Michael S. Thompson
Besides producing mouthwatering fruit, blueberries are handsome bushes that do well as hedges, borders, and container plants. They perform best in sun but will also succeed in light shade.
Lowbush blueberries (Zones 34, 37-45), native to Maine and Canada's Maritime Provinces, grow from a few inches to 2 feet tall and spread by underground roots. They have been hybridized with highbush varieties to produce half-high blueberries that reach 2 to 4 feet tall; selections of these include 'North Country' and 'Northblue'.
Highbush blueberries include varieties such as 'Bluecrop', 'Patriot', and 'Jersey'. They grow 5 to 6 feet tall (or taller). Most are northern varieties requiring definite winter cold; they succeed in Zones 4-6, 17, 32, 34-43. Southern highbush varieties, including 'Cape Fear' and 'Georgia Gem', are better adapted to warm winters and hot summers. They are good performers in Zones 25, 26, 28, 31, 33.
Rabbiteye blueberries, suitable to Zones 26 (upper portion), 28, 31, and 33, are adapted to hot, humid summers and mild winters. They are often taller than highbush plants.
For better pollination ― resulting in larger berries and higher yields ― grow at least two varieties of blueberries. Selecting varieties that ripen at different times (early, midseason, and late) will give you fruit from late spring into August.
Planting and care
Blueberries must have highly acidic soil (pH between 3.5 and 5) rich in organic matter. Space plants 4 to 5 feet apart. An extra-thick (4- to 6-inch) mulch of sawdust, ground bark, or other organic material will help keep the shallow roots moist. Use an acid-forming fertilizer, such as a blend formulated for rhododendrons and azaleas.
Blueberries often produce so many fruit buds that the bushes' growth is stunted and the berries are undersized. To help plants get established, it's a good idea to keep first-year plants from bearing at all by stripping off their buds. On older plants, cut back twig ends during dormancy to the point where flower buds are widely spaced.
Pests and diseases
Blueberries are usually free from serious problems. Netting will keep birds from getting the berries before you do.