Growing Blueberries

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Alf 101
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Growing Blueberries

Post by Alf 101 »

I suppose many of us are enjoying spring by planting some things in our yards. And while much of this can be decorative, I'm guessing many on this site see the benefits of growing some things you can eat. My wife is far more of a gardener than I, but my interest has been piqued. So with that preamble, I'm wondering if anyone here has planted blueberries.

Having begun to look into this, more than any great "superfruit" harvest, I believe the appeal is mainly as a science fair project. Blueberries it seems are difficult to grow. They require low pH soil (4-5 range), more full sun than I thought (though not too much heat), a lot of water (but not soggy conditions), and some pruning required for good fruit production. So if it was just because I wanted to eat blueberries, a trip to the store is the better bet.

My thought was that I would grow them in a pot. Since our soil is not naturally that acidic, this would be a way of controlling that variable. Also, rather than digging up another part of the lawn, I could place this pot against the south side of the house so it would get enough sun. And I could bring it inside in the winter -- or rather into our unheated sun porch -- where it would still get some sunlight and avoid any beating from the wind and snow loading. I would actually buy two plants, ensuring pollination, and put them in large pots (18-24").

I'm just curious if this is a good idea or, and I hate to say it, a fruitless one. I am continually impressed by the broad range of knowledge exhibited on this site, so I thought I'd ask. This seems an investment in time and effort above the other things we grow. Is it worth giving it a shot or not?
Curlyq
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Post by Curlyq »

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barnaclebob
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by barnaclebob »

What area of the country are you in? I think blueberries are pretty hardy and probably wouldn't need to be brought inside. I don't know how successful they would be in pots but it would be more trouble that I'd be willing to go through to keep them watered and lug the pots around.

I live in the pacific northwest (ideal blueberry growing territory) and planted two blueberry bushes 2 springs ago. First harvest was a few dozen, last year was maybe 100 blueberries and this year looks to be about 4x that. Blueberries off my bushes taste much better than from the store but aren't quite as big as the small grape sized ones from the store. Maybe large pea or medium bean sized. One produces a lot but isn't as pretty and loses its leaves in the winter. The other hasn't produced as much but has leaves that turn red in fall and stay mostly through the winter and it has pinkish blue flowers.

I believe blueberries can be made into hedges as well and would work well against a south facing wall. At the rate mine are growing it would probably take 5 seasons from planting to become thick enough to look like a hedge.
Curlyq
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livesoft
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by livesoft »

Surprising to me there are several u-pick-em bb farms just north of Houston TX. They have different varieties that ripen all thru June.

We had bb bushes on Long Island as well as ate wild ones up in Maine.

So it seems to me that blueberries can grow practically anywhere.
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123
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by 123 »

I admire you folks that have cold freezing winters, my understanding is that they are what helps to make blueberries, my favorite fruit, thrive. I've had hit-or-miss success growing them in my backyard in the SF Bay Area. There are some varieties that apparently don't need a "hard freeze" in the winter to thrive in the spring. I made a mistake initially and put the blueberry bushes in containers on an outdoor patio which kept them too warm year round. Maybe I should have put the potted bushes in the freezer over the winter.
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Alf 101
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Alf 101 »

As it happens we live in the north, pretty squarely in hardiness zone 4. Certainly blueberries do grow here, but there are some challenges. Our soil has a high clay content. My understanding is blueberries fare best in soil that drains well, plus our dirt tends toward the alkaline. I could no doubt manage this in the yard, but am thinking I can provide a more amendable environment in large pots -- 18-24" per plant.

As for bringing them inside, I'm left to ponder that. We have an enclosed sun porch, not part of the heated part of the house, where have plants in the summer. So it's well below freezing in that place in the winter. It'll receive what oblique sun that shines that time of year, and gets enough traffic we won't let the soil dry completely out.

Thanks for responses so far. I'm still very interested, as are others, in how to best make this work.
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Ged
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Ged »

Blueberries are generally very cold hardy. I've seen them growing wild in Maine, and I've grown them myself in the Syracuse area.

They do take some patience (3-5 years) to grow to a size that produces a significant quantity of berries. Giving them good soil conditions is critical - they truly dislike heavy soils with clay.

Right now I have 6 bushes in my garden in central NJ. Unfortunately my soil isn't that great, but I've amended it with sand compost based on pine needles etc. I also use light amounts of Hollytone fertilizer.

I think you will not need to bring them indoors.

Once you get them established they are very rewarding. The trick is to keep an eye out when they start to ripen otherwise the birds will get the fruit first.
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nhdean
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by nhdean »

My family has a blueberry farm in New England (I don't do it). Blueberries require a lot of moisture. I think keeping them in pots would dry them out a lot faster. Also blueberry bushes can grow pretty high, over 6 feet high. I just don't think pots would be the best thing for them.
forkhorn
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by forkhorn »

In my experience fruit in pots is fine for the novelty, but it's typically a lot of work for a very small crop. Unless you are really dedicated and get a lot of personal satisfaction out of it, you are eventually going to realize that you spend quite a few hours for very little realized produce. After a few years, I've given it up. It does, however, make you appreciate the produce department at the grocery store.

I don't know specifically about blueberries in pots, but I've grown them in the ground in three different parts of the country now, and I've never really heard of doing them in pots, so I suspect they do not thrive.
Birdie55
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Birdie55 »

It's pretty common to grow blueberries in half barrels where I live. We have clay soil so it's easier to keep the soil with the correct PH in a container. I have 2 different varieties which is supposed to encourage more production. The Master Gardeners have a recipe for blueberry soil which is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 potting soil or azalea soil and 1/3 wood shavings or small bark. I used guinea pig bedding. I added Pelleted chicken manure for fertilizer and a handful of soil sulfur for the PH.

Berries like to be moist so I have my barrel connected to my drip irrigation system and I add a half gallon or so of water a few times a week in the summer. This is my 3rd season with the blueberries and the berries are substantially larger this year and many more. I do fertilize them 3 times a year and add a handful of soil sulfur also.

It's working well for me, so far.
investingdad
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by investingdad »

I'm in southeast PA and I have three of them in my berry garden. They were stunted when we moved and I dug them up for the trip. They're about five years old and finally starting to take hold. I only recently figured out they were being chewed on in the winter. I now keep them netted year round. Had I not moved them and figured out sooner animals were eating the branches they'd be farther along.
Michread
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Michread »

I had 3 blueberry bushes. They were hardy even though I did nothing but plant them in our poor clay soil.

I gave up and tossed them because the birds would eat every last berry before they were even ripe. Then I would have bird droppings (blue/purple) on my white plastic fence! I tried netting them but the birds would sit on the netting and carefully pick the berries through the netting. Then the edge of the netting got caught in the mower and WAM the netting was done!
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investingdad
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by investingdad »

Michread wrote:I had 3 blueberry bushes. They were hardy even though I did nothing but plant them in our poor clay soil.

I gave up and tossed them because the birds would eat every last berry before they were even ripe. Then I would have bird droppings (blue/purple) on my white plastic fence! I tried netting them but the birds would sit on the netting and carefully pick the berries through the netting. Then the edge of the netting got caught in the mower and WAM the netting was done!
I hear you, but these problems are easily overcome with a little planning.

First, the netting needs to form a barrier around the plants. I use stakes in the ground over which I drape the netting and then use garden staples to pull tight and 'teepee' the netting around the bushes. The birds cannot sit on the netting and pick the berries unless they have super extendable beaks. They don't. One bird found out the hard way what happens when they try to do this...the greedy bird shoved its head too far in and couldn't get it back out. I found it hanging by its broken neck.

Second, you need to have a mulched area around the entire planting area. This eliminates the need to mow up to the netting and getting it snagged.

Sounds like you threw in the towel, but for others thinking about planting them...just put a little prep work into it and you'll be fine.
bungalow10
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by bungalow10 »

We tried blueberries here, but the amount of soil conditioning and water they need was just too much for us (south central WI).

Alternatives you might consider are goose berries, june berries (aka serviceberry, comes in either tree or bush varieties) or aronia. I think all of these are considered easier to grow than blueberries. I know in my area gooseberries are native. Aronia (aka chokeberries) are native to the NE US.
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sans souliers
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by sans souliers »

In 1969, several cousins and some of my siblings and I spent 5 weeks working as migrant blueberry pickers along the coast of Maine from Kennebunk to Machias, moving with the crop. We lived in shacks, pooled our money for communal suppers, and learned deep into our weary bones the value of real work. I have never worked harder for each dollar than I did that summer. To this day, I respect the work of the people who do the necessary work of getting fresh food to America's table. There are no harder working people anywhere.

Potting the plants isn't necessary. Along the coast of Maine you're going to endure some harsh winters, and these blueberries were thriving. They're hardy plants, those bred for the north, but the ph level will need to be adjusted. I know they burned the fields every few years - I don't know if the ash affected the ph. The liberal addition of peat will help. There's always Miracid. Here's a link to a source for northern hardiness plants. Good reputation. If you have enough to make a pie, then you will have robbed the birds of at least that one pleasure. Good luck!

http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/4693-product.html
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bhsince87
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by bhsince87 »

I’m in South Central PA, and they literally grow like weeds here! We live in the woods on a mountain side, and my house is surrounded by them. I think they were started by a previous owner and spread.

The soil is mostly poorly drained clay, with a 2-3 inch layer of humus on top. It is highly acidic from the tree leaves (oak/hickory/birch/poplar). And the blueberries get dappled to dense shade at best, once the canopy sets in.

We’re borderline zone 6/7, but this past winter we hit zero degrees a few times. They seem to have done just fine with that. And around here, they must be netted if you want any kind of decent fruit harvest, because EVERYTHING likes to eat them! Mice, moles, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, groundhogs, possums, raccoons, deer, and seemingly every kind of bird. I net off a few bushes every year, from the ground to the top, for personal consumption. I would think growing them in containers would help protect them from rodents as well.

I’ve pulled and tossed probably 50-60 plants over the past few years. They are certainly tasty, and the foliage is beautiful in the fall. But I don’t like them growing close to my house, because they draw in the rodents and birds, which can be messy. And even more problematic, the rodents and birds attract snakes, including copper heads. Copper heads seem custom designed to blend in with old blueberry leaves!
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aerofreaky11
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by aerofreaky11 »

I have an orchard in VT. I planted 20 blueberry bushes--highbush style safe down to zone 4. My soil is not acid enough naturally, I modified the soil ahead of time using sulfur--a long term project. I have one row planted in frames set in basically a peat and sand mix. That is another way to go. You can literally tear a peat moss bag and grow right from there.

Make sure you break the roots a bit when you plant--otherwise the roots might be essentially in the pot without a pot. In addition to sulfur, you need to fertilize with ammonium sulfate 21-0-0. That give the plants nitrogen and aids in the acidity.

Make sure you mulch well. I have a timed sprinkler system, but this season I am converting it over to a drip system with a 1/2" line with equally spaced emitters. Note: irrigating with "city" water is a NO! Most city water is too base--so your pipes don't erode. I know some people who even add battery acid in very low concentrations to city water. Collecting rain is a better method.

There is a lot on BB growing out on the net. If you need some quality bushes I would consider a road trip to Nourse Farms in MA or DiMeo Farms in South Jersey. They have 10-15$ 3 year old plants that will transfer well. Research and get the bushes for your climate. Rabbit Eye are good for the South, but the Northern ones are hardy enough for most locations in the US.

Lastly--it is probably too late for this year. Plant when the ground is still cold and they will have a better shot. Once the BB breaks dormancy it makes transport less of a good idea. If you do plant later in the season remove all of the fruit for the first year.

Good luck.
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by letsgobobby »

Usually seek out a local nursery or garden extension and ask them which varieties work best in your area. They'll know best.

I'm hardly an expert gardener but I was able to successfully grow a few blueberry plants in pots for a few years. As you said they need acid, draining soil. They're beautiful plants with fall color. You can get big or little ones. Pick ones suited for your area to minimize your work and maximize your production.
investingdad
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by investingdad »

Yep, mine came from Nourse. If I hadn't disrupted them with a move and netted sooner I'd be further along 5 years in. :oops:
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Alf 101
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Alf 101 »

I appreciate all the input, and at the same time hope to keep the conversation moving forward.

Lately, as I've been thinking about this, I've begun to wonder exactly how hardy blueberries are. They can grow successfully almost anywhere, but here in Zone 4 anyway, I've started to speculate over how they overwinter. Let's say I decide to plant them in large pots, and they grow nicely over the summer and fall. Then winter comes, but this is good; wintering over in a cold environment is part of their natural cycle. But in a pot their root systems will be far less insulated than were it in the ground. So they might get too cold and die.

Perhaps, however, an individual plant in a large pot is surrounded by enough dirt to sufficiently insulate it. Alternately, they could get covered by snow and insulated. Or we could bring them into our sun porch during the winter, and wrap a blanket around the base if it stays below 0 F for long. This may be starting to sound akin to taking care of a kitten, but I do like blueberries. That and I could always plant them in the yard if the pot proves too much of a hassle.

I suppose the only way to find out is to give it a try. Still, I'm always curious to know if I'm thinking straight.
bhsince87
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by bhsince87 »

Roots in containers do get colder than roots in the ground. I've seen that happen many times. But if you could bring them into a sun room, I think you would be fine. A decent sun room should add 1-2 equivalent zones.

I'm currently trying to grow some tea plants here (zone 6-7), and I'm using containers. They can supposedly handle temps down to 10, so I move them into our garage with a hand truck when it gets that cold. They're evergreen, and they need a certain amount of light even in the winter. But I'm pretty sure blue berries don't need that. So you could probably store then anywhere for a few days if temps get close to zero or so.
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YttriumNitrate
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by YttriumNitrate »

Alf, by my count Nourse Farms sells 12 different blueberry cultivars, three of which are listed as being good down to zone 3. My style when it comes to these sorts of things is to buy 2 or 3 of each variety they sell, plant them and see which ones thrive.
investingdad
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by investingdad »

Could you keep the pot packed in a small pile of mulch? I'd be nervous about letting them get too warm in the winter if you bring them inside. The polar vortex in PA killed one variety of berry canes in my garden that were supposed to fruit this year, but the roots are fine with lots of first year growth coming up. The rest of the berry canes and all the blueberry plants are happy as can be...it's wonderful to see native plants just shrug off a nasty winter like nothing happened. But the roots do need to be insulated in the ground.

I also suggest mixing varieties for cross pollination.
MSORSA
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by MSORSA »

I don't have blueberries but I have an orchard with about 12 blackberry bushes. I would set them up in a raise bed if I were you but if you are set on trying a container build a self watering container. There are plenty of youtube videos on how to make a self watering container from 2 lowes/homedepot 5gal paint containers or you can try any othetr variety. I have my tomatoes is this containers and I never have to water them, I only check the water reservoir once a week and if needed I just fill it up a bit, keeping always the reservoir with water it will keep the potting mix always moist and the plant will be hydrated 24/7 without you thinking about it.
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by 4nursebee »

Before asking on a forum pertaining to investing advice inspired by Bogle with a bunch of people around the country, I would first turn to local public resources (library, Ag extension agents, state universities).

That is what I did prior to planting my 50 bushes where I live.
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Alf 101
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Alf 101 »

Thanks to all for your input. We've moved beyond the design phase and project blueberry is a launch. We purchased two plants on Saturday, two different varieties of the local cultivars. I also purchased two 24" diameter pots. These I filled with a mix of potting soil and peat. I also mixed in some of the commercial sulfur product to help acidify the soil, topped both pots off with mulch, and watered generously.

From here on out this certainly becomes another case of "stay the course". My wife, a more experienced gardener, has pointed out that checking on the plants every hour won't help them grow; in fact the earth is full of vegetation that grows just fine with no human help. The implication is I can do more harm than good through over-management -- which strikes me as vaguely familiar advice.

All that said, I have recently learned there are soil pH meters for the home gardener. Since blueberries allegedly grow best in the pH 4.0-5.0 range this could be useful, but at the same time it all sounds a bit of a gadget. Has anyone used/purchased one of these, and should I be skeptical?
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tetractys
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by tetractys »

Birds really love blueberries. A small crop like yours can disappear within an hour, so keep them tightly covered with nets. -- Tet
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ladders11
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by ladders11 »

Personally I would "diversify" my planting and throw in a raspberry bush. I have seen them growing wild at the 45th parallel and also in the south so they must be versatile.
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Alf 101
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by Alf 101 »

Actually we have a fairly large patch of raspberries. These we planted the first year we moved into our house. These didn't really kick in until the 2nd year, and kick in they did. Comparatively these required very little work -- watering and some cutting back in the fall. Interestingly one of the caveats mentioned about growing blueberries is putting up netting to protect them from the birds. The birds really do leave our raspberries alone, though that may mean anything, as tastes vary. In any case, I won't starve.

Protecting the blueberries from the birds was a consideration in where we placed the pots. We had a few options that met the sun requirements, but only one by a chain-link fence. Not that I ever want to claim victory too soon, but rigging a net should be quite simple.

Blueberries are a long term commitment, so what I'm now curious about it maintaining the acidity of the soil long term. This now is the challenge.
wingnutty
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Re: Growing Blueberries

Post by wingnutty »

I have 5 varieties of blueberries growing in a 6x12 raised bed. I did the raised bed so that I could amend the soils to obtain adequate pH. I mixed existing soil with peat moss and added elemental sulfur and then mulch with pine needles and bark. This will be the 3rd growing season and the first where i will harvest a full crop. I picked blooms the first 2 years to aid in establishment.

I also have blackberries, raspberries and 4 varieties of strawberries, as well as a small 12-tree orchard with peaches, plums, pears, apples, necterines and apricots. Kind of a hobby for me :D I like the challenge of growing diverse fruits that most people around here don't grow.

There is tons of info out there on blueberries. Look up your state extension, or those of nearby states as they probably have good publications that can set you right with all you need to know.

Good luck!
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