Where to Plant Blueberries
The first, and most important step to growing blueberries is making sure you have the right spot.
Like most fruits, blueberries do best in full sun. They do tolerate shade, but they won't produce nearly as much fruit as they would in full sun. They also prefer moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter. If you have heavy clay, you'll definitely want to amend it with compost, peat moss, or similar materials before planting blueberries.
What makes blueberries different than most fruits is they need soil with an acidic pH: ideally between 4.5 and 5.5. If you have neutral or alkaline soil, it's best to amend it with soil sulfur before planting your blueberries.
Choose the Right Varieties
Different types of blueberries are suited to different climates.
Northern highbush: If you live in the Northeast, Midwest, Northwest, High Plains, or Mountain West, look for northern highbush blueberries. They have large fruits and are hardy in Zones 4-7. Common varieties include 'Bluecrop', 'Earliblue', and 'Jersey'.
Southern highbush: If you live in the South or California, look southern highbush varieties. They don't need as much winter cold to bear well, and still produce large, flavorful fruits. The plants are hardy in Zones 7-10. Popular varieties include 'Oneal', 'Ozarkblue', and 'Legacy'.
Rabbiteye: Southern and Northwestern gardeners can also grow rabbiteye blueberries, which are more compact shrubs than southern highbush types. The fruits also tend to be smaller and appear later in the season. Rabbiteye varieties are hardy in Zones 7-9. Top rabbiteye varieties include 'Premier' and 'Powderblue'.
Lowbush: Lowbush blueberry is also good choice for gardeners in the north. It has more of a groundcover habit and bears small, delicious fruits. It's hardy in Zones 3-6.
Here's a hint: Most blueberries need another variety near them to bear lots of fruit. So it's best to plant at least two cultivars of the same type in your yard to ensure good harvests.
How to Care for Blueberries
As long as you have acidic soil, most blueberries are relatively low maintenance once they become established.
Here's a hint: Remove all the flowers or fruits the year you plant your blueberries. It may break your heart, but it's incredibly beneficial in helping your plants become established.
After planting, spread a 3-inch-deep layer of mulch over the soil around the blueberries. Pull the mulch from the plants' stems, leaving a gap of an inch or two. That helps prevent voles, mice, and other pests from attacking the blueberry from under the mulch.
Water your blueberries in times of drought, but don't let the soil stay soggy. If your soil tends to stay wet, plant your blueberries in raised beds or containers to keep the roots from suffocating.
Happily, blueberries require very little pruning. In fact, you typically don't need to worry about pruning them for the first five or six years. After that, make way for young, vigorous growth by cutting some of the oldest stems to the ground. Thin out some of the youngest stems where they seem crowded and also shorten any stems that flop.
More Tips for Growing Blueberries
If you have soil rich in organic matter, you probably don't need to fertilize your blueberries -- especially if you mulch or top dress with compost each season. Take caution if you do fertilize your plants as their roots are very sensitive. Fertilize at one-half or one-quarter the recommended rate on the packaging.
Protecting Your Fruit
Birds, deer, and other critters enjoy eating blueberries as much as we do. So you'll probably need to protect your crops, at least while they're young, with netting or fencing.
Growing Them in Containers
Luckily, if your soil isn't appropriate, blueberries usually grow well in containers. Choose big containers -- at least 36 inches in diameter if you live in the North -- and fill them with acidic potting mix. Water them so the soil stays moist, but not wet.