Fruit of Your Labor: Growing Blueberries

Five easy steps for a productive harvest.
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Photo by: Shutterstock/Studio Barcelona

Shutterstock/Studio Barcelona

As a kid growing up in East Tennessee, I looked forward to that moment every summer when my dad would load our family up in the car and take us to a very special hiking spot. What made it so special? It wasn’t the hiking, trust me (I am not so outdoorsy). For me, it was the reward of wild blueberry bushes circling the bald at the top of the trail. We’d pick and eat and pick and eat, until our stomachs were protesting and our berry buckets were full. We’d head home already daydreaming of pie, cobbler, pancakes and jams, bursting with the literal fruits of our labors.

As an adult, I buy my blueberries from the farmer’s market, or the grocery store in a pinch. They are still one of my favorite fruits, but now they are so pricey that I dream of the bounty of my youth. So I got to thinking, how hard could it be to grow my own blueberries? Turns out, they are one of the easiest berries to grow, only requiring the following:

1. Sun

Blueberries are sun worshippers, which is why we always found the wild variety in a mountain bald, unobstructed by the forest.

2. Water

If you don’t have regular rainfall, plan on watering your blueberry bushes frequently. Which leads us to…

3. Soil

Even though blueberries love water, they don’t like to be soggy. Fickle! Plant your bushes in well-draining soil, or in a raised bed. A great way to make sure your soil is well-draining is to incorporate peat moss into it.

4. Pruning

This one was hard for me to swallow, but the first year you plant your blueberry bushes? You have to cut off all of the blooms. I know. No blueberries that first year. But, here is the thing: by pruning back the new blossoms in year one, you will have a great crop in years to follow! After the first year, prune at the end of the growing season, removing low growth and any twiggy, non-vigorous branches.

5. Mulch and Fertilizer

Two to four inches of mulch, once a year, will help regulate moisture and keep weeds at bay. Fertilize with an acid fertilizer when the buds appear in early spring, and then again once the fruit is established.

So there you have it! You can buy potted blueberry bushes now (and get to pruning!), but the best time to plant them is September/October, depending on your zone.

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