Q&A: Blueberries for the Southwest

Here's a tip on how to grow your own blueberries.
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northsky blueberry has colorful fall foliage

northsky blueberry has colorful fall foliage

Q: What are some recommended blueberry varieties for the Southwest, especially for high-altitude areas? I'd like to grow them on my balcony.

A: You're asking for a challenge! Blueberries of any type need acid soil, and since the soils of the Southwest are alkaline, growing them in containers is the only way you'll have even a shot at success. But there's another problem, says Curtis Smith, extension horticulture specialist with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service in Albuquerque: well water in the Southwest is typically alkaline as well — or is high in salts, sodium or bicarbonates, all of which are detrimental to blueberries — so eventually the irrigation water itself will bring the blueberry plants to an early end. "Rain water is less calcareous but you probably won't be able to collect enough to keep them watered," he says. Acidifiers have limited effectiveness.

If you'd like to try growing blueberries anyway and don't mind short-lived plants, do this: choose a dwarf variety and plant in very large containers (like a half whisky barrel), using an acid potting soil (such as that for azaleas and rhododendrons). Place in an area where the plants will get afternoon shade (especially important at the higher altitudes), and keep adequately watered.

Blueberry Varieties

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Blueberry 'Bluetta'

'Bluetta' is good for colder climates because they bloom a little later, yet ripen early. 'Bluetta' produces good yields of berries that are slightly dark and medium sized, with a unique wild flavor. This cultivar is compact in growth and has notable scarlet colors in fall.

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Blueberry 'Jersey'

'Jersey' is a rich blue fruit, medium sized, and very sweet. It is a favorite for baked goods. The bush is a heavy, reliable producer that tolerates a wide range of soil types and displays orange flame fall foliage. It's a widely-grown variety.

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Blueberry 'Berkeley'

This cultivar produces healthy, mouth-watering plump blueberries. Vigorous mature plants will produce luscious berries during mid summer in succession for a long and solid five-week harvest.

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Blueberry 'Coville'

'Coville' produces high yields of large, sweet blueberries that keep particularly well in the fridge. This blueberry enlivens the garden with blazing crimson foliage in fall.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Blueberry 'Spartan'

'Spartan' blueberries are an attractive and tasty fruit, often larger than a quarter in size with a tangy sweet flavor. It ripens mid July with large, glossy green foliage becoming orange and yellow in fall.

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Blueberry 'Herbert'

'Herbert' produces medium blueberries that ripen in late summer. This cultivar is considered to be one of the tastiest blueberries. The vigorous, upright bush is resistant to cracking and is ideal for pots in small gardens or on patios.

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'Toro' Blueberry Bush Produces Bumper Crop

You'll never be short of blueberries in summer with the 'Toro' blueberry. In fall, the bush produces bright red autumn foliage.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Blueberry 'Patriot'

Blueberries are very easy to grow deciduous fruit bearing shrubs that grow best in full sun, with well drained, sandy, organically rich acid soil.

'Brigitta' Blueberries Ripen at End of Summer

When early blueberries slow their production, the 'Brigitta' is a wonderful complement for an end of summer crop.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

In general, rabbiteye blueberries are suited to warmer areas of the South. Colder regions are better suited to northern highbush varieties. A third type, southern highbush, is generally suited to areas between the two other varieties. Northern highbush or southern highbush might suit you better, but of the three types, rabbiteye may be slightly more tolerant of less-than-ideal soil and water conditions. To be sure, check with extension personnel or nurserymen in your local area. Select at least two varieties for cross pollination. Three or more varieties are even better. If you can't locate an acid-based potting soil, mix your own with half peat moss and half sand.

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