A Highbush Blueberry bush growing in my garden is shown in this photo by Farmer Jer.

The Complete Guide To Growing Blueberries

Growing Blueberry bushes is not only a highly rewarding experience it’s also a delicious and healthy endeavor. Blueberries are really good for you, being antioxidants and providers of vitamins and minerals as well.  Starting blueberry plants is totally worth the effort. The bushes are fairly easy to grow in the right conditions. I’ve got several years of experience growing and harvesting organic blueberries and I’d like to share all my tips and tricks with you here today.


Blueberry General Information

A 4 year old Highbush Blueberry plant is shown growing in Farmer Jer's backyard.
A small 4 year old Highbush Blueberry bush growing in my backyard.

Name(s) of Plant

Vaccinium Cyanococcus, Blueberry Bush

Type of Plant

Perennial Flowering Bush

Kingdom

Plantae

Order

Ericales

Family

Ericaceae

Genus

Vaccinium

Section

Cyanococcus

Species/Variations

Latin/Scientific NameCommon Name(s)
Vaccinium angustifoliumLowbush Blueberry
Vaccinium borealeNorthern Blueberry
Vaccinium caesarienseNew Jersey Blueberry
Vaccinium corymbosumNorthern Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium darowiiEvergreen Blueberry
Vaccinium elliottiiElliott Blueberry
Vaccinium formosumSouthern Blueberry
Vaccinium fuscatumBlack Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium hirsutumHairy-Fruited Blueberry
Vaccinium myrsinitesShiny Blueberry
Vaccinium myrtilloidesCanadian Blueberry, Sour Top, or Velvet Leaf
Vaccinium pallidumDryland Blueberry
Vaccinium simulatumUpland Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium tenellumSouthern Blueberry
Vaccinium virgatumRabbiteye Blueberry

Close Relatives

  • Vaccinium koreanum
  • Bilberry or European Blueberry – Vaccinium myrtillus
  • Vaccinium uliginosum

Plant Origin

The blueberry is a plant native to North America, Europe and Asia in the circumpolar regions, for the most part.  The plant has been introduced to Europe for cultivation, back in the 1930s, as well as other parts of the world.

Plant Range

The blueberry is native to circumpolar regions as mentioned, but is now widely cultivated across North America, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and even New Zealand.

Blueberry Habitat

Most blueberry varieties prefer an acidic soil, from bog or marshy to alpine and woodland soil compositions.  It is a hardy plant, many varieties being able to survive winters as cold as -40℃ (-40℉).


Description of The Common Blueberry Plant

The green fruit of the Highbush Blueberry plant is shown in this photo by Jeremy Shantz.  Photo taken in Hamilton, Ontario in 2019.
The green fruit of the Highbush Blueberry plant is shown in this photo by Jeremy Shantz.

My blueberry bushes started from small, store-bought seedlings.  They were about 8” tall when I bought them. And no more than 6” wide as well.  Since their transplant to my gardens, they have grown to over 3’ tall. Not only that but they have also survived a rather nasty winter where the snow was deep enough to completely submerge the plants in snow for several months.

Blueberry bushes typically grow to between 2 and 4 feet in height, with an equal width.  The plants start to form berries after flowering, early in the summer. The berries took about a month or so to ripen on the bush.  I started harvesting in August and was able to harvest for the entire month.

Leaves

The leaves of the blueberry bush are small, from 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) in length.  They are smooth-edged and oval in shape. Typically the leaves will turn red and drop off the bush in the fall.  The leaves are deciduous and firm.

Flower Color

The flowers of most blueberries are usually white or off-white.  Some variations have flowers which go from either a pinkish white to a bluish or purplish white.  The flowers sprout from scaly buds and are droopy and bell-shaped.

Blooming

Blueberry bushes bloom in June through to July typically, but this can have some variance depending on the specific strain of blueberry you are growing.  The flowers are small and grow in bunches. The flowers are usually white or off-white in color and shaped similar to wine glasses.


Blueberry Growing Techniques

The really great thing about growing blueberries here in Southern Ontario, is that they grow here naturally.  So, I really don’t have to do a whole lot to grow them. There are a few things you can do to help them along and to help increase your yield of berries.  Let’s take a look at some of the basics of growing blueberries starting with the soil

Soil pH

Acidic, Semi-Acidic 

Soil Type

Blueberry likes a bit of clay and sand, but not more than about 10%, but otherwise a semi-packed normal mix is fine.  This is a hardy bush that can take a bit of variety, just try not to shock it too much. I use a mix of 25% black mulch/earth, 25% peat moss, 50% standard ‘vegetable’ garden potting soil.  Then mix that in a 50/50 mix with the existing dirt in the area of the yard where you are planting your blueberry. This way you are kind of introducing the roots to a good, yummy mix of soil it will like and whatever the soil in the area is.  That’s how I look at it. This method worked really well for planting my blueberries and so I recommend it.

The preference of blueberry plants is a well-drained soil.  They can tolerate a low nitrogen and like it a bit sandy. The organic matter should be high (about 5%-7%) to provide a decent amount of nutrients via the decaying matter.

Light

Blueberries like direct sunlight.  However, if it gets really hot, they tend to dry in the hot sun, so keeping on top of their watering is important.  My blueberries all get direct sun from about 10am (due to the angle of the shadow cast from my house), until about 3pm when the shadow from my fence takes over the sunlight.  With this amount of direct sunlight, my blueberries thrived.

Watering

With watering, I found that blueberries prefer a slightly moist soil with a weekly or biweekly soak.  They don’t mind it wet, but if you don’t want moldy soil, then just give them a good soak once a week and they should do just fine. 

In case of heat wave, water accordingly.  There was a couple of weeks I remember where it was really hot (around 35℃ or 95℉) for about 2 weeks with zero rain.  One of my blueberry bushes was missed on a watering and lost about 15% of the plant from drying out. I watered the rest on a cycle of every 2 days to make sure they survived the heat.  

Watering Tips:  1) Make sure when you water that you don’t spray the whole plant, just water at the base.  This helps to avoid many types of diseases like powdery mildew and fungus. 2) Don’t be afraid to let the soil top surface dry out a little bit for a day or two before you water again.  Letting the top 1” or so of soil dry out will help prevent unwanted mold growth in the soil.


Common Diseases Of The Blueberry

Blueberries, like any other plants, have a variety of afflictions which can affect them.  The worst enemy of the blueberry plant is fungus. There are also several bacteria that aren’t too kind to the blueberry either  Here are five of the most common problems faced by blueberry growers.

Fungal Diseases Of The Blueberry

When growing blueberries, sometimes if there is a lot of rain then fungal disease can strike. Here are some facts about some of the more common afflictions.

Anthracnose or Ripe Rot 
  • Caused by fungus Colletotrichum acutatum
  • The Spores infect the berries when they are still green
  • Rotting symptoms show on ripe fruit

Symptoms:  Sticky, orange masses appear on infected berries.  Typically after harvest, when in storage. Appearance is like an orange marmalade smeared on withering berries.

During blooming, you may see yellow tiny spores coming out from the blooming stems and buds on the stalk of the blueberry plant.  This is the spore stage of the disease showing. Typically you will see this in the spring if a plant is infected. The spores spread via touch, so rain and splashing water can spread the spores.  If you see this, you can rinse the plant with a food safe fungicide to kill the spores.

Prevention:  Keep the bushes pruned for maximum light coverage and good ground airflow.  Like most fungus and mold, a well-ventilated top soil will help prevent and kill these sorts of diseases that prefer moist environments.  

Treatment:  Using a food safe fungicide to kill and prevent this disease can be applied as long as it is a food safe type.

Mummy Berry
  • Caused by fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi
  • Disease spreads via airborne spores
  • Spores are created in warm, moist conditions.

Symptoms: The first sign of this disease is blighted leaves on the plant itself.  These will wither and droop and in warm and moist conditions, tiny protrusions of the fungus form (conidia) and spread spores.  These spores get onto flowers and infect them. Then the flowers create infected fruit. The fruit dies and withers, turning grayish while still on the plant.  The dead ‘mummy’ fruit fall to the ground where they grow more of the conidia and spread the spores again, starting the cycle over again.

Prevention:  Again, like with Ripe Rot, keep the top 1” of the soil dry and well-ventilated.  This disease requires moist and warm conditions to spread. If the climate is moist and warm, then make sure you remove any withering leaves and any leaves or fruit on the ground below.  Maintaining regular pruning and landscaping practises to help promote drainage, ventilation, sun exposure and reduce standing water, all contribute to preventing fungus and mold growth.

Treatment:  Again, a food safe fungicide will work to eliminate this disease when combined with good preventive practises.

Phytophthora Root Rot
  • Caused by Phytophthora species, a microscopic, fungus-like organism.

Symptoms:  Sparse and withering foliage.  If dug up, roots will be significantly smaller than normal and often show signs of distress.

Prevention:  Keep the soil well-drained.  This disease is caused by overwatering or soil that holds water and cannot drain well.

Bacterial Disease

Bacterial – Crown Gall

A gall is a knobby growth caused by a foreign intruder such as a bacteria, is shown in this photo.
A plant infected with a gall caused by a bacteria. Source: Wikipedia: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2013904
  • Caused by the soilborne bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
  • Infects the plant via the stem and roots.  
  • Causes knobby galls to form on the plant.
  • The disease is spread via direct contact.  This can occur from infected tools, soils, other plants brushing against it.  It can spread from rain splashing the bacterium from one infected plant to a healthy plant.  It can even spread via water moving through the soil.

Symptoms:  As mentioned, knobby galls grow like tumors out of the plant stalks.

Prevention:  Avoid planting in known contaminated areas.  Keep soil management practises at a maximum and prune any infected areas.  Avoid cross contamination of the disease by sterilizing equipment and tools.  Disease is spread by the bacteria migrating physically and so treat the area as you would a contaminated raw meat in your kitchen.  Avoid contaminating other areas by allowing water to splash or spread from infected plants to healthy plants.

Prevention:  There are no known ways of preventing this disease as it is bacterial in nature, other than attempt to control spread if disease manifests.

Soil Treatment:  Rotate a known infested area to a grass crop only for 2-3 years to sterilize soil of the bacteria.  In extreme cases, soil solarization may be necessary. This is when you tarp the area in the hottest part of the summer with a clear tarp so the sun ‘bakes’ the earth underneath.  The process takes 1-2 months in the hottest part of the summer.

Plant Treatment:  Infected stalks must be removed and destroyed.  Wounds in the bark of the plants must be sealed to prevent infection.  Infection can only, or rather will occur most prevalently when a wound in the plant bark allows penetration of the bacteria.

Pests

This squirrel tried to take my phone a second after taking this photo closeup of the squirrel.
My little squirrel buddy.

I had to put this picture of the squirrel on here.  He tried to grab my phone during the taking of this picture.  Now, I’ve seen squirrels around my blueberries, but I don’t think they have really been a problem with taking fruit.  The problem I’ve had with squirrels is digging up near the base of the bush and exposing the roots. I’ve found peanuts buried in the roots of my blueberry bushes after I saw some of the leaves on one side of the plant wilting.  The roots had all been exposed from a digging squirrel. That’s why I’ve added a fencing around my blueberries.

The biggest pest issues I’ve faced with growing blueberries is with birds.  Keep a fence around your bushes because if the fruit is about to be ripe enough to pick, the birds discover it and they will decimate your blueberries in a single day.  It happened to me the first year I had blueberries produce fruit. A simple chicken wire fence to protect the plants and problem solved.


Blueberry History

It is believed that blueberries emerged at the retreat of the glaciers, during the end of the last ice age.  The first blueberries would have been found about 10,000 years ago in the areas of the state of Maine, the provinces of Eastern Canada and into the Canadian province of Quebec.

The Wabanaki tribes of the region were the first humans thought to have taken advantage of this super fruit.  They used the fruit both dried, and fresh, for its high nutritional value and healing properties.


Plant Uses:

Aesthetic

The blueberry bush is an attractive low height bush that typically does not grow taller than 1 meter or three feet, in general.  It has cute, green leaves and with the bright blue berries that the bush provides, it can be a very aesthetic addition to any garden.  The bush does need about a meter or 3 feet in both width and height to grow, so keep that in mind when planting.

Culinary

What’s In A Blueberry

Blueberries are awesome little power houses stocked full of goodness.  Let’s take a look at what you get from a container of blueberries that is 100g (3.5 oz).  According to the USDA, here is what you get:

Blueberry ‘Basic Ingredients’ Breakdown
Blueberry Basics BreakdownTotals
Energy240 kJ (57 kcal)
Carbohydrates14.49 g
Sugars9.96 g
Dietary Fiber2.4 g
Fat0.33 g
Protein0.74 g
Water84 g
Vitamins In Blueberries

And for the same 100g of blueberries, this is what you get out of it, in terms of vitamins.

VitaminsQuantity% Daily Value
Vitamin A equiv.     beta -Carotene     Lutein zeaxanthin
32 μg80 μg

0%
Vitamin A54 IU
Thiamine (B1)0.037 mg3%
Riboflavin (B2)0.041 mg3%
Niacin (B3)0.418 mg3%
Pantothenic acid (B5)0.124 mg2%
Vitamin B60.052 mg4%
Folate (B9)6 μg2%
Vitamin C9.7 mg12%
Vitamin E0.57 mg4%
Vitamin K19.3 μg18%
Minerals In Blueberries

And lastly, again from the USDA, here are the minerals you’ll find in 100g of blueberries.

MineralsQuantity% Daily Value
Calcium6 mg1 %
Iron0.28 mg2 %
Magnesium6 mg2 %
Manganese0.336 mg16 %
Phosphorus12 mg2 %
Potassium77 mg2 %
Sodium1 mg0 %
Zinc0.165 mg2 %

Recommended Blueberry Recipe

Blueberry Tape

Remember the fruit roll up thingy from the 80’s?  That processed fruit leather like product that was supposed to be semi-not bad for you?  Well, I make a version of this that IS actually good for you.  And when you are growing blueberries yourself, it makes it that much more rewarding.

I love this recipe.  It lets you store the raw goodness of blueberries for some time.  I roll it up and freeze it so I can thaw it out months later and eat it.  It’s a great way to keep the fruit for the winter, without having to turn it into a jam where you would add a bunch of sugar.

Ingredients

4 cups organic blueberries

1 tsp finely crushed, baked organic dandelion root

2 tbsp organic honey

½ cup organic rosehip juice or syrup

½ tsp finely crushed organic chamomile

A small amount of water as needed

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a blender to make a toothpaste like consistency paste.  

Note on the baked dandelion root:  If you can’t find the dandelion root ready to use, pick up some whole organic dandelions from your favorite grocery or local produce provider.  Cut off and clean the roots and bake at 300 degrees until they are dried out. Then you can chop and grind them into a fine powder for cooking.

Once you have the paste, spread it out on parchment paper and make about ⅛- ¼” thick layer.  You can use a dehydrator or put in the oven if you don’t have a dehydrator. If using an oven, put the parchment on an oven tray, spread a thin layer of the paste and bake at what will likely be the lowest setting on your oven.  I like to set mine to 95℉ (35℃) which is barely on. The process takes my oven about a day and a half at that temperature. You can experiment with temperatures, but you don’t want to heat it very much or two things will happen.

Too much heat?

First, it will get runny and could escape your pan if the pan isn’t deep enough (that made a huge mess the first time I tried this!  Yikes!).

Second, the hotter the mix gets, the more the raw nutrients break down from being put through the cooking process. The idea is this is a raw fruit recipe, so keep the temperature low. You could probably try it at around 122℉ (50℃). I haven’t yet, so if you do, don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me how it worked out.  

Once your paste has dried, it should be relatively easy to peel off the paper. Then you can use a knife to cut it into strips. You can roll up these strips of fruit tape for eating later. Store in a cool, dry place. I usually freeze my rolls of tape in ziploc bags and thaw by leaving out on a plate with a piece of parchment covering to prevent any dust landing on the tape while it thaws. You don’t want them thawing in any way that will add moisture back or your tape will turn back into a paste.


Medicinal Uses For Blueberries

Blueberries (not to be confused with Bilberries) have been used for a treating a variety of medical issues.  From cataracts and glaucoma to multiple sclerosis and urinary tract infections, blueberries have found solid ground with the medical community.

Known for their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, blueberries are widely considered to be what is known as a super fruit.  Blueberries have not been manipulated by genetic tampering (they are typically all non-GMO) because mother nature has already made a near perfect fruit bush and it grows extremely well in many parts of the world.  Add in it’s got a lot of great vitamins and minerals in it so it is generally a good idea to add some blueberries to your diet.

Despite the many blogs and different sites that state that blueberries can be used as a treatment, from what the medical sites like emedicinehealth.com and others state is that there is insufficient studies and evidence to prove blueberries are effective as a treatment for anything.  The only fact I could find cited was that blueberries have been shown to lower blood sugar slightly.


Frequently Asked Questions About Blueberries

Are blueberries easy to grow?

Yes.  As long as you have soil that is well-drained and slightly acidic.  If you do, then blueberry plants will pretty much take care of themselves without the need for pesticides or fertilizers.  Just keep them pruned and keep the soil drained and they should thrive.

How long does it take to grow a blueberry bush?

Most blueberry varieties take between 2 and 4 years before the plant will produce fruit.  The experience I have with the highbush variety was 3 years old before the bushes started making fruit.

Do blueberries need full sun to grow?

Yes.  Blueberries do best when provided with a minimum of full sun for ¾ or 75% of the daytime.  Less than this will result in poor growth and poor yield for the blueberry plants.

Where is the best place to plant blueberry bushes?

The best place to plant a blueberry bush is on a slightly elevated area with good drainage and full sun.  As mentioned, the blueberry prefers a slightly acidic soil but the drainage is the most important as the majority of health issues that affect the blueberry stem from wet soil that doesn’t drain well.  Blueberry bushes should be planted about 1 meter or 3 feet apart.

Are eggshells good for blueberry plants?

Yes, eggshells are good for your blueberry plants.  Eggshells break down slowly. This makes them an excellent slow release source of calcium.  They also don’t affect the soil pH like lime does, so they won’t ‘burn’ the roots of your plants.

Do you need two blueberry bushes to produce fruit?

No.  Blueberry bushes are self-pollinating and thus do not require multiple plants in order to produce fruit.  The berries are absolutely fantastic to eat for breakfast and growing them yourself makes them that much better.  I highly recommend it.

Bibliography

  1. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/long-blueberry-plants-produce-60750.html
  2. https://www.almanac.com/plant/blueberries
  3. http://extension.missouri.edu/blueberry/documents/Shared_Documents/MOBBSchool/MOBBSchoolConf12/SchilderOverviewBlueberryDisease10_19_12.pdf
  4. https://www.extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_docs/programs/viticulture/Managing(and%20Avoiding!)BlueberryDiseasesAD0207Update1111.pdf
  5. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/crop-production/berries/blueberry-bacterial-fungal-diseases
  6. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=542
  7. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/blueberry/vitamins-supplements.htm

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