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Garden Topics:
The Blueberry - The One Shrub Every Garden Should Have

In reality you should have more than one, but did you know that one of the most versatile plants for your home garden or landscape is a blueberry bush? It is true. Blueberry bushes are handsome plants that can give life to your landscape and to your personal health (more on that later). Many of the blueberries landscape attributes are overlooked causing them to be underutilized landscape plants. They have something to offer in all four seasons.

Bell-shaped white flowers appear in the spring, glossy green leaves during the summer and blue berries that are both delicious and decorative during July. They can have autumn foliage that is as attractive as the most stunning Japanese maple, and leaf color ranges from yellow-orange to fiery scarlet red. During the winter the rugged twiggy burgundy colored branches add interest and texture to the landscape.

Unless you have been living under a rock the last few years, you are familiar with the buzz surrounding the many health benefits of blueberries. With the increased health consciousness of our society, many people are including blueberries in their diet because of their anti-oxidant, nutrition, and stress relief properties. A study done by the University Of Michigan Cardiovascular Center suggests that blueberries may help reduce belly fat and the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

Further more, according to a study presented at the 2009 Experimental Biology conference, a diet rich in blueberries lowers blood cholesterol levels while improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity, lowering the risk of subsequent heart disease and diabetes. The US Dept of Agriculture’s database of antioxidant values for various foods places blueberry juice at the top of their list. Research also suggests that blueberries may have a role in reducing memory loss and improving eyesight.

While improved health is one reason to grow and eat blueberries, for most of us, to including kids and grandkids, the delicious easy-to-pick-berries are the only reason we need to plant blueberries.

Blueberries possess a unique combination of ornamental landscape beauty and delicious fruit and it will offer its benefits year after year with little effort on your part. It will not bear fruit the first 1-3 years and does not become fully productive until about the sixth year, but after that each blueberry bush will produce up to 8 quarts of berries for 15-20 years. If you want bigger berries and a higher yield, plant more than one variety so that the plants can cross pollinate. To help stimulate the growth of the bush you should remove the blossoms for the first two years. I know that will be hard for you to do, but be strong and do it anyway. It is important in the early years for the plant to put all its energy into an increased plant size.

The soil's ph (acidity level) is something thing that you will have to look into. Blueberry bushes require a low ph of 4.5 which is much lower than would ever find in our soils. It is important to test the soil before you plant. The only accurate way to determine the soil PH is to call Penn State Co-Op Extension and obtain a soil test kit.412-473-2540. The test results will indicate how much sulfur required for your site to lower the ph to the ideal level.

Another point to consider when planting is the fact that the soil in the blueberries natural habitat contains a high level of organic matter. That means you should incorporate a lot of it when you plant.

Now to figure out which type to blueberry bush to buy; there are two different types varieties of blueberry bushes that can be grown here in Southwestern PA.

  • The highbush is the most common, the most productive, and it produces the largest and sweetest berries. Mature height runs from 4-7 feet.
  • The low bush blueberry plant that is native to the Northern US and Canada, are more useful as groundcovers. They will reach about a foot in height and are much more spreading or prostate in nature.

Blueberries make excellent hedges if planted correctly and the right varieties are used. To form solid hedges or screens, place plants 2½ to 3’ apart. If uniform shape and texture is desired use the same variety in the row. For tall hedges use the faster growing, upright varieties such as Jersey, or Bluejay (5-7 ft.) If a medium hedge is desired, try Blue Gold or Blue Crop (4-6ft.) If a compact plant is called for plant North Blue or North Country. Even shorter varieties such as North Land and North Country work well in plantings along walks and make good border plantings.

Container Planting

If the soil type in your area is not suitable for blueberries or your growing space is limited to a deck or patio, container growing is an option. The half-high varieties, especially North Sky, lend its self to this use. North Sky will fill out a container such as a half whiskey barrel when mature. Top Hat and Sunshine Blue are two other varieties well suited to container gardening though they may be difficult to find. Please stop in and see us if need advice with your blueberry planting project. We would be most happy to help.

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