Potted Blueberry Plants Always Die During Winter

GhadamesMay 9, 2014


I live in southern Quebec. This is my second attempt at growing blueberry plants in containers (will never give up until I succeed!). I have had 5 blueberry that have never made it past the winter season.

At the end of the fall season, I place them in an unheated shed until early spring, but they never wake up from dormancy. I know we're supposed to water them during winter, but this is not always possible because of the amount of snow on the ground. If I do water them, I worry that it might freeze and kill the plant (winter is crazy here).

My leftover potted raspberry plants always come back alive without watering them or anything during winter.

During summer and spring, the blueberry plants grow just fine. I only use soil designed for blueberry plants and also Miracid from Miracle Gro. The next season, they're dead.

I've attached a picture showing how they look like right now. 3 of them died last year. These 2 plants also look dead to me at this point.

Any ideas?

This post was edited by Ghadames on Fri, May 9, 14 at 22:23

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sandpapertongue(7a VA)

Are your blueberries northern highbush varieties? Make sure you aren't getting a southern bush. I don't water my blueberries in the winter at all. I'm no expert, hopefully someone else will chime in, but I don't see why your bushes wouldn't be able to survive a winter.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:33PM
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I buy them at a plant nursery, so I'm assuming they're not selling me blueberry varieties that won't survive during the winter season. I'll check tomorrow.

One thing I forgot to mention is that the container is made of thin plastic, so maybe the roots freeze and die? But how come the raspberry plants survive without any problem.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:48PM
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The standard rule is you lose 2 zones when you put something in a pot.

There are plenty of things a good nursery will sell you that will survive in the ground, but not in a pot.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:57PM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

Maybe try burying the pot in the ground for the Winter.The snow should provide decent insulation.Leaves or other material could also be built up around them.
There is a guy in SE Washington,where it does get cold,kept his plants in containers and they froze solid and came back fine the next Spring.
I think it's the lack of moisture that's killing them. Brady

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 12:11AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

My blueberries are in raised beds as are my raspberries. No doubt the roots froze. They came back fine, i expect a huge crop actually. I agree with Brady, they need some water. You are freeze drying the roots. Raspberries are near impossible to kill, so not a fair comparison. They are extremely invasive too!
If at times you cannot get out to water them, then try putting snow in the pot.
The new fabric pots do not bust and breath well. You may be able to keep them outside in these containers.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 3:35AM
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alan haigh

Plants generally have roots that are much more tender to cold than their tops and pots are well known to be a problem in this regard. You need to either put the pots in soil or insulate your pots in some other way. This is a subject that has been well researched in commercial horticulture so you won't have any trouble getting the info if you search for it.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 5:40AM
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I did put snow only once this past winter, but I couldn't do it every month due to the amount of snow on the ground.

My only concern with regards to burying the pots in the ground is that water might accumulate and freeze the roots. The temperatures here can get as low as -22ðF (with wind chills of -40ðF). It can go from 68ðF to -4ðF, rain to freeze, within 48 hours. Would that not kill the roots? Or should I try to make some space between the container and the soil underneath the container. Would that be a good idea?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 12:40PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

The shed was unheated and the cold temps killed them in the pots, the ground is a lot warmer. You want the ground soil as close as possible to the container if buried.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 2:10PM
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When you grow plants in pots many of the roots will grow right along the edge of the container. When it gets cold, it doesn't take much to damage these roots. In that kind of cold, you will need to protect your plants and even so I would expect some winter damage to the tips of the branches each year. We got to zero here this past winter and I had a little damage on most of my plants which are now in the ground. If you must grow them in pots, you need to bury them in sawdust, soil, leaves, etc., to protect them. You can definitely do it though. Also some varieties are known to be more winter tolerant, I believe north country, and north blue are both winter tolerant but they are also half high varieties which I don't like very well because the berries are small. I never lost a plant here during winter in pots but we get to zero, not twenty below. Try searching google and YouTube for ideas on how to protect potted plants in winter.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 10:29AM
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I was going to replace my two blueberry plants today, but I noticed that one of my plants had green buds that are about to open up. There are 17 of them near ground level on green canes. I would say 10% of the plant is alive. Should I cut of all the dead branches and let the plant grow? Or is it not worth it? As long as it is able to grow into a healthy blueberry plant, I'd like to keep it.

Thanks everyone for the help!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 5:01PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I would try to save it, you can still buy more :)

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 5:08PM
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I am trying some blueberries in pots this year and researched. Found a good video on YouTube and says to bury pots in the winter to insulate. You should put gravel in the bottom of the holes so the pots can drain. With all the effort and expense I have put into my blueberry pots I sure don't want them to freeze. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 2:59PM
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I live in northern Ohio, zone 5. We had -20F this winter. My potted blueberries are my only fruit that appear likely to yield a normal crop this year.

Possible ideas.
1) Varieties rated hardy to your zone or colder. (Sorry, I don't know your zone.) I grow Duke, Bluecrop, Chandler, and Aurora. They show trivial winter damage.
2) I bury my pots in leaves for the winter. Because the pile of leaves will compress substantially over the winter, I pile the leaves a couple of inches higher than the pots.
3) Pot size. Fruitnut, who is an expert on growing fruits in pots, uses fairly small pots. Clearly, it works well for fruitnut. But fruitnut lives in Texas so his plants don't need to survive a brutal winter. I use 14 gallon rubbermaid rough neck totes with holes drilled in the bottom. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that the greater soil mass may be helpful for winter survival.

Because they are less hardy, I drag my potted blackberries into an unheated workshop for the winter. The entire pot freezes solid, But the the garden dirt outdoors freezes too. I've read that even dormant plants need water (less than summer), so I never let the soil dry out.

A well draining low ph soil mix is also important. There are lots of good mixes suggested in other threads. But I'm guessing that is not related to your problem.

Another contributor suggested gravel at the bottom. It must work well for them. But if you have a good soil mix, gravel is not needed. Gravel makes the pot heavy and cuts down on the usable soil volume in the pot.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 10:11PM
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To be clear, you bury your blueberry pots in the ground and then cover them with leaves?

I'm thinking about burying the pots in the ground and covering the plants with burlap or styrofoam cones. Which one would be better? We get many -20F and windy days in winter.

If I use styrofoam cones, I'm assuming that I would have to be careful not to cover entire pot in order not to dry the soil inside the pot and allow some snow to cover the soil?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 11:53PM
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I am in Zone 5a. I grow a few blueberry cultivars in pots and the pots are two-third to three-quarter burried in the soil and they stay there during the winter and summer. They survive and thrive this way. They performed dismaly in the ground before moving them to the pots. The Bluecrop and Reka varieties perform relatively better than others.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 12:27AM
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The frost zone is zone 5 is 24 inches for the most part. I would dig holes in the ground a bit deeper and put the pots in and cover with leaves and mulch. I have had more success with this method for potted plants than putting them in the basement for the winter. I actually did this with water lilies and when I dug them out they were just fine.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 12:36AM
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-20F is rare for us. But we hit that several times this winter.

Sorry about the confusion. I don't put my pots in the ground. (That would probably be more effective, but I can't do that.) For winter, I drag all my potted plants into a cluster and just bury the cluster in leaves.

I'm guessing that if you bury your pots in the ground, that would be sufficient without covering them. However, maybe a little mulch of pine bark or leaves would be helpful.

Regarding the cones. There are people on this forum that report success over wintering plants in ways that seem to exclude water. So it might work even if the cones excluded all the water. But probably it would be better if the cones allowed some small amount of water. (The plants won't need much water during winter.)

Wish you success.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 8:00AM
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princessgrace79(8 PNW)

Must they be in pots? I really think they are best grown in the ground, not to mention only marginally hardy for you as is.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 1:04AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I would rather grow them in raised beds myself. i have them in pots and in raised beds. Both ways seem to work. The ground is easier, but due to various reasons I have both.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 2:56PM
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