When it comes to how to grow blueberries, the good news is that blueberry plants are hardy, relatively easy to grow and tend to thrive. Give them a good start and a little care and you can enjoy fantastic blueberries for many years to come.
Few things are better than picking blueberries fresh from your own yard or garden and popping them straight into your mouth! Little blue “pills”, good for all kinds of ills, and delicious to boot.
Blueberries—the fruit and the blueberry leaves—both have an incredible array of culinary and health benefits. So it’s definitely worth considering growing blueberries for even the casual gardener or homeowner with a yard.
Blueberries, (vaccinium corymbosum), are native fruits of North America. A relatively small bush with a long life and deliciously nutritious fruits and leaves that are used for health in tea or powdered form.
Before we get more into all the details, let’s first consider some of the many reasons to grow blueberries.
Benefits in Growing Blueberries
Blueberries for Beauty
Blueberry bushes are beautiful edible landscape plants.
- Lovely pink and white spring blossoms
- Colorful fruit – green to red to purple and blue
- Beautiful orange-red leaves in fall
Growing blueberries is a wise decision for gardeners, farmers and also landscape design. Even if you don’t have a regular vegetable garden or fruit orchard, placing a few blueberry bushes in your yard adds beauty and utility to your landscape design.
The white-pink blueberry blossoms are beautiful in spring, followed by attractive berry clusters that go from pale green to red, to purplish red and eventually dark blue. Then in the fall, blueberry bushes turn a lovely fall orangish-red for more pleasing color in the landscape.
Blueberries are Delicious and Versatile
Blueberries are an amazing, delicious and nutritious superfood, but these days, they’re also quite expensive to buy. One of the reasons blueberries are more expensive is the cost of harvesting. Since this luscious little blue fruit ripens steadily over several months, there’s no one harvest time, nor any quick and easy way to harvest by machine.
Once you learn how to grow blueberries, and get your blueberry plants planted, you’ll enjoy discovering some of the many ways you can enjoy blueberries and even blueberry leaves.
Our Favorite Ways to Enjoy Homegrown Blueberries
- Fresh, by the handful, (especially when out picking them… warm from the sun)
- Mixed fresh with yogurt
- Blended fresh or fresh frozen in smoothies with vanilla protein powder and coconut water, and other favorites
- Frozen in yogurt (alone, or add a tad of 100% maple syrup a sweeter treat)
- Blueberry breakfast cake – good any time of day!
If you have excess blueberries, there are tons of things you can do to preserve them. Our favorite it to simply freeze them so that we have the nutritious fresh-frozen blueberries through the winter.
Blueberries and Blueberry Leaves are Both Highly Nutritious
Considered an incredibly nutritious “superfood”, it’s highly beneficial to consume blueberries as a regular part of your diet. However, these days, blueberries are also quite expensive to buy, especially those grown organically.
You’re likely well aware of the wonderful antioxidant benefits of the berries. But did you know that the leaves also have tremendous proven health benefits?
Blueberries Bear Fruit for Many Years
Yes! Not only do blueberries grow and bear fruit for many years, the leaves and the fruits are incredibly nutritious and beneficial with multiple uses
Your blueberry investment will more than pay for itself.
Most blueberries bear fruit for more than 50 years!
Growing Your Own Food is Rewarding
There’s nothing quite like the experience of growing your own food. Growing food on a small scale, may not save you time and money, considering the supplies you’ll need and the time it will take. However, the freshest food in the world—from garden to table—is the best for you.
To pluck a berry, fruit or vegetable from a plant you’ve planted and nurtured is extraordinarily gratifying. Growing blueberries is no exception.
Picking Blueberries and Gardening is Good Exercise!
Harvesting your own blueberries gets you outside moving and getting exercise in the fresh air and sunshine (vitamin D), while enjoying a deliciously refreshing time out in the garden.
Next, we’ll look at whether to grow blueberries where you are and given your growing zone climate, soil pH, sunlight, etc.
How to Grow Blueberries in Your Grow Zone
Blueberries grow in zones 3-10 with a wide range of options as to types. Your growing zone determines the varieties best to grow, so for best results, search the term ‘blueberries’ along with your zone. E.g., we’re in zone 7a, so we’d search: ‘blueberries zone 7a’
- Blueberry growing zones vary by variety of blueberries.
- Best to search blueberries by zone to find what grows best in your area
Also, when we search: ‘NC extension blueberries types’ the top search result is the best for our growing zone. E.g.:
HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES IN THE PIEDMONT FOOTHILLS:
So search by your growing zone to access the best and most relevant info for your region. And remember to contact your Agricultural Extension Service for any specifics.
We’re growing Rabbiteye blueberries and a few Southern Highbushes. For information on blueberries for your specific growing, Berries Unlimited has a cool search-by-zone feature. Just look on their menu on the left.
Different blueberry varieties ripen at different times. The best option for the most productive season, is to plant several different varieties. If you plan—and plant—accordingly, you could manage to have blueberries coming ripe all summer.
Cheaper to Grow than to Buy
If we need to buy blueberries, we always buy organic, and those can be quite expensive. There are a number of reasons for the price of blueberries.
- Labor intensive to pick
- Lengthy and staggered ripening process
- Transport distances
- Weather factors
- Organic growing challenges
Home Grown Blueberries Saves Money for Years:
Organic blueberries in NC retail from between 68¢/oz to $1.13/oz in 2019.
The small clamshell is 4.4 oz. for an approximate 1 cup serving.
That’s an average of $4 for 1 cup of blueberries! 😲
One blueberry bush usually pays for itself in its first fruit-bearing year.
Long Harvest Season – Good for Home Growers
While an extended ripening period is more costly for blueberry farmers and thus consumers, it’s beneficial for home gardeners. Ripening sporadically over time spreads out the availability of fresh blueberries. However, for small scale farmers, it can mean a labor intensive crop that needs to be harvested multiple times over the weeks.
There are some more efficient picking processes that can help speed things up, but for most its the time consuming hand-picking process. Those with orchards may wish to try the “shake” method where you place a drop cloth under and around your bush and then shake the bush and the ripe berries will drop.
While harvesting blueberries is time consuming, it’s very much worth it. Picking blueberries is a privilege and a pleasure, while nibbling the sun-kissed powerhouse of a fruit is a blessing that makes it feel like every cell in your body is singing.
To harvest a bush or small crop of blueberries requires finger-picking one by one over time—as berry clusters and berries within clusters—ripen at different times.
Birds Eating Blueberries
How to grow blueberries isn’t difficult. The greatest challenge for most blueberry growers is keeping the birds away.
A couple years ago, our blueberry production was way off. The 40 plants at the upper level looked to be struggling. A few didn’t make it. The following year blueberry production was fantastic. The next year, not so great. Was it the fertilizer, or was it the birds?
We think we’ve found that a good mulching and weed control is the key. Also having a relatively rainy June helped a lot.
Turns out it was the birds. That year, we had removed the protective mesh after discovering a bird caught in it. Fortunately we were able to save that bird. However, we didn’t want it to happen again in case we weren’t there in time to save the next bird.
Without the protective netting, the birds demolished most of our early harvest. #LessonLearned.
Protecting Blueberries from Birds
Bird netting definitely works for protecting your blueberries from the birds. We had a wonderful and ongoing supply of fresh blueberries that summer with lots in the freezer to last all winter too.
But the next year, we found that bird horribly entangled in the protective mesh. Fortunately, we were able to finally free the bird, and thankful to have found it soon enough, else it surely would’ve died there. But we did not want a repeat of that incident, so we removed the mesh.
We love the birds and animals, so frankly, we’d rather miss our blueberries than cause a bird to die, but we’d prefer to have both. So we needed to implement some better solutions.
Old Netting and Frame
Low frame and old mesh around the blueberry bushes needed to go. It was no fun crouching and bending for extended periods just to harvest the blueberries.
Blueberry Patch Netting – Overhaul and Upgrade
Same thing with the tent mesh on the blueberry patch near the cabin: it was due for an upgrade. We took shortcuts in setting these up, and while they worked, they didn’t look great and definitely were not convenient come harvest time. Another lesson learned.
We now have new and improved fencing and netting around all our blueberry patches. It not only looks better but it’s much easier to work.
You can read more about our free mulch for weed control in this article.
So! We ended up with bird deflector tape again, but with an upgrade on installation and effectiveness.
The reflective tape applied as streamers has been the most effective bird deterrent to date. So you can be sure we’ll be using this method for other predator garden pests such as squirrels, rabbits and raccoons as well.
You can also read and see more this article on bird deflectors.
Consider accessibility and ease of harvesting when designing your garden and it will help make your experience all the more enjoyable.
Blueberry Plant Problems
But back to the year our blueberries were struggling. Our newer plantings near the cabin, were doing okay, but they too were off from the previous year.
We followed all instructions by not planting too deep, using back fill laced with lovely leaf compost and peat moss. A generous layer of weed blocking fabric was lain and covered with pine needle mulch.
Everything was kept well watered, yet not too wet. Our how to plant blueberries checklist was all ticked off and seemed on track, so we were stumped as to why our blueberry bushes weren’t thriving.
Luckily, we were able to invite our local Surry County Ag Extension agents, Wythe Morris and Joanna Radford, to come look at our situation. And we are so glad they did because they spotted the problem right away.
Blueberry Soil pH!
The first problem Wythe identified was that we’d likely used the wrong mulch around the blueberries. We chose the pine needles mulch because it’s inexpensive, looks good and we knew that blueberries like more acidic soil.
The agents recommended better alternatives to pine needle mulch. They suggested we remove (cut) the weed barrier from around the root zone and replace the needles with a 4″ layer of semi-composted ground bark. The ground bark enhances the growing of the roots below and promotes the kind of microbes and mycorrhizal fungi blueberries thrive upon.
Covering over the root area with fabric likely inhibited soil aeration and blocked new growth from emerging around the base.
If you’re not sure of the condition of your soil, you might want to check out soil testing methods.
Soil pH for Blueberries is best between 4.09 and 5.0.
Natural Solutions for Nourishing Plants
We’re not keen on non-organic chemicals so in the videos that follow, you’ll see where we make up our own version of sulfur and nitrogen amendments. These included Milorganite, a sometimes misunderstood fertilizer, which we’ve written about before. It’s not only beneficial to our plants, but also has the added benefit of serving as a deer repellent!
After implementing these 3 simple steps, our bushes were loaded with blooms and the pollinators were all over them. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest and the extras were frozen and literally lasted us all winter.
We hope that by sharing these techniques, everyone who wants to grow better blueberries will reap the benefit of our boots-on-the-ground, experience. Failure is a great teacher and just helps us get better the next time around. If at first you don’t succeed…
3 Steps to Better Blueberries
- Cut fabric for opening around drip line of plant to allow suckers to emerge. Suckers are good! They will bear future new fruit… AND they can be clipped and rooted to make new plants!
- Apply compost (ground bark is best) up to 4 inches up the stem.
- Apply two batches of fertilizer at bud break and 6 weeks later.
We use Milorganite fertilizer with a 5-2-0 of 5% Nitrogen, 2% Phosphorus and 0% Potassium. Milorganite is also an effective deer repellent. We also used the Burpee Organic Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Plant Food to mix in with the Milorganite, as you will see below.
Learn more of the details by watching these three videos.
Your Local Ag Extension Office – a Great Free Resource
Remember to contact your local agriculture extension office when you have issues that you can’t figure out. Our tax dollars pay for these services and all the agents we’ve ever encountered are glad to come out and take a look and offer advice and feedback.
January 4th, 2016 – Our county Ag Extension agent (Wythe Morris) explains how and when to fertilize our blueberry bushes.
February 23rd, 2016 – First Application
We used the Burpee Organic Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Plant Food to mix in with the Milorganite. But we couldn’t find that on Amazon or Burpee to link here for you, so another good one is by Jobe.
March 30, 2016 – Adding fertilizer Mix
Test Your Soil
On this video we used the Espoma Soil Acidifier containing 30% Sulfur mixed in one part to three parts of Milorganite.
But remember to check your soil. Not only can it save you money on soil amendments, it can save you grief in low producing plants.
How to Use Pine Straw for Blueberries
We knew blueberries needed a more acidic soil than what we have, so we thought it was a good idea to use pine needle mulch. Yet, fresh pine needles are slow to decompose and a better alternative is semi-composted bark mulch. It’s okay to use a light top cover of pine needles but it’s the composting bark that helps most.
Next, is a short video on that, plus another one on growing organic blueberries. It includes info on how to prep the soil and how to care for your blueberry crop.
Remember to call on your local Ag Extension office when you need something. It’s a free service that we’re already paying for as taxpayers and most extension offices and agents are a wealth of information.
The pH level for blueberries needs to be between 4.09 and 5.0.
GardensAll Blueberry Harvests
These harvest amounts are from around 60 blueberry bushes harvested over approximately 6 weeks.
- 2016 ~ 40 lbs 6/6-7/10
- 2017 ~ 4 lbs (soil pH problems caught up with us)*
- 2018 ~ 3 lbs (after we removing bird netting the birds ate all the berries)!
- 2019 ~ 40 lbs ~6/05-7/15 (averaging about a pound a day)
- 2020 ~ 32.82 lbs. so far, between 6/16-7/6
What happened to our blueberry production after our first stellar season?
*We invited our local Ag Extension agents to come out and help us figure out the problem. They spotted it right away.
Mulch for Blueberries
We were using pine straw mulch because it was handy and inexpensive. Plus we’d read that blueberries like a more acidic soil pH, and pine mulch was recommended by several resources.
For the first couple years our three dozen or so blueberry bushes were producing a lot of delicious fruit. So we added more bushes, then the next year we got a lot less fruit. Then by the second or third season we had a smaller harvest.
It turns out we were using too much fresh pine needle mulch, too close to the base of the plants. Yes, blueberries like acidity, but that was too much. We just needed one tiny tweak to the strategy, and that’s what we got from our seasoned Ag agent.
Now we’re using ground hardwood bark mulch, called by some #2 bark mulch. If you have alkaline soil and you need it to be a little more acidic, you can use pine straw, however, only use seasoned pine straw mulch, that’s mostly broken down.
If you have alkaline soil and you need it to be a little more acidic, you can use pine straw, however, only use seasoned pine straw mulch, that’s mostly broken down.
Blueberry Mulch Tips
- No acidic mulch such as fresh pine straw or cedar chips
- Best mulch is pine mulch, (decomposed pine straw)
- Do not use colored mulch
- Leave ~2′ radius around the bush base free of mulch and fabric to allow shoots room to grow
How to Grow Blueberries – Mulch, pH and Shoots with Ag Agents
Next we share some information on why blueberries are often amongst the foods labeled as a superfood. The sweet luscious flavor aside, blueberries are as packed with nutrients as they are with flavor. No vitamin or pill ever tasted so good!
In physical perfectness of form and texture and color, there is nothing in all the world that exceeds a well-grown fruit.~Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Holy Earth
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberry Fruit Benefits
Blueberries are well established to be an exceptionally nutritious fruit with tremendous health benefits, including:
- Digestive disorders
- Improves circulation
- Cardiovascular health
- Cognitive health and memory
- Blood sugar regulation
- Anti-cancer benefits
- Eyes – Protecting from oxidative and solar damage
With blueberries, the more you eat the more you benefit!
“Some studies have shown better total antioxidant capacity when 3 or more cups of blueberries were consumed per day as compared to a daily intake of 1-2 cups.”
So long as you’re not diabetic, fresh blueberry binging is probably okay! 😉
And guess what? Studies proved that blueberry leaves have significant health benefits that far exceed that of the fruit!
Blueberry Leaf Benefits
WOW! Blueberry leaves have amazing health benefits!! Blueberry tea, anyone?
- Lowers blood sugar
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduction or elimination of type 2 diabetes1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22357723
- internal inflammation associated with heart disease
- external inflammation such as eczema
- Can stop damage to blood vessels
- Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31941864
- Cancer – high in phenolic compounds and anthocyanin
- Anti-aging benefits – improves brain function
- Improves eyesight
The Titan blueberry leaves have the overall highest beneficial compounds: phenolic content, flavonoid and antioxidant capacity.5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/316719116)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6864474/figure/molecules-24-03900-f001/
Blueberry Leaves contain 30.8 times more antioxidants than blueberries!~2001 Study by J Agric Food Chem. 2001 May;49(5):2222-7, Ehlenfeldt and Prior
So harvest some blueberry leaves as well. Typcially, berry leaves are dried and use as an herbal tea.
So take advantage of blueberry season folks, and remember to pluck some of the leaves. We certainly are! The berries take a lot of time to pick, but are oh so worth it, bearing copious berries for a solid two months from mid June-August in Zone 7a.
Blueberry Leaves for Tea with Edible Landscaping
The blueberries nutrition profile is especially high in fiber, vitamin K, manganese and vitamin C.
One cup of Raw Blueberries(19)
- 84 calories
- 21.4 gm carbohydrates
- 1.1 gm protein
- 0.5 gm fat
- 3.6 gm dietary fiber
- 28.6 mg vitamin K (36 % DV)
- 0.5 ml manganese (25 % DV)
- 14.4 ml vitamin C (24 % DV)
- 0.1 mll vitamin B6 (4 % DV)
- 0.1 ml thiamine (4 % DV)
- 0.1 ml riboflavin (4 % DV)
- 0.8 ml vitamin E (4 % DV)
- 0.1 ml copper (4 % DV)
- 0 g of cholesterol
- 1.1 g of protein
- 0.49 g of fat
- 21.45 g of carbohydrate
- 3.6 g of dietary fiber
- 14.74 g of total sugars
While blueberries are high in sugar, they’re also high in fiber and nutrients, with a low glycemic index of 53 that shouldn’t spike blood sugar levels.
Wild About Blueberries; 10)https://wildaboutberries.com/blueberry-leaf_302.html
Where to Buy Blueberry Plants
Ready to get growing? We got our blueberry bushes from our favorite local nursery.
If you don’t have a local nursery or home store selling blueberry bushes, our next stops are EdibleLandscaping.com or, you can even get Organic Highbush Blueberry Seeds Certified 100+ Seeds and other varieties of blueberry plants and seeds from Amazon!
You may also enjoy this article on growing goji berries.14)https://www.gardensall.com/growing-goji-berries-and-goji-berry-benefits/
Drop us a line with your blueberry growing tips, we’d love to hear from you!
Next, is a short video on that, plus another one on growing organic blueberries. It includes info on how to prep the soil and how to care for your blueberry crop.
Also, remember to call on your local Ag Extension office when you need something. Most agents are glad to help and enjoy talking with local growers. They can be a free source of valuable information that we’re paying for as taxpayers.
Planting & Caring for Blueberry Bushes
Growing Blueberries with George of Edible Landscaping
Tricia from Grow Organic on Growing Blueberries
Tricia, from Grow Organic, talks about growing blueberries both in containers, caring for the blueberry plants, and the proper soil which is super important! All that in under 5 minutes.
Growing for Profit?
If you’re farming—or considering farming—blueberries, send us a note, we’d love to talk with you. Blueberry farmers may find this blueberry report by the NC Ag Service helpful. Below is an excerpt of informative industry stats on blueberry sales in North Carolina, and you can probably find one for your area by Googling it or contacting your local extension service.
Blueberry Farming in NC Wholesale Prices
|YEAR||ACRES||FRESH LBS||TOTAL LBS||FRESH %||$/LB||TOTAL $|
Retail Prices for Blueberries in NC
Our local retailers are currently selling fresh, conventionally grown blueberries for between $3-$5 per pint sized container conventionally grown blueberries.
Price Comparison Tips
When price comparing, be sure your comparing comparables. It’s common for different stores to use differently sized containers. So a pint container is actually 2 pints in volume (so 2 cups), not 2 pints (or 1 lb) in weight.
Average retail price per pound in NC in 2020 is $4/pint for conventionally grown blueberries15)https://www.harristeeter.com/shop/store/250/search/blueberries16)https://shop.foodlion.com/shop/categories/211
- Harris Teeter – $4.99/pint = 31¢/oz
- Food Lion – $2.99/pint = 19¢/oz
- Lowe’s Foods – $3.99/6 oz = 67¢/oz
Average blueberries retail in 2020 in NC: $4.00/pint container, or 39¢ per ounce.
Organic Blueberries – avg. retail in 2020: $4.49/ 4.4 oz container
- Lowe’s Foods – $4.49/4.4oz container
Average Organic blueberries retail in 2020 in NC: $4.49/ 1/4 pint container, = 98¢ per ounce.
We were stoked at this — for us — bumper crop as aspiring farmers. For our planning purposes, we calculated this revenue for our 40 lbs of blueberries. While we’re not certified organic, we are growing organically so would sell them as “naturally grown”:
Revenue Calculations on 40 lbs of Naturally Grown Blueberries
- CONVENTIONAL: 640 ounces x 39¢ = $249.60
- ORGANIC: 640 ounces x 98¢/oz = $627.20
TIP: When comparing prices be clear on whether “pint” means size in volume or weight, so that you’re comparing the same metric.
Growing Blueberries for Profit
A Lot of Labor
While we love growing blueberries and consider it very worthwhile. When it comes to growing blueberries for profit, these will probably be a part of our market gardening plan for our future farm, but not the main crop.
At these prices, it would take around 10x more blueberry bushes, (so 600 blueberry bushes ) to earn $6,272 per season. Plus that’s somewhere between 40-80 hours of picking time, and doesn’t include time at market for selling and marketing.
So if you’re thinking of growing blueberries for profit, you can see it will require some deeper planning and calculating. However, one of the best ways to get into that is to grow your own first to gain the experience, then decide if you want to take it larger. Another helpful thing to do is to connect with existing blueberry growers to compare notes, tips and resources.
Blueberries are labor intensive for harvesting for profit, so do your homework and check with your extension service for stats.
Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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