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Blueberries As Landscape Plants

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Blueberries have many attributes that make them valuable yet frequently overlooked and underutilized landscape plants. They have something to offer in all four seasons. Bells-shaped white flowers appear in the spring and during the summer the glossy green leaves and blue berries are attractive. Autumn foliage on blueberries can be as attractive as the most stunning sugar maple. Leaf color ranges from yellow-orange to fiery scarlet red. During the winter the rugged twiggy branches add interest and texture to the landscape.

Blueberry Plants Come in Different Sizes and Forms

They can be large and upright like 'Spartan', moderate in height and spreading like 'Bluetta', or low and small in stature such as the lowbush blueberry. Blueberries can be used individually as specimen plants or grouped for effect into larger clustered plantings. They can also be planted 3 feet apart as a hedge to form an attractive yet effective barrier. They make an excellent ground cover but it may require several years to completely fill the allotted space. The lowbush blueberry and 'Northsky' are the lowest, rarely reaching 18 inches in height. The halfhigh varieties: 'Friendship', 'North Country' and 'Northblue' would be more appropriate as a ground cover where a height of 20 to 30 inches is desired. Insect and disease control is generally not required if plants are kept vigorous and healthy.

Blueberries are relatively easy to grow but there are several key cultural things that must be done.

Adjust Soil pH

Blueberries are acid-loving plants like rhododendrons and azalea and therefore require a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.2. The pH of most garden and lawn soils is too high for blueberries. Elemental sulfur is the best and easiest way to lower soil pH. Have the soil pH tested before planting. Yellowing of the area between leaf veins on young shoots is an easy way to identify high soil pH where blueberries are already growing.

Prepare Soil

Blueberries have fine shallow roots with no root hairs. Soil should be cool and moist (never wet). A sandy loam that is high in organic matter is best. Generally 10 to 15 quarts of peat is mixed with the soil at planting time and placed around the roots. Plants should be mulched with 6 to 8 inches of aged wood chips, bark or partially rotted sawdust. This should be renewed annually. Straw or leaves can be used but are not as good. During dry years, supplemental water may be necessary.

Defruit

Blueberries do not grow fast and the presence of fruit nearly always stops growth of young plants. Therefore, all fruit should be removed from the plants for the first four years.

Prune

Once blueberries approach full size they should be pruned annually in March or April. Pruning is easy and requires very little time. Remove one to three of the oldest canes each year. This may amount to up to 25% of the whole plant. This will stimulate vegetative growth and keep the plant growing vigorously. Detailed and time-consuming pruning is generally not required. Lowbush blueberries are frequently pruned every two to three years by mowing the whole plant down to ground level with a mower before growth starts in the spring. This will stimulate vigorous new growth. No blueberries are harvested in the year of pruning if lowbush blueberries are mowed.

Plant Pollinizers

More than one variety should be planted because blueberries are considered to be partially self-incompatible. If more than one variety is planted, more fruit will set, fruit will be larger and they will ripen earlier.

Consider blueberries as you think about plants that you may add to your landscape this year. They are attractive year round and if covered with netting they can provide wonderful tasting fruit in July and August. If plants are left unprotected, they will attract many different kinds of birds to your yard.

Characteristics of Blueberry Plants that May Be Useful in the Landscape
Variety Plant Height Plant Habit Fall Leaf Color Season of Ripening
Berkley 5-6ft spreading orange midseason
Bluecrop 4-6ft upright fiery red midseason
Blueray 5-7ft upright & spreading yellow-orange midseason
Bluetta 3-5ft compact spreading orange very early
Collins 4-6ft upright red midseason
Elliot 5-7ft upright orange-red

very late

Friendship 24in low brilliant orange-red midseason
Jersey 5-7ft upright spreading yellow-orange late midseason
North Country 18-24in low fiery red midseason
Northblue 20-30in low dark red late midseason
Northsky 10-18in very low dark red late midseason
Patriot 4-6ft open spreading orange-red early midseason
Rancocas 5-7ft upright spreading red late midseason
Spartan 5-7ft upright open orange-red early

 

Last Updated: 
Apr 4, 2012
Topics: 
Home Lawn & Garden
Home Lawn and Garden topics: 
Fruit