The blueberry shrub has become a favorite of home gardeners. It’s an attractive addition to the landscape and yields a sweet juicy fruit loaded with health benefits. What’s not to love? If growing the blueberry is something you’ve been considering, now is the time to begin this worthwhile endeavor. Ideally, plants should be set out in early spring about three or four weeks before the average date of the last frost.
Three types of blueberry can be grown in home gardens in Virginia: rabbiteye, southern highbush, and northern highbush. To provide adequate cross-pollination and to increase chances for a good crop of fruit, two or more varieties that bloom at the same time should be planted. Start with vigorous, 2-year-old plants about 15 inches high.
Select a sunny planting site that is free from low/wet spots and exposure to strong prevailing winds. Plant far enough from the roots of trees to avoid competition for moisture and nutrients. Blueberry shrubs grow best in porous, moist, sandy soils high in organic matter, with a pH range of 4.2 to 5.2. They are a shallow-rooted plant. Heavy mulch is a must to retain moisture and keep soil cool. Adequate drainage is also necessary and raised beds are often preferable.
Some varieties of blueberry will bear fruit the second year after planting. Full production is reached in about six years, with a yield of 4 to 6 quarts per plant, depending on vigor and the amount of pruning. Blueberries hang on the bushes well and are not as perishable as blackberries or raspberries. Since the sweet berry is a favorite snack of birds, consider covering the bushes with wire cages, plastic netting, or loosely woven cotton fabric cloth. A well cared for plant can provide you with delicious fruit for many years.
See Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-840, Small Fruit in the Home Garden for further information on growing blueberries and other small fruits.