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10 tips for growing blueberries in the backyard

Lee Reich's netted blueberry "gazebo"WANT TO SUCCEED with blueberries? Ask the guy with a Ph.D. in the subject, author of all the best books on home-garden fruit growing: Lee Reich, a repeat guest on my public-radio show, and an old friend. That’s Lee’s blueberry netted “gazebo” up top, meant to keep the crop safe from birds and other hungry types. All the delicious details on how to grow blueberries:

Lee Reich with paw paws (photo courtesy Lee Reich).

10 tips for growing blueberries

ALL OF LEE REICH’S instructions except for pruning refer to care of all blueberry plants, whether lowbush or high; pruning details below are for highbush types. (That’s him with ripening paw paws, above.)

  • Choose a sunny spot. Though blueberries grow in semi-shade in nature, heavier fruiting happens with more sunshine.
  • Test for pH, and adjust to a very acidic 4-to-5 range using pelleted sulfur (a natural element, and easier and safer to use than dusty powders).
  • Though blueberries like infertile soil (yes!), it must be high in organic matter.
  • Add peat moss to the hole when planting. Lee doesn’t usually use much peat moss, which is a non-renewable resource, except for this one-time application.
  • Water well, and provide regular water for maximum fruiting (especially critical the first two years in the ground). Lee’s plants are on a drip system.
  • Mulch to a depth of about 3 inches with wood shavings and chips, pine needles, shredded autumn leaves or sawdust.
  • Net the plants during fruiting season to outsmart the birds. (Lee grows his 16 highbush shrubs in a netted “gazebo,” seen in the top photo, and they yield an astounding 190 quarts of fruit.)
  • Replenish the mulch each fall, after leaf drop—and also feed the plants just a little Nitrogen at that time by spreading soybean meal (from the feed store) at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.
  • Recheck the pH and readjust every couple of years with more pelleted sulfur.
  • Don’t prune till highbush plants are four or five years in the ground. Stems aged six years or older–about inch-thick stems–don’t produce optimally. In late winter, the oldest stems are cut out to the base (photo below shows how the base of a mature plant looks after pruning, with a good mix of older, younger, and middle-aged stems remaining).
  • Need more detail? Lee’s complete blueberry how-to is in our podcast (play it at the bottom of the page), and in this story from my archives, along with other tips and resources. Or visit Lee’s website.

prefer the podcast version of the show?

MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its 10th year in March 2019. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the March 25, 2013 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify
or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

 

how to win ‘grow fruit naturally’

Grow Fruit Naturally by Lee ReichTO ENTER TO WIN one of two copies of Lee Reich’s latest book “Grow Fruit Naturally”, which Lee was generous enough to share with me to offer to you, comment below by answering the question. UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed, but comments are always welcome.

What fruit, if any, have you had success with in the garden? Which one(s) have outsmarted you thus far?

Don’t worry, you can simply say, “Count me in” and your entry will be official, in case you’re feeling shy–but I love hearing your answers. Two winners will be drawn at random after entries close at midnight Sunday, March 31, 2013. Good luck to all!

(Garden photos and portrait courtesy of Lee Reich. Disclosure: Books purchased from my Amazon affiliate link yield a small commission.)

  1. Karin says:

    I had a beautiful Lemon tree in the South, but since we moved up to the North we will see if I have any luck with citrus.

  2. HELEN L. says:

    Hubby has grown peppers,tomatoes,cukes,and gourds with great success…But, alas, NO Blueberries!! Not for lack of trying either! He has tried for the last 6 years
    even resorting to an ayyempt at grafting once to no avail. So you see, He REALLY could use the HELP of YOUR KNOWLEDGABLE BOOK ! Hopefully I’ll be one of
    the Lucky two to win one!!! WOO! WOO! :)
    HAPPY EASTER TO ALL !!

  3. Laura Schlaikjer says:

    My pruning is on again, off again – this may be the inspiration I need!
    Thank you for offering so many great ideas!

  4. Kit Cooley says:

    Strawberries and raspberries are my best fruit crops. Any tree crop (prune plum, cherry, apple) suffers here in N. Idaho. If the moose or late frost doesn’t get them, the gophers or the early frost does. Makes me miss my Ohio birth state. Wild huckleberries, elderberries and juneberries get us by some years. I’ve been wanting a copy of Lee’s book.

  5. cj says:

    Living in Manitoba makes fruit trees a challenge. Of course apples are easy. I tried apricot seedling with no luck. My neighbor, however has a 25 ft pear tree that produces 100’s of pears each year. I think that will be my next try.

    Crystal

  6. Mary G. says:

    Here in East Tennessee we have amazing luck with apples and blueberries.
    Pears are our nemesis due to fireblight.

  7. jess says:

    Tamarilloes grow great for me (in northern New Zealand), and I share seedlings with my less lucky friends. Haven’t had much luck with the cherimoya though. But the blueberries are good on this acid clay soil.

  8. Tracy says:

    I have grown ground cherries, but have not established other fruit crops since I moved to a new home. I want to start with blueberries this year.

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