Growing Organic: Blueberry Bonanza

The blueberry is packed with fabulous flavor and nutrition, this delightful native fruit can be grown almost anywhere.

| April/May 2007

Take a midsummer walk through most any state park in the country, and you’re bound to find blueberries or their first cousins tucked between pines and oaks or lining the sunny edges of marshes. Campers, hikers and weekend explorers alike covet the sweet blue treats for pancakes, cobblers and simply to savor them straight off the bush. Gardeners throughout most of the United States and southern Canada can grow these tasty berries right in their yards.

Of course you can buy them at the local supermarket, too — if you’re willing to pay up to $5 a pint. Many folks gladly do just that, not only for blueberries’ sweet flavor, but also for their incredible health benefits. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, compounds that researchers think protect against the harmful effects of aging. 

But why pay grocery store prices when you can have a blueberry bonanza right in your own back yard? These native American beauties are highly productive, wonderfully ornamental and relatively trouble-free once established. With proper preparation and a little patience, you’ll be rewarded with 10 to 25 pounds of delicious, nutritious “blues” per bush, each and every year.

Choose Your Blues

Cultivated for about the last 100 years, blueberries are available in dozens of garden varieties. For the longest harvest season, plant early, mid- and late-bearing varieties. Planting at least two different varieties also will encourage heavier crops.

Most varieties stem from three native species: highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), rabbiteye (V. ashei) and low-bush (V. angustifolium). These three types, as well as several crosses between them, are loosely adapted to either cool or warm climates. If you live where the minimum winter temperature ranges between minus 10 and 10 degrees, you can probably grow any type!

Down-Home Blues

The best way to get a bountiful crop of delicious blueberries is to follow nature’s lead and give your plants a home like one they’d choose in the wild. Keep in mind that blueberries belong to the same family as azaleas, rhododendrons and heather: They all thrive in acidic soil that is rich in organic matter and moist but well-drained. And they’ll produce more fruit if planted in full sun, says Dan Finch, owner of Finch Blueberry Nursery in Bailey, N.C.

5/17/2007 9:09:18 PM

They can probably be grown anywhere if you are willing to do the work. Mine died after a year, but I have alkaline soil and evidently didn't use enough sulfur. Or maybe it was because I didn't water them, you think? Or maybe it was before I read the article and I used too much sulfur. I did put a six-inch layer of pine needles down.

5/1/2007 11:23:05 PM

After reading your article I became inspired to plant two blueberry bushes in my (small) yard. The nursery sells bushes appropriate for our climate (San Francisco). The bushes already have berries, although they're not blue yet. Should I remove these ASAP, per your instruction to remove flowers the first year? Or is it too late? Any advice greatly appreciated. (Haven't planted them yet.) thanks. Lesley

4/24/2007 6:32:20 PM

I am looking for a good covering for my blueberry bushes. Not the black netting but a white cotton type netting. Please let me know if you know where I can find this. Thank you. CHaleen

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