Learn how to grow blueberries in your home garden. We'll take you step by step through planting, fertilizer and mulch, care and harvest.
We also touch on growing blueberries in containers, pruning and moving mature plants.
Growing Blueberries – Quick Guide
Blueberries are fairly easy to grow, if you follow some basic rules.
- Blueberries grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10.
- Blueberry soil should be rich in organic matter, with soil pH between 4 and 5.5 (acidic soil).
- Plant blueberry bushes in full sun for best production. Plants will tolerate late afternoon shade.
- Blueberries prefer well drained soil.
- While blueberries are self-pollinating, planting a second variety will increase fruit production
- Space blueberry plants 4-6’ apart for highbush, 2-4’ for low bush with 6-8’ between rows
- Use several inches of organic mulch to prevent weeds.
- Apply organic fertilizer in spring when plants are starting to bud.
- Prune off damaged or crossing branches in late winter.
- Blueberries need around an inch of water per week during the growing season.
- Protect plant from wild animals, if needed.
- Harvest regularly to prevent spoilage.
How to Grow Blueberries
Let's tackle each of these steps for growing blueberries in more detail.
Where do blueberries grow?
You can grow blueberries in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 10.
Local microclimate and soil is important, too, as we'll discuss below. Watch your local weather, talk with other gardeners to see what varieties grow well in your area.
For more information, read: Plant Hardiness Zones and Microclimate.
What's the Best Soil for Blueberry Plants?
Healthy soil = healthy plants. Remember, these bushes have the potential to provide many years of delicious berries, so they are worth the extra effort.
Blueberries grow best with an acid soil pH between 4 and 5.5, so do a soil test before you start.
The best soil for blueberry plants is soil rich in acidic, organic material, like you would find on forest floor or edge of the forest.
Add Organic Matter
When you prepare your blueberry planting area, dig a generous amount of organic matter into your blueberry soil. Time and effort up front will make all the difference in plant performance.
Peat moss is commonly recommended, but pine needles, leaves and other tree fallout work just as well. If your soil is alkaline, you’ll either need to do a LOT of soil amending, or grow you blueberries in a container.
The first time I planted blueberries, I used pine sawdust to kill the weeds, then used the sawdust for mulch. It worked OK, but I think the sawdust tied up a lot of nitrogen in the soil as it broke down, which slowed plant growth.
When I extended my blueberry patch, I first smothered the grass in a 10’x24′ plot with black plastic during the growing season. In the fall, I tilled in a generous amount of leaves and black peat by-product from earthworm casting production.
Be Careful with Chemicals
Avoid large amounts of sulfur and chemical fertilizers, which disrupt soil health.
If you do add sulfur in quantity to lower pH, wait at least three months for it to break down before planting. (For instance, add sulfur in fall for planting in spring.)
Where to Plant Blueberry Bushes
As noted above, blueberry plants prefer slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter. They need full sun for best fruit production, but will tolerate some afternoon shade.
Avoid planting blueberries in ground that tends to have standing water or ground that dries out too quickly. Think “edge of forest”, not bog. If standing water is an issue, try raised beds.
Which Blueberry Variety is Right for Your Area?
Different blueberry varieties can be grown from Texas to Canada. Check with your local Cooperative Extension office, or ask neighbors who have had success in growing blueberries.
You can also check your favorite local garden center or online nursery for suggested blueberry varieties. Try to plant at least two different varieties so they can cross pollinate.
Basic blueberry types include:
- Lowbush Blueberry – Vaccinium anugustifolium – Cold tolerant, less productive than high bush blueberry varieties, can be used as an edible ground cover or food forest planting
- Northern Highbush Blueberry – Vaccinium corymbosum – For zones 4-7 (specific highbush blueberry varieties will tolerate colder temps, such as those I’m growing in zone 3). Grows 5-6’ tall.
- Southern Highbush Blueberry – Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids – For zones 7-10. Plants require little chilling, but are otherwise similar to their northern cousins.
- Rabbiteye Blueberry – Vaccinium ashei – Best for southern growers. For zones 7-8. Cold tolerant to around zero F. This blueberry variety can grow up to 20 feet if left unpruned, but best trimmed to manageable picking height.
- Saskatoon – Amelanchier alnifolia – Not a true blueberry, but extremely cold tolerant. Can be grown in the northern United States and Southern Canada. Does not require acidic soil.
Saskatoons are also known as serviceberry, shadbush and juneberry. Fruit flavor is somewhat bland, seeds are larger than blueberry seeds and have a mild almond flavor.
When growing blueberries, allow 6 to 8 feet between rows.
Space blueberry plants:
- 4 feet to 6 feet apart for highbush blueberries
- 24 inches to four feet apart for low bush blueberries
- 1 to 5 feet for saskatoon plants
Planting Blueberry Bushes
Plant container grown blueberry plants in your garden at the same depth they were growing in the pot. The same rule applies for bare root plants.
To remove a blueberry bush from its container, place your hand around the base of the blueberry plant with your palm facing towards the soil to support the root ball. Gently invert the pot to dump the blueberry bush out.
Check for roots that circled around inside the pot, and gently loosen and spread them out before you set your blueberry bush into the planting hole.
If planting a bareroot blueberry plant, gently spread the roots in the planting hole. Cover the roots of your plant and gently tamp down the soil.
Water the blueberry bush well to settle the soil around the roots, and cover soil with a layer of organic mulch.
When to Plant Blueberry Bushes
Bareroot blueberry plants should be planted in early spring, preferably while they are still dormant, to minimize transplant shock.
Container grown blueberry plants do well planted in spring, too, but can also be planted later in the season. It's best to avoid planting in mid-summer, when high temps in the garden can stress plants. Areas with mild winters may do well planting container grown blueberries in fall.
Note for Plants Purchased via Mail
If you purchase blueberries from an online nursery, they may need to be acclimated to your area before planting.
Start with placing the containers in sheltered, shady spot outdoors, such as a porch. Keep them there for 3-4 hours the first day, bringing them inside at night. Add 1-2 hours of outside time each day, planting at the end of a week.
Avoid exposing your young blueberry plants to freezing temperatures when they have fresh baby leaves. If frost threatens after planting, use frost protection.
Locally grown container blueberries that have been sitting outside at a nursery shouldn't need to be acclimated and can be planted directly in the garden.
Best Blueberry Mulch
Blueberries are a shallow rooted shrub and don’t compete well with grass, so they benefit from a good mulching.
Mulch helps keep the moisture level stable, and cust down on the amount of time spent watering.
I would say the best blueberry mulch is pine needles. They help maintain the correct pH, and add nutrients to the soil.
If you can’t get pine needles, bark or wood chips over wet newspaper would be my next choice.
The Best Blueberry Fertilizer
Fertilize blueberries with an acid fertilizer like ammonium sulfate or Down to Earth Acid Mix.
Use 2 ounces of ammonium sulfate 18 inches from the plant when you see blossoms. Increase by one ounce each year, up to 4 oz per plant per year.
If you are adding extra mulch at the same time, increase the amount of fertilizer by 1/2.
How to Fertilize Blueberries the Right Way
Along with acid fertilizer, blueberry plants love earthworm castings. When the blueberries are starting to bud, I fertilize my blueberry bushes with earthworm castings.
To apply castings, I pull back the mulch at the base of the blueberry bush, and spread an inch of two of worm castings. Then I move the mulch back into place around the blueberry plant.
Once you prep the soil, fertilizer and mulch, the main thing to watch during the growing season is watering.
Blueberries need around an inch of water per week, and water is extra important when the berries are growing. Without water, the berries wither instead of ripening.
Blueberry bushes set fruit next year on this year's growth, so you want to make sure to care for your blueberry plants well throughout the season.
Protecting Blueberry Plants from Birds and Other Animals
The first problem I ran into with blueberries is that every wild animal eats them, and not just the berries.
First the deer came to browse and then the rabbits, and the first 6 plants I put in turned into 2 inch stubs.
I fenced the next planting with 3 foot wire, but I still had problems with the deer jumping the fence, so last year I went to a 6 1/2 ft fence.
To keep the birds out, I built a frame work out of T post, chicken wire, tube steel and conduit, then ran wires to support plastic bird netting. This created safe haven for the plants to grow and berries to ripen pest free.
Having the netting elevated instead of just draped over the plants provides better protection and makes the plants easier to access for harvest and care.
When you price fencing materials they may seem expensive, but remember a blueberry planting can last 30 years if you manage it properly, so it will be worth it in the long term.
For more information on my set up, see “Blueberry Netting Tips – Protecting Blueberries from Birds (& Deer)“.
When to Pick Blueberries
Pick blueberries when they are a deep blue color. It's okay to pick them slightly underripe and let them ripen at room temperature inside.
Avoid letting overripe blueberries sit on the plant, as they can attract Drosophila fruit flies, especially in wet weather.
Blueberries will keep for several days at room temperature, or about a week in the refrigerator. Freeze or make blueberry jam for longer storage.
Growing Blueberries in Containers, Including Overwintering Instructions
For detailed blueberry container planting information, please see “Growing Blueberries in Containers“
Excerpt from the article:
Because containers do not provide adequate insulation from the cold, be sure to protect container-grown blueberries during the winter to prevent root damage.
In mid- to late October, bury containers in the ground at a site where snow is likely to accumulate and where plants will be protected from cold winter winds.
Mulch the soil surface with four to eight inches of straw in mid-November or cover the bushes with burlap. Prevent rabbit damage by placing chicken wire fencing or hardware cloth around the bushes.
During early to mid-spring, remove containers from the ground and place them in full sun. Alternatively, containers can be left buried in the soil as long as the containers have proper drainage holes and the site where the containers are buried is well drained and exposed to full sun.
How to Plant Blueberries in Pots
How to Prune Blueberries
Here’s a good post from Oregon State University Extension on proper pruning techniques for blueberries, “Prune blueberries yearly for more fruit“, which includes the following steps:
“Remove the low growth that would touch the ground when loaded with fruit. Cut out short, soft shoots that develop from the base of the plant late in the season.
Prune off canes and twigs damaged by winter injury, mechanical causes, diseases or insects. Cut out the unproductive canes: those that haven't produced much new growth on one-year-old canes, which have buds and are dull in color.
If you have been pruning every year, it is best to remove the two oldest (most unproductive) canes each winter.
Prune to let light down into the plant center.
If your plants tend to overbear, with numerous small fruits rather than larger ones, thin the fruit buds by clipping back some of the small shoots carrying a heavy load of flower buds. Blueberry flower buds are near the tips of the past season's growth and are large and plump, compared to the small scale-like “leaf” buds.”
How to Transplant Mature Blueberry Plants
Yes, you can transplant mature blueberry bushes.
It’s best done in late winter or early spring. “How to Transplant a Mature Blueberry Bush” is a pretty good guide, although I would try to give the sulfur a longer rest period before planting.
How to Clone Blueberries from Mature Plants
See “How to Graft or Clone Blueberries” for instructions on cloning your own blueberry plants.
This post is by Laurie Neverman’s brother, Richard Poplawski. Since his service in the Marines, Rich has been a mechanic, fabricator and “fix just about anything” guy for over 20 years.
He lives in northwest Wisconsin and maintains a large orchard and perennial plantings, as well as a vegetable garden. He loves spending time with his grandkids, introducing them to gardening or getting in some fishing with “Papa Rich”.
His posts on the site include:
- How to Grow the Best Raspberries You’ve Ever Tasted
- Car Won't Start in the Cold? check Out these Troubleshooting Tips
- 5 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a Wood Burning Stove
First published in 2012, last updated in 2020.