Bring summer’s bounty home by growing blueberries in your own backyard

Here’s a look at great several varieties to consider, along with tips on how to ensure your little home orchard thrives.

The Silver Dollar variety of blueberries from the Bushel and Berry program. (Sunnyside Nursery)

The Silver Dollar variety of blueberries from the Bushel and Berry program. (Sunnyside Nursery)

By Trevor Cameron / The Golfing Gardener

One of my earliest memories in the garden as a child was devouring berries, of all kinds, that my parents grew in our garden. Like growing most edibles, there is something a little extra satisfying about cultivating and then harvesting treats like blueberries and even sharing them with friends and neighbors.

Blueberries are known as a “superfood” and offer excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K and other nutrients. They are loaded with both fiber and antioxidants and offer us a low-calorie, healthy option to snack on. Add in fabulous taste and one can understand why blueberries are so popular. We have the ideal climate to grow these plants and everyone should have some blueberries incorporated into their home landscapes.

Blueberries love acidic soil, moisture and summer sunshine — all of which our locale provides. If you are adding new plants, choose a location with plenty of sun and test your soil pH to make sure your site is acidic (ideally with a pH in the 4.5 to 5.5 range). Soil should contain lots of organic matter, so new plantings should be amended with acidic planting mix, compost, bark and/or manure to enrich the soil structure.

All blueberries should be mulched heavily with bark or compost every spring, including established ones, to keep them thriving. Try using a healthy dose of organic fertilizer when planting, like an acidic-type rhododendron food, which can be spread around the base and then covered with mulch. A second dose of food, on both older and newer plants, later in May or early June will help, as well. This mulching and the two feedings will keep your blueberries thriving and producing tasty berries year after year. In addition, always remember to irrigate them in the dry summer months — a drought-stressed blueberry will abort berry development for the summer.

If you have older existing plants, please don’t be bashful with pruning them. Proper pruning of blueberries is all about thinning – look at the multi-stem crown and remove the oldest hunks of wood at ground level, freeing up room for fresh wood to sucker off of the root system and maximize production year after year. Take care not to shear or head them back, as production occurs on one-year-old wood and you would be eliminating or greatly reducing your crop.

When it comes to varietal choices, keep in mind these options and basic information, and absolutely explore the many other worthy choices that are available.

Northern highbush: These traditional, larger growers — like the ones on a U-Pick farm — come in lots of varieties, each offering size, flavor and ripening-time options. Keep in mind that you need two varieties that are of the same ripening season to cross pollinate – check your choices for early, mid or late flavors. They all get spectacular fall colors, produce heavy crops when grown the right way and are easy-to-grow backyard options. There are even some pink-berried flavors such as Pink Popcorn and Pink Lemonade — both hybrid highbush varieties — with super sweet berries.

Lowbush: Think of these as native-type blueberries. They grow much lower to the ground and have smaller berries, but they are packed with even more nutrition and flavor. They are great for smaller spaces, and the birds will thank you for the snacks.

Hybrid varieties: Lots of exciting choices can be found in this category, often staying more compact than traditional highbush plants. Many of these are excellent candidates for growing in pots, too. Look for ones such as Bountiful Blue and Sunshine Blue, which are great looking shrubs for the landscape that produce berries on their own (although one of each will increase your yield for sure). New, later this year, will be Bountiful Baby, a tidy dwarf with excellent berries to enjoy.

The Bushel and Berry program: There are some wonderfully useful choices in this series, all of which are more compact, partially self-fertile and good options for both growing in containers or in the ground. Many of them, such as Pink Icing and Silver Dollar, have striking foliage color. Others, such as Sapphire Cascade, even trail and could be used in a hanging basket. Two that I have used in my own yard are Jelly Bean, which is self-fertile in containers, and Berry Bux, a wild-type blueberry that is super tasty.

Visit your local nursery this time of year for maximum choice of these varieties and many other worthy ones as well. Always seek a professional horticulturist for advice on selection and growing.

It is a great time of year to get blueberries planted and thriving as we head into the spring season. By choosing the right flavors for your landscape and understanding these basics, you can have homegrown berries right in your own backyard.

Free classes

Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville will host “Fresh Backyard Berries” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, and “For The Love Of Roses” at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25. For more information or to sign up, go to www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Trevor Cameron is a certified professional horticulturist (CPH) and serves as general manager for Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. He can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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