By Melinda Myers
Blueberries are a summer favorite, great for snacking, baking, topping your oatmeal and so much more. This nutritious fruit also adds a bit of brain power to your diet and beauty to your landscape with spring blooms, fall color and, of course, tasty and colorful fruit.
Blueberries are one of the most nutritional foods loaded with antioxidants that fight cancer, disease and the effects of aging while helping preserve your eyesight. Boost the benefits by growing your own blueberries. The act of gardening helps strengthen our muscles, increase flexibility, fights stress and boosts our mood.
Do a bit of research to find the best blueberry for your garden and dining pleasure. Planning ahead prepares you for placing your order when you are ready to plant. Anxious gardeners can put their research to work immediately. Blueberry plants are still available from some nurseries for those who are ready to plant now.
Select the blueberry plants suited to your growing conditions. Northern highbush blueberries are productive and suited to moderate climates with at least two months of temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Southern highbush blueberries only need 200-300 hours of 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to produce fruit. This makes them a good choice for those gardening in milder climates. Lowbush blueberries are low-growing varieties native to Northeastern United States. Half-high blueberries are a cross between low and high bush blueberries, tolerating -35 to -45 degrees Fahrenheit, making them a good option for colder climates. Rabbit-eye blueberries are large shrubs and suited to areas with long, hot summers and mild winters.
Newer compact varieties allow small space gardeners, apartment dwellers and those with less-than-ideal soil the opportunity to grow their own blueberries. These smaller plants are suitable for containers as well as the garden. In addition to their compact size and tasty fruit, several have attractive foliage, adding to their ornamental appeal. The Leaves of Pink Icing variety is a mix of pink, blue and deep green. Boxwood enthusiasts will enjoy the foliage and dark blue fruit of Blueberry Buckle. And for those who cannot get enough fruit, check out Perpetua that produces two crops a year.
Find a sunny, well-drained location where your plants will thrive, produce a bountiful harvest and you can enjoy their beauty. Although most blueberries are self-fertile (you only need one plant to produce fruit), you’ll get better results when growing several in your landscape or containers. Consider including several varieties with different ripening dates to extend the harvest season.
Blueberries are particular about their growing conditions. They prefer moist, well-drained and acidic soils. Properly prepare the soil by adding organic matter like compost, aged manure or peat to the planting bed. Or grow your blueberries in a container filled with quality potting mix. Water in-ground and container plantings often enough to keep the soil moist. Mulch the soil with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or shredded bark to keep the roots cool and moist and add organic matter to the soil as the mulch breaks down.
And do not forget to protect your harvest from hungry birds. Cover plantings with netting or try scare tactics to keep the birds and other wildlife from devouring your harvest.
Once you harvest your first ripe blueberry, you will discover there is nothing better than the flavor and satisfaction of consuming something you grew yourself.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment program. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.