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.


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.


And in early July of the third year.


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


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


Some Patriots in late July


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


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.


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


Another picture of Chandlers


And here are some Dukes in July of the fourth year. Some Dukes can get as big as Bluecrops if you give 'em sufficient water.


Some Bluecrops in July of the fourth year. Most Bluecrops can get pretty big as well, with good watering (say every 4 - 5 days)


And some Patriots in July of the fourth year.


Some Spartans in July of the fourth year.
 Alas: No giant Chandlers! They suffered a setback due possibly to lack of water in late spring (SEE the blurb "On Watering" above.)


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:


The most prolific in quantity

(First year:) Usually smaller than other types. (Subsequent years:) Size ranges from small to medium)

(First year:) Not quite as tasty as the other types. (Subsequent years:) Given enough, water, can be every bit as tasty as the others)

Produce berries longer in the season than any of the others


The second most prolific in quantity

Size ranges from small to medium

(First year:) Not quite as tasty as the other types. (Subsequent years:) Given enough, water, can be every bit as tasty as the others)

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


Larger in size than Bluecrops and Dukes

Better tasting and sweeter than Bluecrops and Dukes


(First year:) Larger in size than Bluecrops and Dukes. (Subsequent years:) Size ranges from small to medium.

Better tasting and sweeter than Bluecrops and Dukes


Largest size of all. Many are as big as grapes

Tastiest of them all

Produce berries somewhat longer in the season

Chandlers MUST have extra water in the Spring when the rains taper off.

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 (UPDATED 2022: Watering every 5 days seems to help produce larger blueberries.) 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.

Comments Update 2022
 The above comments were made after the first year of growth. I may have prematurely dissed the Dukes and the Bluecrops on their taste and size. In 2022, the Spring was unusually cool and rainy, and it appears that weather and moisture just might have a bigger influence on berry quality than I first might have thought.
 After the cool and rainy Spring, the blueberries did not come out until early July - as might be expected. But their characteristics were different than described above:

The Patriots were smaller this year, but still as tasty as the others.

Both the Dukes and the Bluecrops (and the Spartans) were among the larger of the berries produced, and their taste was actually right up there with the Spartans and Patriots.

Nonetheless the Chandlers were still big as watermelons and still tasted a bit better than all the others. (OK, big as grapes at least. . .)

Patriots compared to Dukes and Bluecrops

Dukes and Bluecrops compared to Chandlers

update 2022 update 2022

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.

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.
 Winter (December, January, February) is the time to prune your blueberries. See below these three images.

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


I'm usually not too fond of pruning plants, preferring to let them grow naturally. But pruning is a necessity for blueberries. If blueberries remain unpruned for several years, the blueberry production is drastically reduced, and - in the case of Chandlers at least - may in fact stop altogether!
 Blueberry plants put out new shoots each summer. So we want to encourage this by removing stalks that have produced blueberries for several seasons. So how do you tell which is which, especially in the winter when all the leaves are gone?

The new shoots are smooth and reddish. They will also have lots of small buds which grow larger as Spring approaches.

The older stalks have become "woody", and look like plain ol' tree branches. The goal is to remove some but not all of these stalks (unless some new shoots have emerged along the length of the stalk). I show this in the images below, using "Before" and "After" pictures.


So we can see that the new growth is red (maybe not as red as these pictures show - I have enhanced them for better contrast.) The older growth looks like tree branches. Some agricultural extension articles use the term "twiggy" to describe them.
 We want to remove some of these branch-like stalks.

As seen here, two stalks on the left have been removed. Apparently it is not desireable to remove all of the older stalks, just one or two main ones. Two smaller stalks on the lower right have been removed. We are also cleaning up some of the smaller growth (not new shoots!) as well.


Here's another bush with some older stalks.

A couple of the older stalks have been removed as seen here.


Here's another bush. This one has quite a bit of smaller growth near the bottom that can be removed.

We have removed one of the older "woody" branches, but retained two others because new shoot have emerged from them.
 This picture is taken from a different angle! Note that the yellow plastic label which was toward the back of the "Before" image is now facing right. The branch on the right in the "Before" image (with the new red shoot emerging) is on the left side of the "After" image.


Another "Before", with two larger woody stalks.

Here it is after pruning. Note again that the goal is not to remove ALL of the woody growth branches.


Another example

We removed a large woody branch as well as a smaller one, but retained a large woody branch. Also, the short woody branch on the back side was left because it actually has two new red shoots emerging from it.


Here's some pictures of the results of pruning (taken during the following summer).
There are a couple of ways that new shoots may appear in the Spring after pruning:

Several new shoots will emerge from the base of the plant in the spring. There can actually be quite a few of these!

New shoots may emerge from the remaining woody branches particularly if you have only cut off part of one.


This picture shows two new green shoots emerging from a partially cut woody branch. One of the new shoots is near the bottom of the woody branch, and another emerges on the left side of the branch toward the middle of the picture.

And here is a large green stalk and a smaller one growing out of a pruned branch.


Here's three or four young shoots emerging from a cut branch, along with some new shoots coming out of the base of the bush.

And this Bluecrop bush is sporting 7 or 8 new green shoots, which produced boatloads of berries during the summer immediately following the pruning. Note that these bushes are 4 years old, and are very prolific!


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 chipmunks out (this actually worked). (The rocks were placed after this picture was taken.) And two large "chip clips" were used to close the "door".

This is how the blueberry bushes looked like as of 2019, one year after planting..

keeps the birds out

And this is what the blueberry bushes looked like in 2022.

berries 2022

Copyright © 2022 J.A.