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Everything You Need to Know About Growing Blueberries

There is no easier fruit to grow here on the "wet coast" than blueberries, much in part to their love of acidic soils and tolerance of cooler springs. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few important cultural points to note before you plant; so, to help you out, here are the most common questions I encounter when selling them, followed by succinct answers.

What are the best blueberries to plant?

The "best" is a rather subjective term that may encompass flavour, production or health benefits. My top three selling highbush blueberries are ‘Duke’ (best flavour, in my opinion), ‘Bluecrop’ (high production), and ‘Chandler’ (large, quarter-sized berries). For health benefits try ‘Elliot’, which is slightly tart but very high in antioxidants and vitamins.

Do you need two blueberries for cross-pollination?

Most blueberries are actually self-fertile (meaning a solitary plant can produce fruit) but cross-pollinating with a different variety that blooms at the same time will increase your yield and the individual berry size. So, if you are planting more than one blueberry bush, purchase multiple varieties.

When and how do you prune blueberries?

Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are best pruned in late winter (late February to early March), removing about 20% of the older wood on mature plants (prune to green new shoots) so that over a period of about five years, you totally rejuvenate the production wood. Keep in mind that blueberries overwinter their flower buds, and contour pruning (removing the entire top portion) will only negate that year’s crop, so selectively prune those older branches. Younger blueberry bushes need little pruning beyond the heading back of excessively long upright branches, in order to force side growth.

Are there different flavours of blueberries?

Actually, there are a few hybrids that provide a unique flavour, one of which is an old variety (bred way back in 1934) and a sister plant to ‘Bluecrop’. ‘Razz’ has been reintroduced and features a distinct raspberry-blueberry flavour that was achieved through normal breeding practises and was not genetically modified. Your other option here is ‘Pink Lemonade’ pictured above, a Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei or virgatum) hybrid, which produces bright pink berries -- that look great in fruit salads! -- with an unusual lemon-blueberry flavour. This variety definitely requires cross-pollination.

When do you fertilize blueberries?

If you have rich soil and healthy blueberries then once a year, usually in March or April, is usually enough. I recommend a granular fruit tree and berry fertilizer with a low nitrogen but high phosphorus and potassium component, such as 4-20-20. This will also provide essential micronutrients such as Boron, which helps with fruit development. For those with languishing plants, sandy soils or less-than-ideal conditions, you can fertilize a second time in early fall. Spring is also a good time to topdress your blueberries with compost or Sea Soil, just avoid using mushroom manure as it has lime and will raise the pH.

Can you grow wild blueberries?

While we have quite a few species of wild blueberries in British Columbia, the two most common ones you are likely to encounter at a garden centre are known as Huckleberries. Both Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) and Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) are both in the Ericaceae family like Blueberries but have delicious red and black berries, respectively. While our native Oval-Leaf Blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) is a common sight in local parks like Whonnock Lake, it can be hard to find as a nursery plant.

Are there blueberries that produce all season, like everbearing strawberries?

In a word, no, but there are repeat-cropping varieties such as ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Perpetua’ which produce a summer crop and another in early fall. Standard blueberries also have an early (‘Duke’, ‘Patriot’), mid (‘Top Hat’, ‘Bluecrop’), or late (‘Legacy’, ‘Elliott’) season, so by planting multiple varieties you can pick fresh berries from July to September.

Can you grow blueberries in containers?

There are a number of compact blueberries that thrive in containers such as ‘Tophat’, a lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) hybrid that only grows 24-30” tall. A multitude of excellent cultivars can also be found in the Bushel and Berry line including ‘Jelly Bean’, ‘Blueberry Glaze’ and ‘Silver Dollar’ which range in heights from 24-36” tall.

Are there ornamental blueberries that I can incorporate into a mixed border?

Blueberries have many ornamental aspects, not the least being great autumn colour, such as that found in ‘Blueberry Glaze’ and others like Vaccinium angustifolium. Many of the Bushel and Berry series also have ornamental foliage including ‘Peach Sorbet’, ‘Pink Icing’, and the boxwood-like ‘Blueberry Glaze’ or ‘Berrybux’. Last but not least, the new growth on Evergreen Huckleberry is an eye-catching coppery-red.

Why are my blueberry leaves turning yellow?

If you have yellow leaves with green veins, then you have chlorosis due to an iron deficiency. What this usually means is that your pH is too high (making the iron unavailable) from either liming your lawn and getting some under the blueberries or planting them near a new concrete patio or sidewalk where the lime from the fresh cement will temporarily raise the pH. Use aluminum sulphate to lower the pH and your foliage should start to green soon afterwards.

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