updated October 2021
Is it possible to successfully grow blueberries in your home garden? YES!
When I began gardening in 2013, growing blueberries topped my list of garden priorities. One of the most healthy fruits you can eat, the flavor of store-bought blueberries simply can’t compare to homegrown.
And for those on a budget, growing your own blueberries will save hundreds of dollars over the years compared to buying from the grocery store. If you’re successful, you may find yourself harvesting more than you can eat, and you can sell them to actually earn some extra cash!
But back to the question — how can we become successful at growing blueberries in our home gardens?
It’s actually 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 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 8-year-old blueberry bushes, I’ve compiled the most common beginner mistakes in growing blueberries and how to avoid them.
*links below may contain affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Mistake #1: Only planting one blueberry bush
Some blueberry cultivars are partially self-pollinating, but some are not. For those that are not (like rabbiteye blueberries commonly grown in the southern US), this means at least two different varieties are necessary to fully pollinate one another. If only one of these bushes is grown, flowers will form but berries will not.
But even partially self-pollinating cultivars (generally northern highbush and southern highbush), planting more than one bush of a different cultivar will yield more berries each year.
So, regardless of which cultivar you grow, for the best fruit production, you want at least two bushes.
However, I’d suggest planting even more if possible. The more diversity you can include, the better. This is not only the case for abundant fruit set (though that’s a great reason in itself), but different cultivars will flower and set fruit at different times. This can be advantageous for several reasons.
The most obvious is the longer period of harvest. If you have early season, mid season, and late season blueberry bushes, you will be able to harvest for weeks or even months in succession.
When I planted my main blueberry planting, 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.
But there’s another reason why planting cultivars with different ripening times can be advantageous. If your bushes get hit with a late freeze (like mine did — twice — in 2021), the early season cultivar may be the only one affected, whereas you can still count on a large harvest from the later ones.
(Not sure what cultivar to choose? 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 — between 4.0 and 5.0 is ideal.
Many garden soils are more likely to swing toward the acidic, particularly in regions like the eastern, southeastern and pacific northwest in the US. But if even if you live in one of those regions, I wouldn’t recommend assuming that’s the case and hoping for the best.
Blueberry bushes will last years, if not decades, and it’s worth your time to start them out right.
How do you know if your soil is acidic? The safest bet is to test your soil. I use SoilKit (*affiliate link) to test my soil. They mail the testing kit to you with instructions, you take a sample and mail it back in a postage-paid package, and they email you the results within a few days.
(New to soil testing? Here’s more about soil testing — the how and why behind it.)
Growing Blueberries Where Soil Isn’t Acidic
If your soil is not acidic and you want to grow blueberries, you have a couple of options:
- amend your current soil with elemental sulfur
- build a raised bed and use an acidic soil blend
- plant in large containers with an acidic soil mix
Whether you amend your soil with elemental sulfur, build a new raised bed with an acidic soil blend, or plant in large containers using an acidic soil mix, blueberry expert Dr. Lee Reich shares more details on how to acidify your soil (even the first year) in this post.
In the video below, my friend and I tested a future blueberry planting area and amended it according to the recommendations from SoilKit. You can see our process of testing and amending in the first 7 minutes:
Growing Blueberries Where Soil Is Acidic
Even if your soil is in the proper acidic range of 4.0 to 5.0, 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). Note that pine needles and coffee grounds won’t likely lower the soil’s pH, but it can help to add organic matter and keep the pH low.
A note on the acidity of peat moss
Also note that when adding peat moss (whether you’re trying to lower pH or maintain low pH), not all peat offers the same acidity level. According to this article from Iowa State, only Canadian peat moss (with a pH of 3.0 – 4.5) will lower pH. Many sources of peat from garden centers are neutral or only slightly acidic, which may still be too high for blueberries.
Other Requirements for Soil
If the pH of the soil is in line, blueberry bushes generally don’t require much. They do not require highly fertile soil, but soil rich in organic materials will give them the best start. If you’re planting blueberries for the first time and the pH is in the ideal acidic range, don’t worry with fertilizing the first year; just add plenty of organic matter.
After the first year, just as the bushes start to break dormancy, you can add an organic slow-release nitrogen source like cottonseed meal, soybean meal, or composted chicken manure. Personally, I only have to do this every couple of years. Blueberries really aren’t that picky with soil beyond the pH.
Mistake #3: Not mulching your blueberry bed
Blueberries have shallow root systems. This means the roots can 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, though other options will work will blueberries as well. 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.
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 my blueberry bushes have thrived. Why? 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.
But what about watering? We know they don’t like soil that tends to hold water, but how much water do they need? In generally, you want to make sure they are watered very deeply at planting and then supplement with irrigation that first year if rainfall doesn’t provide at least 1″ of water per week.
In my experience, once my bushes were established, I haven’t had to water at all. Granted, we have wet springs, but our summers and falls are dry. The key is to make sure they get plenty of water their first year or two of growth.
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.
And then, after seven years of successfully growing blueberries, I added two more! With the knowledge from my past harvest, I showed how I planted my new two baby bushes in this video:
I hope you’ve found this post informative and helpful in your venture to grow your own blueberries! Truly, growing and harvesting blueberries have been the highlights of my home garden!
Related Blueberry Growing Posts:
- How to Grow Blueberries in containers and in the ground
- Planting Blueberries: Common Questions Beginners Ask
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