Picking Treasure: I love Highbush Blueberries

Apr 7, 2017 | Love This!

Imagine: Frank planted over 45 blueberry bushes on the corner of his property almost 25 years ago. Originally he planned for these to be picked by his children and grandchildren and for the first five years that proved to be the case. But his sons and daughter got jobs in New Jersey, Oregon and Michigan, and moved there with their families. They tried to get back to the east coast for summer vacation, but there were long periods in the blueberry season when Frank picked his crop alone.

Finally, Frank got an idea. He printed up some cards that read “Free blueberry picking every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from 3 PM to 8 PM as long as the berries last. Children especially welcomed.” He put his address at the bottom and placed the cards in his neighbors mailboxes and front doors. The next week a trickle of people came by, and Frank started to get acquainted with his neighbors.

Soon, Frank moved a folding lawn chair to the blueberry patch, and took a few spare cartons for the children that didn’t think to bring one. “Here,” he’d say as he handed a kid a carton. “Go find some treasure…there are blue jewels on these bushes!” Some neighbors brought cookies, or a beverage to share with Frank while the kids picked. Neighbors who had only waved to each other as they drove down the street began to get to know each other by name as they socialized among the blueberry bushes on July and August evenings.

At the end of the second summer that Frank opened his berry bushes to the neighborhood, they closed the street by the berry patch and held a potluck dinner. Another tradition was born.

The following year, Frank found a hand drawn card in his mailbox. It read: Dear Mr. Blueberry. I hope that we can come find treasure in your bushes this summer. It was the best thing that happened last year. From Andrew and Meghan.

Name: Vaccinium corymbosum aka high bush blueberries.

Type of Plant: A blueberry bush that’s hardy in zones 3 to 7. There are cultivated, named varieties and the wild species. All grow to about 5 or 6 feet tall and 6 to 7 feet wide. All have nice fall color.

Why I love this: You can pick blue jewels all summer. Tasty treasure that’s as healthy as it is delicious. The shrubs are easy to grow and attractive in the landscape.

A Word to the Wise:  Blueberries want to grow in acidic soil. Have a soil pH test done – don’t assume that your soil is acidic, and don’t believe that pine needles or oak leaves make acid soil…they do not. (Shameless plug here for Coffee for Roses, a book about garden myths.) Once you have a soil test you can adjust pH as needed with sulfur etc. Fertilize once a year with Holly-tone and water deeply once a week.

In order to harvest a good amount of berries you should plant named cultivars and prune them every spring starting in their fourth year. Don’t prune them from the top down! Remove one, two or three of the oldest canes down below instead. (See photo below.) After that, look for crossed branches and remove one of them, the take out any branch that’s headed toward the center of the plant.

Who wouldn’t want to pick blue jewels like these every summer?

Here is a wild highbush blueberry bush in full, glorious fall color. This plant is in a wild area where no one prunes, waters or fertilizes it. This shows just how hardy these plants are.

Plant three or more blueberry bushes in the same area for the best pollination and fruit production. Look for a variety of cultivars that bear fruit in early, mid and late summer. With two or three of each kind, you’ll be harvesting berries from early July until late August.

Prune blueberries in late March to mid-April depending on the weather. This photo shows where these plants should get cut. remove older branches down toward the ground. This stimulates new shoots to grow and the second year these new branches will bear lots of fruit. So the annual pruning of some of the oldest canes will help the plant be more productive.

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