Happy childhood memories of picking blueberries in my grandfather’s garden have deterred me from adding them to my landscape. I remember their towering branches drooping heavy with fruit and discovering that nothing surpasses the taste of sun-warmed berries. Great memories, so why my hesitation?
The blueberries of my youth were big and it’s not just a distorted memory because I was a little kid. The Rabbiteye blueberry varieties that my family grew are big, sometimes topping six feet tall. But that’s changing and now I’m hooked.
Plant breeders have been responding to changes in how we live by developing compact plants that are better suited to smaller spaces. Walk through any garden center and you’ll see compact and dwarf offerings of many of your favorite plants.
While sadly many of these cultivars don’t live up to the hype, I’ve discovered the Bushel and Berry collection of compact, self-pollinating berry plants exceed my expectations. Reid Hardgrove of McCorkle Nurseries explained why these plants are gaining traction with the market. He said, “More people are wanting their plants to pull double duty. Not only to be aesthetically pleasing and give them beautiful fall color or nice shrub structure, but they also want plants that will provide food. These new varieties can be put into the landscape and give them what they’re looking for.”
How to Grow Blueberries
Fall is a great time to plant blueberries; done right you can look forward to enjoying some fruit next spring.
• Select a location that gets full sun. While blueberries can tolerate some shade they won’t produce as much fruit as they would in locations where they get 6 to 8 hours of direct sun.
• Piedmont soils are typically acidic which matches blueberries’ preference of a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.3. They are shallow rooted and do best in soils with a lot of organic matter. If you have clay soil be sure to amend it heavily with compost.
• Put down 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the plants but keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the base of the plant. This will help retain moisture, deter weeds and keep the roots cooler when warm weather arrives.
• Blueberries are sensitive to drought and will not produce fruit if they are stressed. Be prepared to provide supplemental water during hot periods and during the first three years ensure they are receiving approximately one inch of water each week.
Blueberries flower in early spring and typically their berries are ready to harvest two months later. The race with the birds is on from that point. Some gardeners net their bushes to deter the birds.
I planted Bushel and Berry’s ‘Peach Sorbet’ and ‘Perpetua’ in the beds along my front walkway. Now I enjoy them every day as I come and go. In spring their blooms were among the first to arrive, drawing in the local bees. During the summer I would pick a handful of berries on my way out to collect the mail. Now the leaves are coming in red adding depth and color to my garden.
The compact size means I can tuck them into my planting scheme and secretly grow food in my front yard. Standing on my walk one day I was chatting with a neighbor. Bending down I grabbed a handful of berries and popped them into my mouth. Seeing the abject horror spreading across my neighbor’s face I offered some and with a little encouragement he tried them. My gardening super powers were thus revealed.
Learn More on Our Podcast
Tune in to our podcast to learn more about the development of new compact blueberry varieties. And in this podcast episode we welcome a team of 4th grade correspondents from Australia who explore the blueberry’s global appeal for us.
Featured image – ‘Peach Sorbet’ / Bushel and Berry
Dr. Lise Jenkins is the Triangle Gardener’s podcast producer and a newspaper columnist. She also volunteers her time as a Master Gardener in Durham.