The blueberry — a berry to celebrate

By Lynette L. Walther | Jul 12, 2019
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Blueberries galore await those who grow their own high- or low-bush varieties.

Ah, the little blueberry — so small in size, but with such a big presence. Blueberries pack a huge nutritional punch. Blueberries are low in fat and have high concentrations of fiber and antioxidants, and just one serving contains almost 25 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C.

There is no time like this month, National Blueberry Month, to incorporate more blueberries into your diet and reap the many health benefits — and to add them to your landscape as well. Blueberries (Vaccinium) come in low- and high-bush varieties, and are easy to grow.

Sure, we can buy blueberries in the grocery store, but why not plant your own berry plants and enjoy the benefits of blueberries right from your own backyard or balcony, patio or deck? While our native wild blueberries won’t be ready for harvest for a few more weeks, many of those who grow high-bush blueberries are already picking bright blue berries to enjoy fresh or in baked goods.

Grow them in the ground, or in containers if space is an issue, and reap the rewards. New compact container varieties now enable almost everyone to enjoy growing these hardy fruiting shrubs.

White Flower Farm offers these tips on growing blueberries:

• Choosing a site: Blueberries thrive in full sun and in acid soil that is moisture-retentive, yet well drained. Because blueberries grow best in soil with a pH between 4–5.5 (a pH of 5.5 is ideal), it is a good idea to have your soil tested before planting bushes.

• Spacing: Allow four to five feet between blueberry plants. Cross-pollination between varieties results in heavier fruit production, so it is always a good idea to buy more than one variety.

• Planting: Blueberries grow best in soil that has an acid pH and is rich in humus, remove about half of the soil dug from the planting hole and replace it with at least as much peat moss. Mix the peat moss thoroughly into the remaining soil before pushing it back into the hole.

• Watering and fertilizing: Blueberries require about one inch of rain or irrigation per week. Surrounding your plants with a 4- to 5-foot circle of mulch helps keep the soil moist and prevents the growth of weeds. Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of wood chips, shredded bark, or other organic material. The year after planting (and every year thereafter), apply a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants at flowering time in spring and again about four weeks later.

• Pruning: Remove all of the flowers produced the first spring after planting. You will be rewarded with healthier, more productive plants in coming years. For the next several years, pruning needs will be light — in early spring, remove weak branches and branches that have suffered damage over the winter, and thin interior branches if they are crowding each other. To keep mature plants vigorous and productive, prune in early spring to remove dead wood and low, spreading branches. Limit the number of major branches arising from the base to eight to 10. Regularly remove branches that are more than 4 to 5 years old, and allow younger branches to replace them.

• Pests: The most serious pest of blueberries is birds. A white row cover works well to prevent birds from seeing the berries. Simply drape the cover over the shrubs after pollination, and allow berries to form and ripen. This will prevent birds from being trapped underneath.

• Harvesting: Bushes begin bearing the second year from planting and reach maturity in six to eight years. Berries are ripe when they fall readily from the stems.

With many varieties from which to to choose, homegrown edible berry bushes are easy to grow and exceptionally beautiful, with delicious fruit. Plant them in your garden or in a container on your patio. Plus, the benefits of gardening are endless in themselves. Caring for berry bushes and plants encourages outdoor activity and helps to reduce stress levels, which can help prevent a number of lifestyle diseases..

Not only that, but eating blueberries has been shown to:

• Improve memory — A recent study has found that blueberries may help reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. The high antioxidant levels found in blueberries can help improve memory and cognitive function in older adults.

• Lower cancer risk — Blueberries are known as super fruits because of their high antioxidant levels. Studies have shown that the antioxidants found in blueberries can protect from cell damage that could lead to forms of cancer.

• Promote heart health — Blueberries are good for your heart. This is especially good news, since heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, the consumption of blueberries can help decrease blood pressure, which is a major factor in heart disease.

High-bush blueberry buds appear in the spring. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Mix the best of the season’s harvest for a healthy lunch, a sweet and savory cold salad of tender green beans, spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes and blueberries in a vinaigrette dressing. Add a sliver or two of aged cheddar and some homemade bread for a seasonal feast. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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