During my college days, I was a member of a team responsible for the care of several blueberry bushes that we used for conducting weed control studies. They were highbush blueberries, tall with large, tasty fruit. Aaahhh, I still remember harvesting those rich, blue berries and eating them in everything from baked goods to jam - or simply fresh from the bush.
Turns out, blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, manganese and fiber. At just 80 calories per cup, blueberries are a healthy addition to anyone’s diet. In addition to the fun and satisfaction of growing your own fresh fruit, blueberry plants are quite attractive. Glossy green leaves, white flowers, colorful fruit and vibrant fall colors give these plants multi-season interest. Use blueberries as border plants, specimen plants, patio plants – let your imagination guide you.
Types of Blueberries
Blueberries consist of four different types: northern highbush, southern highbush, lowbush and rabbiteye. Northern highbush and lowbush types grow better in colder zones while the southern highbush and rabbiteye types grow better in warmer, more southern zones. Hybrids incorporate qualities from more than one type, such as “half-highs” which grow short like the lowbush shrubs to handle snow loads better, yet whose fruit retains the size and flavor of the highbush varieties.
Generally speaking, all blueberry varieties have similar growth requirements. Full sun results in the best plant color and fruit development. Blueberries share the same soil requirements as other members of the Ericaceae family, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, pieris, cranberries and heathers. They all need acidic, moist, well-drained soil. Blueberries also benefit from a layer of mulch to protect the shallow roots from weather extremes and to keep them from drying out.
Blueberry varieties are distinguished by their climate suitability, growth habit and ripening season. You can plant several varieties with different ripening times to extend your fresh fruit season. Experts recommend that you plant two bushes per family member so that you will have plenty of fruit. But no matter which variety you plant, don’t forget to protect your crop from the predation of birds. They love blueberries, too!
Duke Blueberry – This early ripening, northern highbush variety grows 4-6 feet high and produces abundant amounts of large berries. The upright, stocky shrub grows well in zones 4-7. This variety blooms late but ripens early, which helps protect the fruit from spring frosts. Duke is a heavy, consistent producer and ends the year with a vibrant display of orange and yellow leaves.
Patriot Blueberry – Another early ripening variety, Patriot is shorter than Duke – growing 3-5 feet high and spreading more in its habit. This variety consistently produces large berries and is well suited for container growing. Patriot grows well in zones 3-7 and is somewhat resistant to Phytophthora. The fiery orange-red display of fall colors makes this an excellent, multi-seasonal addition to the garden.
Bluecrop Blueberry – Growing 4-6 feet high with an upright, open habit, Bluecrop is generally considered the best all around variety for adaptability, long production period, good fruit yield and disease resistance. Ripening mid-season, the large berries have that classic sweet taste one associates with blueberries. Bluecrop grows well in zones 4-7 and displays red fall coloring.
Blueray Blueberry – Another mid-season variety, Blueray reaches the same height as Bluecrop. However, Blueray is somewhat more tolerant of hot summers and cold winters, performing well in zones 3-7. The huge berries growing abundantly on the upright, open branches and the fall display of bright red and yellow foliage make this variety a welcome plant in any garden.
Top Hat Blueberry – This compact, mounded lowbush blueberry shrub only reaches 1.5-2 feet in height and width, making it ideal for containers and patio gardens. Top Hat performs well in zones 3-7, ripening mid-season. The berries are smaller, but packed with flavor and perfect for muffins. Fall brings a mini-explosion of reddish-orange foliage.
Pink Lemonade Blueberry – A rabbiteye hybrid, Pink Lemonade grows best in zones 5-9. These 4-5 foot plants produce pink blueberries (pinkberries?) that ripen mid to late season. A unique garden specimen that is sure to draw the eye. Like many self-fertile blueberry plants, Pink Lemonade sets fruit better when planted with other rabbiteye blueberries.
Darrow Blueberry – A late-season ripening variety, Darrow produces giant berries on upright branches with an open growth habit. And what berries! Darrow produces some of the largest berries of any cultivar – some large enough to cover a quarter. At 4-6 feet in height, these plants will need some room to grow, but the juicy, robust flavor of the fruit and red-orange fall foliage display are worth every square inch.