How Do I Grow Blueberries?
Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow and can easily be grown organically, making them the perfect pick for many Piedmont backyards. To start your blueberry patch all you need to know is how to prepare your site and which are the best varieties for our area.
Blueberry Varieties for Piedmont Gardens
The best type of blueberries to grow in the Piedmont are rabbiteye varieties, which are better adapted to clay soils than the southern highbush types grown on commercial blueberry farms in the coastal plain. Rabbiteye blueberries grow into large bushes, usually 6’+ tall and wide, but are capable of growing 12’ tall or more if they are not regularly pruned. Learn more about pruning rabbiteye blueberries.
Blueberries are most productive in full sun, but will produce a decent crop even when grown in part shade. Their berries ripen from June through August in flushes, so each bush will provide several harvests. When harvesting rabbiteye blueberries keep in mind berries turn blue well before they fully ripen. For sweeter fruit, wait 7 to 10 days after berries turn blue to pick.
When buying rabbiteye blueberry plants be sure to purchase at least two different named varieties; Rabbiteye blueberries cannot pollinate themselves – they must have another variety growing close by to produce fruit. Some of my favorite varieties recommended for this area include:
- ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’, our two earliest bearers, ripening in mid to late June
- ‘Columbus’ and ‘Onslow,’, which are mid-season bearers
- ‘Powderblue’, which ripens late in the season, usually from late July through early August
- Learn more about blueberry varieties bred and released by NC State
Though some varieties bear fruit later than others, all varieties bloom at roughly the same time and are able to cross pollinate each other. Fully grown blueberry bushes are very productive, producing up to 24 pounds of fruit per bush, though you may want to plant a couple of extra bushes so you have enough fruit to share with the birds.
Choosing the Right Site
To grow rabbiteye blueberry bushes successfully choose a sunny location with acidic, well-drained soil. Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.3 to thrive. This is lower than many plants will tolerate, even camellias and azaleas. Many Piedmont soils are acidic and soil pH’s around 5.0 are typical. The pH of soils that have been recently limed or where wood ashes have been frequently applied may be higher than ideal for blueberries.
To determine your soil’s pH, submit a sample to the NC Department of Agriculture’s soil testing lab in Raleigh. The results, which are much more accurate than do-it-yourself kits, are posted online within a few weeks. Boxes, forms and instructions for collecting soil samples are available from any N.C. Cooperative Extension office. Learn more about soil testing.
If soil test results show your soil pH is over 5.5, you may need to lower the pH by applying sulfur to the soil. If this is necessary, carefully apply sulfur (sometimes sold as soil acidifier) based on label directions or consult the chart in this Clemson Extension fact sheet to determine how much sulfur is needed.
In addition to pH, you will also need to assess drainage. Blueberries grow best in well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter. If you have heavy clay soil or poor drainage, amend the soil by mixing in finely ground pine bark, which is sold as soil conditioner. Build raised mounds 6” to 12” high and 2’-3’ wide to improve drainage. Space plants 5’- 6’ apart in the row. Keep plants well watered, especially during the first few years as they establish. Mulch will help retain soil moisture and reduce weeds – pine straw and pine bark mulches are ideal.
Learn more about growing blueberries:
- NC State Extension’s Blueberry Portal – a one-stop shop for all you need to know
- What type of bees pollinate blueberries? Read more to find out
- Learn how to propagate blueberries
- Blueberry pruning diagrams
- Blueberry pruning tips
- Notes on growing blueberries, by NC State Blueberry Specialist Bill Cline
- Keep up with the latest blueberry news – visit Dr. Cline’s blog, the NC Blueberry Journal
Access these resources for growing many types of fruits, including slides from the recent Extension Gardener class on growing fruits and berries.
Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S.
Extension Gardener classes and workshops teach science-based, sustainable gardening principles and practices for central NC. Sign up for upcoming classes.
Help spread science-based, sustainable gardening information and advice in your community by becoming an Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteer!
Subscribe to the Chatham Gardener email list to receive timely updates on sustainable lawn, garden, and landscape care for the central NC Piedmont.