Grow Blueberries in Containers

Perhaps you missed the sweet potato update. I couldn’t wait any longer. I cooked up some of the sweet potatoes I was curing and they were really good. I call the experiment growing sweet potatoes in containers– a success. Enjoying more sauteed and smashed sweet potatoes tonight.

What about blueberries?

Blueberries are full of yummy nutrients. They are loaded with antioxidants, protect your heart health and reduce free radical damage. They are a fruit with one of the lowest amounts of sugar. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and fiber.

They have pretty white flowers and great fall color.

I tried to grow blueberries many, many years ago. I bought a dwarf variety and put it in a container. Sigh. It didn’t do very well and it’s fate included the trash can. Blueberries…bad idea. Moving on.

It’s been a while and the thought of growing blueberries still intimidated me a bit -but now, I take that as a challenge. I am eating healthy now and blueberries are really tasty, but in the market they are also pricey and often mushy or moldy. Plus, sour berries often make it into the containers. Ack.DSC00798

Problem:

  • Blueberries need space, they get pretty big.
  • They need acidic soil, my soil doesn’t naturally have it. (4.5-5.0ish)
  • They need good drainage.
  • Finally, where can I plant them so I end up feeding myself instead of the wildlife. Ugg, the deer and birds are so frustrating!

Solution:

  • Containers!
  • I can control the drainage.
  • I can make the soil acidic.
  • They make really big containers.
  • I can put them on the concrete in a fenced in area so the deer can’t eat them. The evil Houdini bird is another story. 😩
  • If I move I can take them, because the new owners will just rip them out and put in cookie cutter landscaping. Okay, maybe they won’t.
  • If I become allergic to them or grow tired of picking blueberries (just kidding, will never happen) I can give them to someone else who will enjoy them.

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Turns out, blueberries are easy to grow perennials. The hardest part was deciding on which varieties to grow. There are so many! If you’re not sure which variety you want you can test them at your local pick-it-yourself farm and decide which you like best. Then buy that one.

You should choose more than one variety. Blueberries will produce more if they cross pollinate. However make sure they bloom at the same time! If you get an early variety and a late one they will bloom at different times. That will not be helpful! There are early, mid, and late season varieties. I bought early and mid-season. Next year I may add late varieties to really extend the blueberry season in my yard.

Of course, you need to match the variety to your growing zone. The four varieties I ended up with are Blueray, Bluejay, Northland and Jubilee. I am pleased with all 4 varieties. Buy plants the are 2-3 years old. They will fruit faster.

Blueberries are generally pest free. Most issues arise from over or under watering or soil that is not acidic enough.

Cooler weather cuts down on pollination, which also reduces your crop.

Planting:

Plant in late winter or early spring. Place in full sun (6 hours or more).

Blueberry bushes can grow to 6, 8, even 12 feet depending on the variety. Unless you are buying a dwarf variety, get the biggest container you can. This will avoid the back breaking exercise of potting up in a year or two. Growing in containers will give you a smaller plant, but they can still get pretty big.

Don’t use potting mix. You need to give it an acidic soil environment. Your mix should contain roughly 80% pine bark, 10% peat moss and 10% perlite. You may also need to add soil acidifier (sulfur).

Be sure to give protection from deer, rabbits and voles that will eat the leaves and branches, as well as the future threat of birds eating the berries.

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Growing:

Fertilize each spring. Give some sulfur as well, check soil ph. (They have handy meters for that)  Fertilize again in early summer when bushes are developing blooms.

Pot up in spring, if necessary, before new growth starts.

Add organic matter to the soil to help retain moisture and add micro nutrients.

Blueberries don’t need to be trained, just pruned. They won’t need significant pruning for a few years, however you will want to cut out any dead, diseased, or broken branches. After a few years you will want to cut out the older branches larger than one inch in diameter and branches that cross and rub other branches.

They say to remove the blooms for the first few years to promote stronger root growth. I don’t have the patience for that, so I’ve never done it. They seem to be growing pretty well despite my lack of patience.

Don’t let the soil dry. Blueberries have shallow roots. The containers should get at least 1-2 inches of water a week and more during the fruiting period, especially since they are in containers. Less water will give you smaller fruit, some may also drop. On the flip side, too much water right before harvest will dilute the sugar in the berries and they will be bland (same principle as growing melons).

If your winter is very cold you will want to give them some winter protection.

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Harvest:

Blueberries are ready to harvest in July-August.

The berries should be uniformly blue. Don’t pick them right when they turn blue, wait about 5-7 days so they are nice and sweet.DSC08099

No one wants a sour blueberry.

My method to harvest is to tickle the fruit gently. Anything that falls off is ready. If it doesn’t fall off, try again tomorrow. Hasn’t failed me yet. This past season I had a little bowl of berries each morning. Not too bad for only the second season.

 

 

 

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 “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

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