Growing Great Blueberries

Enjoy home grown blueberries
Blueberries ripening on the bush

Blueberries are very satisfying and easy to grow.

They can cost a pretty hefty amount at the store and are really easy to grow here in the mid-Atlantic area of the US.

Blueberries are native here, so even if you choose to grow cultivar varieties which produce larger fruit like I do, you can be assured they like this climate.

Blueberries are beautiful in the landscape, having white or pink flowers in spring and bright red, yellow or bronze foliage in autumn.

There are two types of blueberries: high bush & low bush.   Low bush are generally grown in northern climates like Maine and Canada. High bush are generally grown further south and the ones mostly grown in Virginia gardens.

A question I am often asked is: Should I buy them in a container or bare root?

Either is fine.

It is best to only have bare root plants shipped vs. container grown because shipping container grown plants is pricey.

Blueberry in autumn.
Blueberry in autumn.

Bare root plants are grown in the nursery for a few years (a good company will tell you how old the plants will be that you are ordering) dug up in the dormant months, kept cool and shipped in spring.

Container grown plants would be obtained locally.

Currently, we do not have a good source of container grown blueberries locally. The nursery we liked  is going out of business because the owners are retiring. Many local nurseries sell blueberry bushes for short,  limited time in early spring. Be sure and ask them if their plants are sprayed with

grow fruit at home
Heavy fruit load not yet ripe

loads of chemicals that could kill your pollinators, including the neonicotinoids that have been so much in the news lately.

To get a great selection, we recommend ordering bare root from RainTree Nursery. They sell 2-to-3 year old blueberry plants that are good sized, at least 18” tall and bushy.

When buying blueberry plants, be sure to buy at least two varieties for pollination. Also check the ripening dates, choosing two bushes each of three varieties can extend your harvest and give you a very healthy crop.

Blueberry bush in bloom
Blueberry bush in bloom

Popular varieties include the old time ‘Jersey’, which has bright yellow leaves in autumn and ‘Bluecrop’ which has red fall color.  Another yellow fall colored variety is ‘Bluegold’, which is popular with smaller space gardeners because the bushes are more compact at 4’ high. Most highbush blueberries are 6’ high. ‘Bluegold’ and ‘Earliblue’ can start your blueberry season off, then follow on with ‘Blueray’ for mid season and ‘Elliot’ or ‘Libery’ for late season fruit.   We also really like ‘Patriot’ and ‘Northland’ as they has done very well for us.

growing blueberries
Blueberries that made it to the bowl

Container gardeners might like to try the cute ‘Top Hat’ that only grows to 18”. You can choose a variety that grows to 4’ for container culture and use a larger container.

In ground, space your blueberries as far apart as their listed mature height.  So, if a variety is listed as 6′ high, plant them 6′ apart, or a little farther, if you have room, for good aeration and light.

Three important notes about growing blueberries:

  1. Choose a sunny location. Although blueberries grow in partial shade, they need full sun to produce lots of berries.
  2. Plant them separate from your annual vegetable garden because they have different soil requirements. Blueberries want acidic soil, unlike your annual veggies.  A good mulch for blueberries is pine needles.
  3. Plant your blueberries where they will naturally get plenty of water because they are shallow rooted plants. You can dig swales to capture water for your blueberries in heavy rains.

One last note, invest in a few post and bird netting so you get your crop instead of the birds.

Hope this inspires you to try growing some blueberries at home, whether you want to eat them fresh or make summer blueberry ice cream, they are an easy and satisfying perennial crop to grow.

3 Garden Design Ideas – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.
Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.

1. Think Permaculture Zones – The concept is simple, put the stuff you use most, or need to access most often, closest to your house. Put the stuff you don’t need to access much farthest away. So, herbs in easy access from the kitchen and fruit tress farther away since you only need to tend them a few times a year and harvest when the fruit is in season.

2. Maximize how you use your space – Layers are a good way to look at using your annual garden space to its maximum potential. Roots grow down, bushy plants like tomatoes are in the middle layer and vines like cucumbers and pole beans can climb.

3. Mix it up – Not sure what will be successful, try a mix of a small raised bed, a few plants in the ground and a few containers. Try the same type plant in each and see what works best for you.

Want more help turning your yard into a productive food oasis ?  You’ll get all the info you need in The Foundation of Organic Garden Course classes and workshops.



Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house
Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house

Hoogle Bed Update – Beauty is food too !

After building the bed (see last post) Russell built a bamboo border with extra bamboo we had around, lined with various materials unused by someone else.

(Bamboo is often easy to come by – if you see a stand in someone’s yard, knock on the door and ask if you can take some – they are usually grateful !)

We shifted the dirt to fill the box and then Russell put old decking someone was throwing away around the top edge to finish it off.  The result is our long term soil building self watering in ground bed with a finished beautiful look.

We planted potatoes and flower bulbs and marigolds as an experiment.  The potato foliage has died back, looking like it we would expect in the fall.  Potatoes in other areas of the garden still have green foliage.

Beauty is food too and this bed feeds us with a finished bed we enjoy each time we walk out front or come home – plus – great flowers we enjoy outside and cut for inside too !

Build Soil & an In-Ground Self-Watering Bed – Hugelkulture (Hoogle Culture) Bed

Hugelkulture is pronounced, “Hoogle Culture”  in English.  This type of  bed is a great way to build a bed of excellent soil over a a few years.  In the meantime it can sort of act as a self watering in ground bed.

Here are four videos showing how we built one in our front yard.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4, Wrap up:

Steps to building the bed:

  1. Dig out a bed, or define the area you want to use.
  2. Layer in logs that will rot over time and retain water in meantime.  Remember do not use wood that resists rotting.
  3. Add compost, leaves, shredded office paper, coffee grounds, sticks, twigs, grass clippings (not from lawns that use chemical lawn companies).
  4. You can also add lime and rock dust.
  5. Add some dirt on top for planting while the bed slowly rots

Why do this ?

  • To build quality soil
  • To use things from our landscape when a tree has fallen, or we have done tree maintenance.
  • To create a raised bed situation that functions as a self-watering bed because the logs are holding water while they rot.