Growing Blueberries? Avoid these 4 Beginner Mistakes

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When I began gardening, I wanted to start growing blueberries right away. One of the most healthy fruits you can eat, blueberries are expensive to buy at the grocery store, and the flavor of store-bought blueberries simply can’t compare to homegrown.

Growing blueberries is much simpler than you would think. All the work — which is minor in comparison to other plants — comes in the first year. After their first season, blueberries are very low-maintenance and will produce buckets full within a couple of years!

Before I planted my first bushes in the ground, I researched the requirements of growing blueberries right from the beginning. From both the knowledge I gained from research and my own gardening experience with my 7-year-old blueberry bushes, I’ve compiled the most common beginner mistakes in growing blueberries and how to avoid them.

Growing Blueberries

Mistake #1: Only planting one blueberry bush

Most blueberries are not self-pollinating, which means they need at least two different varieties to pollinate one another and produce berries. In other words, if you only plant one bush, you’ll get beautiful flowers but few, if any, fruit.

You want at least two bushes, though the more diversity you can include, the better. I chose to purchase five different cultivars. Though I didn’t plan it this way, each of them ripens at slightly different times. Not only do I harvest gallons each season from these bushes, but also I harvest for a solid two months.

blueberry bushes mature

Learn more about which cultivars to choose for your area in this post about growing blueberries in containers or in the ground.

Mistake #2: Not checking the soil before planting your blueberries

Most garden plants tolerate a variety of pH levels in the soil, but this is not the case with blueberries. Blueberry bushes must have acidic soil — anywhere between 4.0 and 5.0. Many garden areas are acidic naturally, but I wouldn’t recommend hoping for the best. Blueberry bushes will last years, if not decades, and it’s worth your time to start them out right.

blueberry-basket

How do you know if your soil is acidic? The safest bet is to test your soil. Here’s how

If your soil is not acidic, you can make plans to amend the soil with sulfur, build a raised bed, or plant in large containers. Blueberry expert Dr. Lee Reich shares more details on how to acidify your soil even the first year in this post.

Even if your soil is acidic, it’s a good idea to amend the planting area with peat moss and other organic matter. You can also include pine needles and coffee grounds (many coffee shops will give you their used coffee grounds for free). Blueberry bushes do not require highly fertile soil, but soil rich in organic materials will give them the best start.

free garden printables

Mistake #3: Not mulching your blueberry bed

Blueberries have shallow root systems, meaning they will dry out if a thick mulch isn’t used to protect from evaporation. Plus, this mulch will help retain moisture already present in the soil from which the blueberry roots can draw. I cover my beds with 2-4 inches of wood chips or pine needles in both the spring and the fall. Here is a more in-depth discussion of mulch options.

Another benefit mulch has is preventing weed growth. Again, being shallow-rooted, blueberry bushes will suffer from competition for water and nutrients.

I talk more about growing blueberries in this episode of my podcast: Growing Blueberries: Tips for Beginners & 4 Mistakes to Avoid

how to grow blueberries
Mistake #4: Planting your blueberries in a poorly-drained location

Blueberries do not like “wet feet,” so choosing a site with good drainage is important when selecting where your blueberry bushes will grow.

My garden area is typically not well-drained, but I haven’t had any problems. One reason, I believe, goes back to how much organic matter (pine needles and composted wood chips) I added to the soil to begin with, in addition to the thick layer of mulch. These steps I believe prevent my normally wet soil from causing any problems for my bushes.

Still, making sure your blueberry bed is well-draining — or at the very least, well-amended — is important for the future growth of your bushes. Remember, these are not annual crops. Where you choose to plant your bushes the first year makes all the difference, and unless you make an effort to relocate them (which I wouldn’t recommend), where you plant them is where they will stay.

2019 was the first year I had to get on a ladder to harvest my highest blueberries!

How to Get Started Growing Blueberries

Avoiding beginner blueberry growing mistakes is just one step to getting the blueberry harvest you dream about. Now that my blueberry bushes produce more than our family can possibly eat, give away, and sell, I look back to that first year.

What did I do? I can break it down to 7 simple steps I took that first season. Below you’ll find a 1-minute video outlining those steps, and then you’ll also find more free resources below to help you grow blueberries yourself.

Related Blueberry Growing Posts:

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64 Comments

  1. Thanks for these tips. I’ve always wanted to grow blueberries, but I thought they would be hard to grow. After reading this I might give them a try this year.

    1. 2016 , you said you were going to try and grow blueberries AND????? Now, it is 2018 and i am very curious If you did and how are they?

      1. Every year has gotten better and better. We are harvesting so many berries from three bushes that we sell at the local farmer’s market now. The only thing I’ve changed since 2016 is I now add cottonseed meal to my bushes once per year in the early spring to add a nitrogen boost.

          1. It’s the discarded material after cotton goes through the cotton gin that is an excellent slow-release fertilizer. I bought mine at a local feed store, but I’m sure it’s available online as well.

  2. I am going to plant three blueberry bushes this year and would like to know which variety grows best in North West Montana? Also, sun requirements, all day, etc??!!

    1. Hi Kathryn! I’m in the south so the varieties I grow won’t be well-suited to your climate. I found this article that gives some suggestions for varieties in your part of the country. (http://www.gardenguides.com/84014-plant-blueberries-montana.html) I’ve always found purchasing from my local nursery to be a good bet since they carry what’s best suited for my climate. My blueberries thrive in full sun. Perhaps since your summer days are longer than mine, your could tolerate a bit of shade, though I’d be careful on how much. When it comes to fruit-bearing plants, the sun is required to fully develop the fruit. I hope this helps!

  3. As a Master Gardener, your advice is generally good. Soil test is critical. Research shows pine needles are not acidic, although they make a great mulch. Neither are coffee grounds – all the acid went into your cup! Sulfur is your best bet.
    I love my blueberry bushes, but the birds get most of the fruit. I’m trying new nets this year.

    1. Thank you, Julie, for your information! I’ve heard the same thing recently about pine needles and coffee grounds, which is good to know so more of us can use it without concern. (My soil is naturally acidic, and with the exception of blueberries, I don’t need to add anything more acidic to my soil.) Regarding birds, so far mine haven’t bothered my bushes, but my bushes are right outside of my dogs’ run. I do have to use netting on my blackberries, though. I hear the netting is the best deterrent. I hope your new netting works well for you!

  4. Jill,
    Enjoyed your article. I found from reading your article I made two of the four mistakes. I have 8 bushes, 3 different varieties in well drained soil. I have never checked the PH nor have I gotten around to mulching them. It is something I planned to do this year. I have a hillside on the side of my yard that is useless for much of anything so I decided to plant them there in a terrace arrangement. Hopefully I have allowed sufficient width for the roots. Thanks to your article I will check this out. Last year I got some fruit for my efforts but this year nothing. I have found that our deer love the plants. So a fence is in future plans.

    My wife chose to be a stay at home mother, like you have. We have four grown children, all married and in their own Christian homes. You will never be sorry you have chosen this route too. The best to you and your family.

  5. Jill I really did enjoy your blueberry information . I think , realizing it or not all gardeners feel closer to God watching a plant grow in the garden , we can not do it alone . Never forget , He planted the first and best garden Bev . PS We needed fencing this year to deter rabbits , they ate our blueberry plants down to a few sticks with almost no leaves ,but they grew back and even produced some berries up here in Nova Scotia

    1. Same here in Oklahoma! The branches on my blueberry bushes were eaten down in raised beds about a foot off the ground. Discovered the little rabbit droppings inside my bed.

  6. Thank you for the tips! I am just starting to plan a gardenfor our new home, and first on the list are blueberries and strawberries =)

  7. Thanks so much for your advice…. I made almost all the mistakes you mentioned… no wonder I got no fruits last year… We. live in Austria, our garden has very good soil …I’m going right now to get the other plants since I started with only one…. Thank! love your page…

  8. I have wild blueberry plants all over my property, some in the sun and many in full shade. They all produce blueberries, even though one species berries are much tastier then the other. Many of these plants have been here at least 25 years, since we purchased this land. Same with blackberries. Is there a way to move any of them so they are in a location closer to the house and each other? I find new plants often but they are very bushy and 4-5 inches tall, so probably not seedlings.

    1. Wild blueberry bushes are the lowbush variety, which I don’t have any experience in growing. I would still follow the main recommendations especially when it comes to ensuring the new site has a low PH soil. Wild blueberry bushes do have a different growth habit than others, and here is an article I found that might give you some specifics on how to transplant some of the younger bushes on your property: https://www.ehow.com/how_7442306_transplant-wild-blueberries.html

  9. Hi Jill I’ve always had an interest in growing blueberrys but being a city dweller I’m not sure that it’s possible. I’m in N.J. but about 15 minutes from midtown Manhattan N.Y. , truly inner city. I do all raised bed organic gardening and have a 5′ x8′ raised bed that I could use. I just don’t know if it’s large enough for three bushes. thanks for your help. Jack

    1. If I were you, I’d plant two blueberry bushes in that bed. I think three is too many, but with two, you’ll still have cross-pollination. I think it’s completely doable!

  10. I lived in SW Missouri near Springfield and then moved back to my hometown in NW Arkansas. In Missouri I had seven blueberry bushes I planted and put sulphur around plants occasionally. Evidently there is much difference in acidity in just an hour or so drive. The plants in Missouri yielded ten gallons of berries and can’t get them to stay alive in Arkansas. My soil looks like it could grow anything-dark and rich-but blueberries say no. I think the getting the soil ready is the most important thing. Also, I had three different kinds in Missouri which yielded at different times making it nice to have fresh longer. By the way, in case some out there don’t know, don’t wash your blueberries before putting in bags to freeze and the natural “dust” on them make them roll out without sticking together and make great snacks. Thanks for helping people learn about gardening. It’s the best in many ways!

  11. Jill, this is wildly helpful-thank you! I just inherited a potted blueberry plant. Any suggestions for identifying the type of plant? I plan to add another to our garden but want to make sure I’m getting another kind, not just two of the same. Should I be concerned with identification? Thanks again!

    1. Goodness, that’s a good question, but I don’t know. With so many different varieties out there, I think the chances of having two of the same would be slim. If you already have one in your garden, perhaps you could compare the leaves to see if there are subtle variations… but other than that, I’m not sure how you would identify it.

  12. I just planted my first blue berry bush at the end of last week, the back came with two and I planted the start that had some green on it already. This one has started to change and now the leaves are a reddish color?
    I have to go to the store to get more soil for my other plant as we are planting these in large pots. Is there any soil that would be best for this specifically? And do you know of any tricks to keep my leaves green and healthy?

    1. You’ve planted it in the soil where other blueberries are growing well? (I’m trying to make sure I understand.) If that’s the case, the soil should be acidic since it’s supporting other blueberry bushes. I’m not sure about the red leaves; that usually doesn’t start occurring until fall. Possibly transplant shock? Newly-planted blueberry bushes don’t typically need any fertilizer; I add nitrogen fertilizer to bushes in their third year.

    1. Generally, no. Perhaps there are exceptions, but most blueberry varieties become large and each one will need its own space.

    1. I did this for a few seasons, so the short answer is yes. My strawberries thrived next to my blueberries. But I wouldn’t do it again. Why? Because when the strawberries were at their peak production, it was really hard to pick the blueberries! The strawberry foliage went crazy and spread like a groundcover for the blueberries. We were constantly having to either step on the strawberry leaves or awkwardly lean in to pick blueberries. You could definitely try it but be aware of what could happen, and perhaps leave yourself some room for picking the blueberries if possible.

  13. Hello Jill, I have recently discovered your podcast and have started to binge listen from the start. I have one question concerning pruning blueberry bushes. I have to prune my redcurrant bushes and raspberries and blackberries also need to be cut back, so should I also prune the blueberries and If so, how? Thank you for your great work.

  14. I have four bushes and this year no blue berries. Been adding coffee ground#s an$ the bushes look very healthy. Thanks Pat

  15. There are only 2 mistakes listed here i.e. having only one bush and not checking soil pH. What are the other 2 mistakes please Jill? Is there a second page somewhere? Thanks

    1. Thank you so much for calling this to my attention! There was a technical error on this page and I was able to fix it. You can view all 4 mistakes now.

  16. Hi Jill

    For years, I have been harvesting from 2 bushes. After reading your article, I am going to make lots of changes following your suggestions. Obviously, with 2 bushes, I haven’t gotten much and end up buying frozen ones from the store. UGG! But, they are good. So now I will focus on producing a larger crop. I am in southern California What is the best time of year to plant blueberry bushes? And, luckily, I have lots of pine needles from our trees. Anxious to get going and make lots of changes.

    Thank you so much for your advice,
    Happy gardening, Pam

    1. Hi Pam, I’m not sure the best time to plant in Southern California. I think your best bet is to ask your local nursery. They will also have varieties that might give you a better yield. Most blueberry bushes require a certain amount of “chill hours,” which you may or may not get in your area, but there are varieties that aren’t as picky about those hours from what I understand. That’s why I think your local nursery (not a big box store but an actual nursery) would be your best bet to find out what variety is best and when to plant.

  17. Hi I’m Brad from Cape Town South Africa…i have grown my Blue Berry from seed…All by luck off course…but ow i am concerned that i wont get fruit because i only have one tree/ bush…i have it now for almost 2 years…Its raised from where i planted the seed in a cylinder cement block.. Its about almost 5ft tall..and really has a thick stem..ii want to repot or re-plant it into a container which will be larger than its current root space…but i’m a bit too scared it might wilt and die off. Any advise..should i leave it where it is …it seems quit happy though…i’m just waiting on the flower blooms and fruit…then i am A for Away…Looking fwd to your response. Kind Regards, Brad

    1. I don’t have personal experience growing in containers, but from what I understand about blueberries, if you give them a small container (like you have now), it will not grow as large as it could potentially grow in a larger space, but it would be fine. If you do repot it, I recommend doing it right before it starts budding and leafing out in the spring. Some blueberries can self-pollinate, so I’d keep an eye on the blossoms and if you only have flowers but no fruit, you know you need another.

  18. Hello, thanks so much for these steps! Our soil is high on PH so we are going to add some sulfur and do our best to make the soil right! So I was just wondering if we can plant 1 blueberry bush somewhere and then plant a different variety farther away? Would it still produce more fruit or does the bushes have to be close together since there isn’t as much room for us? Thank you?

    1. They need to be fairly close together, though I’m not certain on precise distance — I’m thinking 20 feet max? The cross-pollination happens with bees, and they’ll be visiting flowers usually all at once. When mine are in bloom, the bees go from bush to bush. Here’s another blog post / podcast episode that speaks more to amending your soil to lower the pH: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2018/02/20/growing-blueberries-interview-with-lee-reich/

    1. That’s the official recommendation, but I never have bee able to help myself. 🙂 I don’t know if the subsequent harvests were affected because I didn’t test it, but since I seemed to get expected harvests the second and third years (and beyond), I don’t regret enjoying the first year’s fruit. 🙂

  19. i planted blueberries and grew them for 4 years and they did poorly.
    i live in the northwest were we get snow and the temp gets in the low 10 to -10 and it gets cold
    do i need to shield them? i was going to plant them on the east side between my apple trees and that’s were we get the coldest winds is that a mistake.
    how protected do i have to get?
    thank you for all your information i am going out to day and get pine needles and we always save the coffee grounds it makes our grass grow wonderful we don’t put chemicals on in anymore.

    1. Hi Patti, since I don’t live in an area that gets this cold, I can’t tell you for sure. I recommend you call your local cooperative extension agent and ask about the cold tolerances of the ones you have relative to your climate. I do believe it depends on the kind, though. I grow rabbit eye blueberries that aren’t ideal for cold weather. If you bought from a local garden center or nursery, I’d imagine they’re ideal for your climate, but if you ordered them online, you might just double check.

  20. I was just giving 4 blueberry plants that are still in the black pot they come in from the store. I live in Wisconsin in a zone 5 it’s October now. What should I do with these plants to keep them alive? Should I plant them or should I leave them in the pot outside and over with hay? Do I bring them in door like to the basement? I’m really not sure.

    1. That’s a good question, Kristi. Not knowing the kind or having personal experience with Wisconsin winters, I’d advise you to contact your local cooperative extension service and ask an extension agent. Generally, plants in the ground outside are going to be better insulated than plants in pots. My gut instinct would say to plant them in the ground AND cover them with a thick mulch of some kind (beware of hay because it may have been treated with herbicides which you don’t want near your blueberries). But before you plant them now on my advice, please get a second opinion from someone local. You don’t want to lose those blueberries!

  21. I have one plant, this year I will buy a second to help with pollination. How close together do they need to be?

  22. How deep to I need to dig to plant the blueberry bush? I’ve grown hydroponic but this summer will be my first outdoors.

  23. I have a blueberry bush that I bought about 2 years ago. It is in a pot but I left it outside during the Texas freeze in February (bundled up with lots of other large potted plants and wrapped with frost blankets). It was getting big and had tons of buds on it before the freeze. It didn’t die but it lost all its leaves and now the buds are of course, dead. Many of my other plants are slowly coming back but I’m not sure what to do now. Should I prune it? How much? I do plan on getting another one.

    1. I guess I’m not sure how you didn’t die altogether? Do you see new growth? If so, I’d prune after I’m sure which branches are dead and which ones are not.

  24. I have 3 bushes that were planted a few weeks ago and are already blooming. They aren’t supposed to bloom until the end of June. Should I pop the blooms off? Will it bloom again in June when it is supposed to? I’m in the Boise Idaho area so it is not freezing anymore, but gets down to 37 at night.

    1. In my experience, blueberries only bloom once, and mine bloom in March and April. If you pinch the blooms off now, that’s actually recommended for the first year anyway, but I’ve never done it myself. I’m not sure why they would not be supposed to bloom until June, but if it’s because of where you are located, most likely they were grown in a more southern area, and next season they will bloom at the proper time. I wouldn’t worry about it this year.

  25. Hi Jill
    I live in Perth Western Australia warm summer 30+C sandy soil which can remedied
    Would our climate be suitable for growing Blueberries
    Thanks so much for your informative articles
    Regards Gavin

    1. I’m not sure about your climate, but the summers here can be similar. The blueberries can take our heat. It’s the winter you probably want to check on. Blueberries need over 400 chill hours in the winter, depending on the variety. If you can amend the soil to the right kind (acidic, well-draining, but plenty of water), the winter temperatures would be the thing to consider.

  26. I recently added strawberry plants under my blueberry plants. The strawberries did great but I am getting very few blueberries. How can I up production? Should I remove the strawberries?

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