Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), deciduous shrub, upright growth to 5-6 ft. in height with an equal spread, small pinkish white flowers produce edible berries, best in full sun to part shade, needs cool moist slightly acidic soil, mulch warm soil to protect roots, best fruit production with regular summer water.
Native to eastern North America, most blueberries grown for fruit are also handsome shrubs suitable for hedges or shrub borders. Leaves, to 3 in. long, are bronze when new, maturing to dark green, turning scarlet or yellow in fall. Tiny, urn-shaped spring flowers are white or pinkish. Summer fruit is decorative.
Blueberries thrive under conditions that suit rhododendrons and azaleas, to which they are related. They need cool,moist, well drained acid soil (pH 4.5–5.5). Where soil isn’t acidic enough, either create proper conditions in garden soil or grow in containers filled with acidic potting mix.
Though horticultural varieties of this ground cover species (V. angustifolium) exist, seedlings or wild plants are most commonly cultivated. In Maine and Canada’s Maritime provinces, fruit from wild plants is harvested in commercial quantities. Very sweet bluish-black berries mature in summer. Plants grow from a few inches high to 2 ft. tall; they spread by underground roots to cover large areas. They can thrive in poor, rocky, thin soil as long as it is acid and drains well.
Rejuvenate plants by cutting all growth back to 1-2 in. every few years.
This is one parent of hardy half-high blueberries.
Blueberry (Northern highbush)
Native from Maine to Florida, east to Louisiana. Selections of Vaccinium corymbosum, these are the blueberries found in grocery stores. Most varieties grow upright to 6 ft. or more; a few are rather sprawling and under 5 ft. The majority are northern varieties: they require definite winter cold and ripen fruit from late spring to late summer.
‘Berkeley‘. Midseason. Open, spreading, tall. Large, light blue berries.
‘Bluecrop‘. Midseason. Erect, tall growth. Large berries. Excellent flavor. Attractive shrub.
‘Blueray‘. Midseason. Vigorous, tall. Large, highly flavored, crisp berries. Attractive shrub. Tolerates more heat than ‘Bluecrop‘.
‘Chandler‘. Midseason to late. Tall, upright. Very large, sweet berries produced over a long season.
‘Darrow‘. Late. Vigorous, upright. Very large fruit, up to the size of a quarter. Heavy producer.
‘Earliblue‘. Early. Tall, erect. Large, heavy leaves. Large berries of excellent flavor.
‘Elliott‘. Late. Tall, upright. Medium to large berries of excellent flavor.
‘Ivanhoe‘. Early to midseason. Large, dark berries are firm, crisp, tart.
‘Legacy‘. Late. Unusual shrub that doesn‘t lose its leaves in winter. Will color in cold winters, but stays mostly green in mild areas. Upright, arching. Medium-size berries with fine flavor.
‘Olympia‘. Midseason. Medium-size fruit with exceptional, spicy flavor. Large, vigorous, arching bush with great fall color.
‘Rubel‘. Early to late. Erect, tall growth. Small, firm, tart berries.
‘Spartan‘. Early. Heavy bearer of large, flavorful fruit.
‘Tophat‘. Midseason. Dwarf hybrid that stays under 1 1/2 ft.; good for pots. Small fruit with mild flavor.
‘Toro‘. Midseason. Compact plant with pinkish blooms. Large, firm berries with an excellent, sprightly flavor.
These selections of Vaccinium virgatum (V. ashei) are native to the southeastern U.S. and can be grown in mild-winter areas from California to the Gulf Coast if given acid soil conditions. Unlike most blueberries, these tolerate heat. Often taller and rangier than highbush plants, growing to more than 6 ft. high and wide, they ripen large, light blue berries from May to July. Quality does not equal that of highbush blueberries, but it is still quite good. Plants have good fall color, even in warm years.
Some popular varieties include ‘Bluebelle‘,‘ Southland‘, and ‘Tifblue‘.
Blueberry (Southern highbush)
Hybrids between Vaccinium darrowii and V. corymbosum, these grow about 6 ft. tall and 5 ft. wide. They’re chosen for success in mild-winter climates and for good fruit quality. As you scan the list, don’t miss ‘Sunshine Blue’ at the bottom: it’s excellent on all counts.
‘Cape Fear’. Early to mid season. Large, light blue fruit.
‘Georgia Gem’. Midseason. Medium-size fruit.
‘Jubilee’. Early. Tall, upright. Medium to large berries with excellent flavor.
‘Misty’. Very early. Large berries with excellent flavor. Bears heavily.
‘O‘Neal’. Very early. Large, flavorful berries.
‘Sharpblue’. Early to midseason. Large, fast-growing shrub, and large, light blue berries with sweet-tart flavor.
‘Sunshine Blue’. Midseason. Compact 3-ft. shrub produces large, light blue berries with tangy flavor. Self-fruitful. Can handle less chill (just 150 hours) and higher pH than most other blueberries. Evergreen.
How to choose and grow blueberries
Blueberries thrive under conditions that suit rhododendrons and azaleas, to which they are related. They need cool, moist, well drained acid soil (pH 4.5–5.5). Where soil isn–t acidic enough, either create proper conditions in garden soil or grow in containers filled with acidic potting mix.
Set plants about 3 ft. apart for informal hedge; as individual shrubs, space at least 4–5 ft. apart.
Blueberries are available bare root or in containers. Plant in early spring in cold-winter regions, autumn in mild climates. Position the crown so that it is no deeper than 1/2 in. below the ground. Blueberries have fine roots near the soil surface; keep them moist, but don–t subject them to standing water. A 3/4-in.-thick mulch of sawdust, ground bark, or the like will protect roots, help conserve soil moisture, and keep weeds down. Don’t disturb roots by cultivating around plants.
Use acid-forming fertilizers. California growers in particular may need to correct chlorosis with iron sulfate or iron chelate.
Prune to prevent overbearing. Plants shape themselves but often produce so many fruit buds that berries are undersize and plant growth slows down. Keep first-year plants from bearing by stripping off flowers. On older plants, cut back ends of twigs to point where fruit buds are widely spaced. Or simply remove some of oldest branches each year. Also prune out all weak shoots.
Plants seldom have serious problems requiring regular control in home gardens. Netting will keep birds at bay. Plant at least two varieties for better pollination, choosing kinds that ripen at different times for a long harvest. For sufficient fruit throughout the season, allow two plants for each household member.