Introducing the amazing, healthy, delicious and nutritious blueberry! And important to note: blueberry bushes are native to North America. There are two basic species: lowbush, and highbush. You can pick velvet-leaved blueberries in their natural wooded habitat… or you can grow a number of highbush and lowbush varieties in your own garden!
Choose your plants
Blueberry plants produce beautiful flowers, but it's really the delicious berries we're interested in. Furthermore, they attract a lot of pollinators and other useful insects for the garden.
These are the famous blueberries from Lac St-Jean, and the most popular variety. Shrubs are covered with small, bell-shaped white or pink blossoms in the spring, followed by high yields of small, dark blue and very sweet berries at the end of the summer, between August and September.
Very cold-hardy but sensitive to caterpillars and scale insects.
Height: 45 to 60 cm
Width: 1 m
Longevity: more than 20 years
Also called Giant Blueberry, plants produce big, beautiful berries a little earlier in the season. Berries grow in clusters during a period of approximately six weeks, from mid-July to late-August. These substantial bushes (between 1 m and 1.5 meters tall) are ideal for easy picking, which is why they are favoured by "pick your own" operations.
A few highbush cultivars you'll be pleased to discover: Northland, Bluecrop, Patriot and Duke.
Height: 1 to 1.5 m.
Width: 1.2 m
Longevity: more than 20 years
How to grow blueberry plants
Plants can be grown in the garden or flowerbeds. Dwarf varieties and plants intended for children are suited to container-growing. Even if growing in the ground is preferable, containers are perfectly adequate for lowbush blueberry plants.
Containers make it possible to grow less hardy, more productive varieties, and work well where space is limited.
Exposure: sun and partial shade
Soil: highly acidic and sandy, peaty and moist
Steps for planting in the garden
- Plant in early spring.
- Choose a sunny, sheltered location.
- Verify the condition of your soil, whether it is acidic (with a pH reading between 4.2 and 5.2), poor-quality, soft, peaty, cool, light, or well-drained. Add a soil mix or fertilizer as indicated by the results of your soil analysis.
- Turn over the soil and pull out weeds around your planting location.
- Dig holes approximately twice as wide and twice as deep as the roots of the plant.
- Remove damaged or dead branches.
- Set the bush in the prepared hole with its roots spread out - be careful, the roots are delicate.
- Pack the hole tightly then cover with loose earth.
- Water thoroughly.
- Space plants 1.5 m apart if you are planting more than one.
Steps for planting in containers
- Choose a location that provides six to eight hours of sun daily, protected from the wind.
- Plant when all risk of frost has passed.
- Choose a dark and well-draining container. Geotextile pots, such as Smart Pots, are excellent options.
- Use a compost and sphagnum peat moss-based soil.
- Acidify the soil by adding a spoonful of granular sulfur.
- Carefully spread out the roots.
- Cover with earth and water thoroughly.
- In the fall, either leave your plants in their geotextile pots or transplant them into the garden.
Maintaining blueberry plants
Once you've planted your blueberry bushes, they are quite easy to maintain. During the first and second year, rub off all flower buds as soon as they appear to promote vigourous plant growth.
Watering: Consistent moisture is important. Blueberry bushes do not tolerate either very wet conditions or draught conditions. Avoid watering in late autumn, except if the soil is extremely dry.
Weeding: Pull out weeds within a 60 cm perimeter around bushes. Add 5 to 10 cm of straw around the base of the plants.
Fertilizing: Blueberry plants require a fairly rich soil. Depending on the soil pH, add ammonium sulphate (above 5.0) or urea (less than 5.0). At the end of the summer and in the fall, you can fertilize with potassium sulphate and magnesium (SulPoMag) in identical quantities. To maintain the acidity of the soil, put a layer sphagnum peat moss on the earth around your plants once per year. The use of natural acidifier fertilizers or sulfur-based products is also recommended.
- In the summer, put bird netting over your blueberry bushes just before the fruit begins to colour. Remove after harvesting.
- In the winter, protect your blueberry bushes from harsh winter winds, rabbits and deer by installing a snow fence around them.
Pruning: Prune plants when they are dormant, either at the end of the winter or very early in the spring. During the first three years, a single light pruning is all that is required. Always remove damaged or unhealthy branches.
Diseases and pests: Blueberry plants are very resistant, but check them regularly for caterpillars and scale insects.
Blueberry harvest and health benefits
The variety of blueberry bush you choose will determine when you'll be able to pick your berries: you can savour blueberries from your highbush variety from mid-July, or wait until late-August for fruit from your lowbush variety.
Blueberries are a super food! Antioxidant champions! The health benefits from eating blueberries include improved short-term memory and motor coordination, and along with being an excellent source of Vitamin C, they are a significant source of dietary fibre and potassium. Some studies have shown that eating blueberries breaks down abdominal fat - the kind of fat that leads to heart disease and diabetes - and reduces hypertension. Wow!
There are several ways to enjoy blueberries:
- Cooked and prepared (coulis, smoothies)
- Baked (desserts, pies, muffins)
- Processed (wine and liqueurs)
- Coated (chocolate!)
Extend the season as long as you can so you can enjoy the wonderful flavours of your blueberries all winter long. Choose firm, plump blueberries with good colour; they will last longer.
Refrigerated: Five to ten days. Place between two paper towels in a sealed container.
Frozen: Rinse blueberries then allow to dry. Spread out on a large tray and put in the freezer. Put frozen berries in a sealed bag or container.
Dried: Rinse blueberries with lemon juice and put in a strainer. Spread out evenly on the dehydrator sheet. Set to 48ºC and dry for a minimum of 6 hours.