Blueberries are, you know, blue, and that fact sets them apart because there aren't many blue fruits or veggies out there. Yes, there's blue corn and blue potatoes. But ask a kindergartner to color an ear of corn or a potato and chances are they won't reach for a blue crayon. And the best part: you can have Mother Nature's blue treat as close as your backyard. Growing blueberries is easy no matter the size of your garden.
Why grow your own?
You go to the grocery store. You see the beautiful blueberries in the clear plastic container. So, why not just buy those berries? Because even if you only have a small urban patio you have enough room to grow blueberries. Also, blueberries appear pretty high up on the Environmental Working Group's list of produce most heavily treated with pesticides. Yuck. Not to mention those little plastic tubs can be pretty darn pricey.
Plus, imagine the satisfaction you'll feel when you proudly drop a handful of your homegrown blueberries into pancakes at your next brunch.
image of blueberries growing in container via Shutterstock
Growing Blueberries in Containers in 5 Simple Steps
I have a large garden, but when it comes to blueberries I don't use it. You see, a blueberry bush growing in my backyard is like a giant flashing golden arches sign for every woodland critter in my neighborhood. Even though I grew blueberries for years, I never ate a single one of those berries until I grew them in containers because rabbits, birds, and deer always found them first.
"You want me to come with my gun?" my crusty but well-intentioned neighbor asks. "Um, no, that's fine. You can keep your firearms on your property," I say backing away. My non-NRA solution? Growing blueberries in containers near my house where animals are less likely to forage.
1. Collect supplies
You'll need a large (5 gallon) pot. The larger the pot, the bigger the bush's root system will be and therefore you'll have more berries. A clay pot works well because it breathes. Choose a pot that is any color other than black because a black pot will attract and trap heat.
Select a blueberry bush from your local nursery. You have a lot of choice when it comes to the variety of blueberry you choose. Choose a variety that is native to your area.
If your blueberry bush container will be on a patio then consider choosing a couple southern highbush varieties because this will encourage bees to cross pollinate for better flavor and higher yield harvests. Most blueberry varieties are self-pollinating so this isn't a concern for other growing locations.
You can grow blueberries in either amended soil or a soil-less mixture. If you grow in soil, combine half peat moss and half high quality soil that contains compost. If you don't have peat moss on hand then amend the soil-compost mix with sulfur. Blueberries need soil with a pH of 4.0-5.5.
If you choose a soil-less growing medium then combine one-third pine bark, one-third perlite, and one-third sphagnum/peat moss.
2. Prepare pot and growing medium
Place a couple handfuls of golf ball to plum sized stones at the bottom of your pot to aid drainage and prevent root rot.
Fill the pot with your growing medium but leave room for the blueberry bush.
3. Place blueberry bush in pot
Remove the blueberry bush from its plastic nursery pot and pinch the soil at the bottom of the plant to loosen its roots.
Place the bush so that its crown (where the plant stem meets the roots) is not buried. Aim to have the crown a few centimeters above the soil line. Once you water, it will be flush with the soil line. If you bury the crown it will bring up too much water to the branches which prefer to be dry.
4. Continue care and pruning
Water the blueberry bush but avoid over watering because this will cause fungus and root rot. Stick your finger one inch deep in the soil. If it feels dry then it's time to water.
Feed the blueberry bush with sulfur and compost four weeks after planting. Three weeks later feed with a quick release sulfur such as Miracid.
Once your blueberry bush is established, trim low, dried twigs but leave new growth. Pinch off the first year's blossoms to encourage the plant's energy to go into growing a larger, healthier plant for future harvests.
5. Prepare for winter
In the fall, dig a large hole in the ground and bury the whole blueberry container. The top of the pot should be level with the ground. This will insulate the roots through the cold winter.
If you are an apartment dweller who doesn't have a patch of ground to bury the container in, then you'll need a tomato cage, leaves and burlap to wrap the blueberry bush and insulate it through the winter. Learn more about how to do this here.
Planting blueberries in your garden
If you choose to plant blueberries directly in your garden then choose a location then gets 6-8 hours of sun each day. Amend your garden's soil with the same amendments discussed in step 1 above.
How to grow blueberries? Drop some acid.
As you can see from this map, the US is a great producer of blueberries. Why? In my home state of Maine (where we proudly produce over 80 million pounds of wild blueberries each year) it's because of our acidic soil.
map via Reddit
So, if you want to have a successful blueberry harvest it's worth investing in a soil test to ensure that the ph level is acidic enough.
Go away! Preventing large pests
Remember those woodland critters mentioned earlier? I chose to deal with these pests by growing blueberries in containers (no guns needed). If you want to grow blueberries in a garden that is frequented by critters, then you'll need a few more tools.
Consider these options:
Cage your blueberry bushes by placing four vertical posts (i.e. wood or metal stakes) around the bush and then wrapping with a mesh cloth.
Build a fence that is at least 8 feet high. It needs to be this tall because a determined deer can jump 12 feet high.
Employ a natural repellent such as soap, human hair, or cat hair. You can also buy a natural repellent that contains eggs and garlic.
Hanging aluminum pie tins around the bushes may scare away deer. Predator decoys may also scare away smaller critter like rabbits.
Have you grown blueberries? Have you successfully deterred pests? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page or Tweet at us @organicauthorit.
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lead image of blueberries via Shutterstock