By Linna Roemer, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
Our last winter was the coldest in 60 years. My apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, nectarine, plum and black walnut trees all had no flowers, and no fruit. I had hoped to invite friends to my orchard this summer to eat peaches and plums, but Mother Nature had other ideas.
While my tree fruits did not produce this year, the consolation was, my blueberries survived and produced beautifully even with the severe winter.
There are many benefits of planting blueberries at home:
1. Blueberries are one of the most nutritious fruits. They contain a high amount of vitamin C, K and manganese. Also, blueberries are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, too.
2. Grow them at home and you can save a lot of money as they can be expensive in the market.
You can eat them fresh from July to September, if you plant early, mid and later ripening cultivars. The bigger fruits, (like apple, peach, plum, etc.), ripen at about the same time. This means you can eat fresh tree fruits for only a short time, while blueberries keep producing throughout the summer.
3. There are very few diseases and insect pests of blueberry plants.
4. The plants don’t need a lot of pruning and are easy to care for.
5. Some cultivars can harvest 20 pounds of berries per plant.
6. The plant occupies a small space, just about 4’ by 4’ by 5’. But that space needs to have lots
7. Right now is a great time to get a blueberry bed started for next year.
How can you grow delicious blueberries at home?
1. Blueberries require acidic soil; the pH must be less than 5.0 with a target of 4.5. Test the soil where you want to put your plants and apply sulfur as needed at least a year before planting.*
2. Choose appropriate cultivars to match your garden’s USDA hardiness zone.
3. Purchase two- or three-year-old plants from a reliable nursery. You will need at least two different cultivars for proper pollination. A reputable nursery will be able to tell you which cultivars are best together.
4. Blueberry roots are shallow, so the plants are sensitive to moisture, especially for the first two years after planting. Make sure the plants get 1” of water per week.
5. Apply mulch to control weeds and to help keep the soil moist.
6. During flowering in the spring of the second year after planting, sprinkle fertilizer around the plants. Never fertilize after flowering.
7. REMEMBER – Right now is a great time to get a blueberry bed started for next year. Test your soil, add amendments, and next fall when the pH is just right, put your plants into their new home.
Who could resist berries that look as good as these pictures? Obviously not the Greedy Gardener! Plant some yourself and you can sit next to your own plants and feast on the freshest, ripe, and aromatic blueberries every day. Create a small orchard for the greedy!
*Detailed growing instruction can be found in the book, “Cornell’s Guide to Growing Fruit at Home,” pages 77-83.