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The sweetest, best-tasting blueberries come from highbush blueberry, which happens to be the blueberry shrub recommended for Ohio.*  Every home garden would benefit from this attractive ornamental that doubles as a wildly popular superfood for humans and wildlife. The bell-shaped flowers attract 14 species of specialist bees, and the plant hosts over 200 species of caterpillars. As the common name suggests, the shrubs grow 6-12 feet tall and wide with glossy, dark green leaves that turn brilliant red, orange, yellow, or purple in fall.

 

As a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae), highbush blueberry has specific growing requirements, including acidic, sandy, well-drained soil. For soils with high loam or clay content, it’s recommended to grow the plants in raised beds for better water drainage. Clay soil may also be amended with organic matter and sand to help the roots penetrate the soil. Weekly watering during the growing season is necessary for good yields of high-quality fruit, and moist soil should be maintained into late summer after harvest because the flower buds develop on new shoots the year prior to flowering/fruiting. Full sun is crucial, because shaded plants produce uneven growth and fewer berries.

 

V. corymbosum prefers to grow in areas with very acidic soils that have a good layer of peat-like organic matter over well-drained soil. Also known as swamp blueberry, this shrub is able to survive in swampy areas because it grows on hummocks, which keeps its roots from being submerged. It has a fibrous root system and is able to survive without root hairs by associating with a mycorrhizal fungus that helps extract nutrients from the soil.

 

Blueberries require special care, so do your research before planting or pruning. While most highbush blueberry varieties are self-fertile and don’t require different varieties for cross-pollination, planting several shrubs of two varieties will increase fruit size and improve ripening and yield. Plant the shrubs 3-5 feet apart and backfill the hole with a 1:1 blend of soil and compost or other organic matter.  Don’t put fertilizer in the hole because it may burn the roots. Moisten the soil, then apply a 3-4” layer of organic mulch--wood chips, bark, pine needles, leaves, or a combination of these materials.  Once the plants are established, the acidity level must be maintained over the life of the planting. This may be accomplished by using sulfur or ammonium sulfate.

 

Highbush blueberry should not be allowed to bear fruit during the first two years after planting or until the plants reach a height of 2-1/2 feet. Allowing the shrub to produce fruit will reduce growth, resulting in a smaller plant. Removing the flowers will encourage additional shoot growth and will increase yields in future years. Keep in mind that a purchased, container-grown blueberry plant may be 2-3 years old; thus, it may be allowed to produce berries the first year you plant it. After three years, the plants should be pruned to promote new, vigorous growth. Otherwise, much of the plant’s energy will be used in maintaining tall, woody, nonproductive growth.  For detailed pruning instructions, refer to the video “How to prune a blueberry bush” at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm6ZfpGy5oQ

 

Birds frequently eat unprotected fruit, and netting is the most effective way to prevent this. However, most commercially available netting is flexible with large holes that small animals and birds can become entangled in, resulting in injured or broken wings or legs, lacerated skin or strangulation. Even the stress of being caught for a short time can be fatal. Opt for wildlife-safe netting with holes no larger than the width of a pencil eraser with a stiff structure.

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Apply netting as soon as the first fruits begin to turn blue with a reddish tinge.  Don’t harvest the fruits right away. Even after they are completely blue, the size of the berries continues to increase.  Delaying harvest until berries are fully ripe will result in better-tasting, larger fruit and increased total yields. Blueberries can remain on the plant for up to 10 days after ripening without a loss in size.

 

Native habitats include dense thickets in wooded or open areas with moist, acidic soils. Abandoned pastures and fields and woodland soils usually have a pH suitable for blueberry growth. Use highbush blueberry as a screen/hedge or specimen plant. It’s striking when massed, and it’s a nice addition to rain and wildlife gardens.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 6-12’ tall and wide.

 

Requires full sun, at least 6 hours per day.

 

Best growth in well-drained, sandy soil, but will adapt to amended soils.  The pH range should be 4.5-5.0. 

 

Buds form in late August and September, opening into white or pale pink flowers that are 1/3” long the following spring. Flowers have long styles protruding from the bell-shaped corollas. The stamens have anthers with long, tube-like structures calls “awns,” which release pollen when mature. Clusters of 5-10 round, blue berries ½” in diameter ripen in succession over a period of several weeks. 

 

Glossy, green leaves are elliptical and up to 2” long.

 

Wildlife Value:

Blueberries are a host plant to 223 species of Lepidoptera larva, including the red-spotted admiral (pictured here) and frosted elfin butterflies, Polyphemus and beggar moths (moths also pictured), and huckleberry sphinx moth.  The berries are an important food source for native and migrating birds, bears, and small mammals. The foliage is browsed by deer and rabbits. 

 

Highbush blueberry hosts and attracts many pollinators. Bumble bees love the flowers, as do small, solitary bees that crawl inside the flowers. Because the nectaries are deep in the flower, carpenter bees must chew holes in the sides to reach the nectar, which also allows access to honey bees.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Blueberries were collected and used as a Native American food source. When the pilgrims arrived, Native Americans gave them blueberries to help them survive their first winter.  A favorite Native American dish was a pudding made with blueberries, cracked corn, and water.  Settlers later added milk, butter, and sugar.

 

Highbush blueberry is the most common commercially grown blueberry in the US.

 

Blueberries ae a low-calorie, anti-inflammatory superfood packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. Pectin, a soluble fiber, helps lower cholesterol.  Ellagic acid is thought to have inhibiting effects on cancer.  Blueberry juice contains a compound that prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder, which may help to prevent urinary tract infections. The fruits have been shown to reduce the effects of glaucoma and improve memory, according to reports by the USDA.

 

Blueberries can be frozen, eaten fresh, or used to make jelly, jam, pies, pastries, or juice.

 

*Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden found at https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-1422.

Blueberry, Highbush, Vaccinium corymbosum

$9.00Price
Excluding Sales Tax
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