How to Grow Blueberries
Blueberries require specific care and conditions to provide you with maximum fruit yields. With proper care, you will get optimum yields of large, juicy berries perfect for eating along with a beautiful shrub within your landscape.
Blueberry plants thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade; however, the fruit production can be less if they are in partial shade. They require acidic, well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter and a soil pH that is between 4.2 and 5.0. In Nova Scotia, we have naturally acidic soil, although the pH level should be tested every 1-2 seasons. Peat moss (a slightly acidic soil amendment) can be added to soil, as well as compost and manure as organic matter.
When choosing blueberry plants, ensure you have a minimum of 2 different varieties to cross-pollinate as this will give you optimum crop yields. Choosing varieties with different maturity dates will lengthen your harvest period ensuring fresh, tasty blueberries all season long.
When planting blueberries, ensure they are spaced at least 1-1.5 m apart. Blueberry plants have shallow root systems, so be aware of this when handling the plants while transplanting: damaging the roots can provide growth set-backs or the loss of the plant. The plants should be kept uniformly watered throughout the growing season. Mulching will help conserve water, as well as controlling fluctuations of moisture. During dry spells plants should be kept well watered.
Since blueberries are acidic loving plants you can fertilize with an aluminum sulphate fertilizer to help keep the pH low. They should be fertilized three times in a growing season. The first fertilization should be done in the spring, just prior to bud break; the second should be after petal fall; the third should be in early July. Older bushes should have most of the fertilizer around the outer spread of branches. At Halifax Seed we highly recommend our blueberry fertilizer with aluminum sulphate; however, we also carry organic lines, like Gaia Green, whose Power Bloom product would also work as a great blueberry fertilizer.
For the first 2-3 years, your plants will need little to no pruning. While this is important, it is also imperative to remove any damaged, diseased or dead growth, as well as spindly growth, as it will encourage an upright and vigorous growth habit. After blueberry plants are established, annual pruning will help invigorate and improve the health and yield of the plants. After 5 years, high-bush blueberry stems are typically no longer productive; pruning 5 year old stems and weak branches, as well as thinning out crowded spots after the initial growth period, promotes healthier growth and a higher fruit yield. Plants should be pruned when they are dormant, so it is important to find the right time to prune: typically in Atlantic Canada this is February to April. Once a blueberry bush has been pruned, it will stimulate new growth; if this is done too early, it can cause damage. As a rule of thumb, any single cane that is older than 5 years, or larger than 5 cm in diameter, should be cut back to the ground. Keep 4-6 mature canes per bush and 2-3 vigorous shoots per bush. After the winter, remove all the extra sprouts and let the healthiest ones go. Pruning out the older canes allows the new shoots to be more productive and take over.
The fruit develops on one-year-old wood. In the first 3 years the fruit buds should be cut back to encourage the growth of the blueberry plant, ensuring the best possible yields for the future.
When pruning a blueberry bush it is necessary to keep in mind the optimal shape for the plant. They are tight at the bottom with an open and spreading centre. Removing some of the canes and cutting back in the centre will help the plant develop into the right shape, preventing the interior of the plant from becoming too dense with leaves.
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) Varieties most common to Halifax Seed Garden Centres:*
Jersey: A late mid-season berry. The fruit is medium sized, has medium scar, fair colour and flavour, and is firm. The bush is very vigorous and productive. The clusters are long and loose. Grows 1.8-2.1m (6-7') tall.
Duke: An early variety, with striking autumn foliage of yellow and orange. The berries are of medium size, firm, and light blue. The flavour is mild, but becomes more aromatic after several hours in the fridge; perfect in a fruit salad. The bush is vigorous, with stocky canes, but is well branched. Typically grows 1.2-1.5m (4-5') tall.
Bluejay: A mid-season berry. The fruit is medium sized with long stems that aid in mechanical harvesting. The bush is vigorous and upright. Grows 1.5-2.1m (5-7') tall.
Bluecrop: This mid-season producer is one of the most widely grown varieties. Medium to large size fruits, light blue colour, small scar, firm with good, tart flavour. The berries are resistant to cracking. Will grow 1.2-1.8m (4-6') tall.
Northland: Produces fruit early mid-season. Fruit size is small, dark blue, and has a wild-berry flavour. It has limber branches which do not break under heavy snow loads and adapts well to a sub-zero climate. This variety is self-pollinating. Grows 0.9-1.2m (3-4') tall.
*Availability and varieties can change from throughout the season. Our stock of High-bush Blueberries are field grown and will typically be available in Halifax Seed Garden Centres early spring. If you have any questions please contact one of our stores for pricing and availability.