Spotlight On: Blueberries, From Wild Plant To Garden Superstar

blueberries

Did you know that just over a century ago, the only place to find blueberries was in the wild? In fact, to this day, acres and acres of wild blueberries still grow in Maine and neighboring areas of Canada.

Nobody plants them – they simply grow naturally in fields and rocky hills, varying in shade from blue to black, and in taste from quite sweet to not-as-sweet. Smaller than their cultivated cousins, these blueberries need no help from humans to thrive, and they pack quite a nutritional punch.

The blueberries you likely know and love today have been bred to be far more uniform in color, size and shape. Since they don’t have to work very hard to battle the environment (humans tend to them very lovingly!) they have a different nutritional content than wild varieties, but they are still one of the highest sources of natural antioxidants.

They make killer pies, fantastic muffins, and a mouth-watering topping for your morning oatmeal or yogurt parfait. Plus they look great in your garden, where the bright blue fruit stands out in a world that is far more prolific in green, red, yellow and pink.

With all that’s to love about blueberries, is it any wonder that it made our list of summertime favorites? In this Spotlight series, we highlight some of our favorites with fun facts, growing tips, and more. So break out the recipe book and enjoy learning a bit more about one of nature’s most delightful edible gems.

blueberries ripeningSummer Treat, All Season Beauty

The most common cultivated blueberry is called the Highbush. As its name suggests, it can grow rather tall – up to 12 feet, in fact!

The fruit is in season around mid-July, making it a perfect accompaniment to summer brunches and picnics, whether it makes its debut in a baked treat, or is simply enjoyed as-is.

But the blueberry bush itself is a four-season wonder, gracing your garden with a new color, texture and visual experience through each one.

In winter, its dormant buds are tightly closed, hiding the promise of summer within. Tall, slender branches add texture and a visual intricacy that is only enhanced as snow begins to fall and accumulate on each delicate bud.

During spring, the fruit buds swell and separate into tiny scales, revealing flower buds within each one. As the flowers expand, green leaves begin to unfurl, until the entire bush is adorned with bright greenery and clusters of tiny, white, bell-shaped blooms.

But wait, it gets better! As the flowers begin to drop, small green berries emerge – not quite the blue you might be expecting, but promising more beauty to come. As the berries grow, the green fruit develops a rosy red blush, darkening until it reaches its familiar blue hue.

Now it’s time to enjoy these sweet treats!

After harvest, you may be sad to say goodbye to this delicious summer fruit, but you will enjoy the fall display that the bush puts on. Green leaves turn red, orange, yellow and even purple as the plant prepares for its winter sleep and the cycle begins again.

blueberry bush in fallCare & Maintenance

Unlike their wild counterparts, which grow happily in the nooks and crannies of every hill and rock, cultivated blueberries require a bit of TLC. But don’t worry, once you set them up to thrive, they will reward you season after season.

Soil preparation is the most crucial component of a successful blueberry garden. Blueberries prefer acidic soil, so if your garden doesn’t meet that need, consider planting in a raised bed or container. Yes, blueberry bushes grow quite well in containers!

They are sun-loving plants, so be sure to place them in full sun, and give them a good, deep watering at least once a week. During hot, dry spells, you may want to do this more often, as blueberries are shallow rooted plants and can dry out if not attended. Make sure your ground or container is well-drained, and you’re on your way to a delicious and beautiful result.

Cultivated blueberries are bred to be pest-resistant, but your challenge may come in another form. Humans aren’t the only ones who love blueberries. Birds are going to be your biggest competition when it comes to enjoying the tasty fruit, but you can easily combat them with simple netting, or another visual or auditory bird deterrent. We love our feathers friends, but we’d rather keep them busy in other parts of the garden with a well-stocked feeder.

One final tip: your mouth may be watering when those berries turn blue, but take a deep breath and hold off harvesting them for a couple of extra days. When they’re ready, they should fall off right into your hand. The result will be worth the wait!

blueberry flowersWhy We Love It

If the gorgeous four season display and the joy of a fresh harvest isn’t enough, there are still other reasons to love this bush.

The bush itself will shade the soil beneath, which means weeds are unlikely to grow, making care easier.

Blueberries will live and produce fruit for as many as 50 years! That makes it a wonderful multi-generational family project.

And the blueberries themselves are one of the easiest to freeze. You never have to worry that your harvest is too big – or even share a single berry with the neighbors! Just freeze your extra crop and enjoy them well into fall and winter.

Have we tempted you to tackle this edible garden favorite? If you’re thinking that your landscape (and taste buds!) would benefit from having a blueberry bush or a few, contact us for a consultation. We’ll plan out your plot, prepare your soil, and make sure your plants grow in beautiful harmony with their surroundings.