kurite(5)July 9, 2010


I have a little open area in my backyard about 6x6 ft. I have wanted to grow blueberries there for a while and was wondering what the tastiest variety is that I can grow in zone 5 that still produces a pretty decent amount of berries? Can I fit more than one bush there? Also would it still be okay to plant them this late into the summer?


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I little bit more information about your space will allow better answers to your questions.

Will the plants have the entire 6x6 ft space, or do you need part of that space to walk around them, i.e. is there space for you outside the 6x6 or is this a balcony or something?

What sun exposure does the area have? Is it full sun all day or part of they day? If you have a tall plant on one side is it going to make too much shade for a second one next to it?

Is this an area of ground where you plan to plant or is it a space where you plan to put containers with plants?

If this is a space for containers and you really want to maximize your fruit yield from the space, would you be interested in another fruit planted with the blueberries? For example a thornless raspberries behind a couple of medium sized blueberry bushes in front might give you a longer fruiting period that blueberries alone.

more later,

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 11:57AM
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Blueberry shrubs do better if they are planted in the early spring, March 15 to April 15, or early fall, September 15 to October 15. If the shrubs has too many leaves, and not enough roots, the roots are unable to supply enough water to the leaves, and the shrub will turn brown & crispy. In the early spring, the shrub is dormant, and the roots have some time to get established before the leaves develop. In the early fall, there will be leaves, but with longer nights and shorter days, the demand for water is reduced. So the shrub has a better chance to get develop roots, survive the winter, and take off the following spring.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 12:33PM
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If you could tell us what state you're in that would help some too.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 12:40PM
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I have no need for walking around the area. I want to fully dedicate the area for mainly growing blueberries. It recieves full sun and I do not want to grow the blueberries in pots. I live in illinois, a bit north of chicago. I was also thinking of growing some wild strawberries if possible to extend the amount of time I could pick fruit.
thanks again

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 6:34PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

Some suggestions for Blueberries rated excellent flavor for zone 5, and common enough that you should be able to find them:

Blue Ray
Hardi Blu
Jersey (6-8 ft tall, the others are half-high))
Blue Crop

I'd be surprised if you can find blueberries for sale anywhere at this time of year. I figure 5-6 ft apart for blueberries, but you should be able to fit 2 plants into a 6x6 space.

In zone 5, plant in the spring as soon as it stops freezing. But hey, if you can find potted plants that aren't too expensive, go ahead and plant 2 right now. If they make it, you are 1 year ahead. If they don't make it, replant new plants in the spring, and you aren't out much.

If it is hot where you are, and you plant right now, give the new plants some shade for a couple of weeks. Shade cloth, or even set a picnic table over them.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 8:11PM
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One reason I asked about containers in the area, is that you will not be able to grow strawberries or other fruit in the same soil as your blueberries will require. They will need soil with a pH of about 4.5, or they will not thrive. Strawberries planted along side them will die in this soil.

I agree with OREGONWOODSMOKE on varieties, except almost all of his recommendations are midseason. Planting 4 of the half-high varieties rather than 2 northern highbush will allow you vary the fruiting season to have fresh berries for a longer time. If you plant the four below, you will have the 4 that bear at different times over several weeks.

Blue Ray

If you are going to plant in the ground, it is going to take some time to get the soil in the right condition. I would wait until fall to plant and use the time to get the soil in really good condition. To double dig the area is the best start. Unless you have really good soil with lots of organic matter and low ph already, I would recommend the following to prepare a raised bed for a perfect home for the berries to give them the best start. Composite decking material makes a good material that lasts and doesn't leach chemicals as pressure treated lumber will. A frame of 6 to 12 inches high around bed will hold the soil in place and let you raise the bed enough to get good drainage.

1. Move the top foot of soil to a tarp or canvas

2. Dig out and remove a foot of subsoil

3. Return the top soil from the tarp to the hole

4. Add about 40 pounds of oil absorbent, using equal parts of the Baked Montmorillonite Clay (Arcillite) and the Diatomaceous Earthand types. Napa Auto parts carries both types. These will help prevent compaction of the soil and help it to hold both moister and nutrients.

5. I would then add about 20 cubic feet of both peat and bark soil conditioners.

6. Add about 5 pounds of sulfur for every 1 pH point that your soil is above a pH of 5. If you soil pH is 7, then add 10 pounds of sulfur.

7. Add either organic or slow release fertilizer using amount recommended for 40 sq feet or a 20 foot row.

8. Stir all of this until well mixed and give it a few weeks to settle before testing the soil pH again. You need to get the pH to between 4.5 and 5 or they blueberries won't do well.

9. After you plant the blueberries you should mulch around them using bark soil amendment.

Getting the soil ready and waiting to fall will give you better results than putting the plants into poorly prepared soil during hot weather. Without proper soil preparation, the plant will start off stunted and take forever to start growing well.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 8:50PM
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alan haigh

There are many many varieties of blueberries and the recommendations you're getting are probably from people who have grown very few of them. I've only grown about 15 types myself here in southeast NY and maybe tried about 15 more at other sites. I really don't find highbush blueberries to be highly distinguished by a wide range of flavor although there are clear differences. One that stands out for me is Darrow, but it probably has exceptionally high brix because it is such a light bearer which takes it out of my recommended list.

I consider the size of fruit to be more important in evaluating selection for this species and of course as mentioned, time of bearing. Larger fruit have proportionately less skin and are therefore not as coarse as smaller ones. Some claim smaller ones have more flavor although I disagree. I also feel large fruited varieties pick faster which can become an issue when plants mature, believe me.

I am not familiar with Aurora but I doubt it bears fruit as late as Elliot which is by far the latest variety I grow and therefore the best season extender of any variety. I grow Patriot but prefer Duke as an early bearer for its somewhat sweeter and larger fruit, but the difference is pretty minor to my evaluation.

Bluecrop is the overall winner for combining quality with production for me but I prefer Berkely for the quality of fruit, mostly just for being consistently bigger. Bluecrop has a longer bearing period starting a few days sooner.

My recommendations are Duke, Bluecrop, Berkely and Elliot.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 11:04AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


I grow Bluecrop, Northland, Chandler, Jersey, and Elliot... Haven't tried the Jersey or Elliot yet, but the Chandler are awesome! The berries are huge, i had a couple yesterday that were near quarter size... Northland was best for flavor so far. Bluecrop i've had before and i think is what your most likely to buy in the store... I'm not picky and i'll eat any homegrown blueberry :)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 11:24AM
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alan haigh

Franktank the reason Bluecrop are so common is because they are very productive and probably also because they lend themselves to mechanical harvesting but I've seen them highly rated for quality.

As I've already said, I actually don't discern huge difference in blueberry flavor although I generally only grow varieties that are considered very good. I found Jersey to be lacking, however. You make me want to try Chandler because you find it to be such a standout and I don't think I've tried it.

The reason homegrown blueberries are so good is because you can leave them on the plant until they're truly sweet and all varieties I've grown will eventually get there. Elliot takes the longest to go from being blue to being sweet but that's probably because the suns backing off by its season here.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 1:17PM
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I'm in zone 7 and have just started growing Chandler, Brigitta, Chippewa. I have not grown blueberries for about 15 years, when I lived in zone 8. Since KURITE is way north of me, I looked up what varieties had large fruit, varied fruit times, and were reliably hardy that far north.

Everything else being equal, I agree that bigger is often better for fruit. One exception that I look out for is that bigger is always better for commercial growers. Sometimes varieties developed for commercial growers have stressed size and shipping ease above all other traits, so I always search the "fine print" when I read about an extra larger variety. I also agree with FrankTank, that the flavor of homegrown is so much better than commercially grown, that I don't notice differences in flavor among varieties of homegrown fruit very much.

What I wanted to stress was that soil prep is always important, but with blueberries it is perhaps more important than other fruits. Besides their need for extremely low pH, they have more shallow roots than many other fruits. If I'm planting a pear tree, amending the planting hole will give it a little help the first year, but its tap root is going to be heading down beyond the planting hole very quickly, so you can't do much except hope your soil is adequate and give it some fertilizer in the springtime.

Because blueberries develop very shallow, dense, and fibrous root systems, preparation of the soil before planing has much more benefit. Because their roots are shallow and dense, they dry out very quickly, but they also need soil that drains and isn't too heavy. Since KURITE was working with a small space, I recommended preparing the soil almost the same as if growing them in a container. The extreme soil amending I suggested would not be practical for someone with lots of blueberry plants, but for KURITE I think it would be worth the effort so that the plants would have the best possible environment for maximum production from a small space.

The $20 or so it will cost for the oil absorbent will make a big difference with a small area because it keeps the soil very friable for the plants' small roots. It is exceptionally good at holding moisture and nutrients for the plants roots. Because their roots don't spread out as much as other plants their size, blueberries need a medium that is moisture and nutrient dense. Peat works well at first for this, but it decays and compacts quickly, whereas the oil absorbents are insert and last virtually forever. They are used for containers very successfully and are consumer accessible versions of the products used to maintain baseball fields.

Growers of Bonsai have used similar products for centuries for the same reason I suggest it for blueberries, because in both cases you are dealing with plants that are depending upon a root system with limited space.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 5:00AM
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alan haigh

gitbit, I agree with you and it's usually recommended to add plenty of organic matter before trying to establish blueberries in a home orchard situation. lots call for 50% peat to soil by volume for first 8 to 12 inches (peat pre-moistened and then thoroughly blended with soil). I like forest compost myself, the stuff you can rake off under oak trees- fluffy and black. Raised beds are also helpful, particularly in heavier soils.

I have often seen very healthy and productive plants in the mid 6's pH in spite of what the lit may tell you. These plants were in soil high in organic matter and well mulched. I still try to get soil into the low 5's with sulfur. It certainly won't hurt.

If you always do things exactly as the experts suggest there's an awful lot you'll never learn.

I believe when blueberries fail it is usually because of inadequate water while establishing, or too little air in the soil because soil is too heavy. If organic matter isn't plentiful and plants aren't mulched than pH probably becomes equally important. Of course I'm in the east coast where soils tend to be at least mildly acidic to begin with. If the native soil was in the high 7's it would be another story I guess.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 11:18AM
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HarvestMan, I agree with you about leaf mold for adding organic matter to soil. For buying at the store, peat moss or the bagged composted wood fines are a poor substitute for leaves, but the best you can find to buy. I collect all my leaves in the fall with my bagging lawn mower. I keep an eye open for when my neighbors put out bags of raked leaves to be collected as trash. I go out the night before trash pickup and drag all the bags home with me. I dump them in a pile on my blacktop driveway, then drive over them repeatedly with the lawnmower until they are chopped up. After the mower has chopped them up a bit, I put them on my compost heap mixed with green grass clippings and leave them for month. The mix will normally heat up to over 150 degrees even with cool fall temps outside. I wait about a month for it to cool down, and then I use it as mulch around plants, rather than having to wait 6 months for it to break down into finished compost. The half decomposed leaves attract earthworms, and together they work wonders on the soil beneath.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 6:07AM
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Harvestman, Aurora is a new release that is a few days later than Elliot and is supposed to improve on the flavor of Elliot (Hartmann's has a good write-up on it). My Aurora hasn't fruited yet, but Elliot is one of the worst tasting of the 25 or so varieties I grow (I also don't like Tifblue, which is mealy). Of course environment and taste vary widely, but for what it is worth, I've found Legacy, Brigitta, Ozarkblue, Blueray, and Elizabeth to all taste significantly better than Duke and Bluecrop. I haven't been impressed with Jersey either. You've probably already tasted most of these varieties, but if you haven't, it might be worth it.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 5:04PM
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Patriot has a GREAT flavor, and is a constant producer in zone 5

Planting five foot apart will leave room to walk through, while planting three foot apart will make a hedgerow. Planting more than one variety will increase the harvest and extend the harvest period.

As Eric has statedÂbetter to plant in the spring or early fall. You can get great deals this time of year, on berries at the big box stores. Just realize you will have to water every day till establishedÂÂÂ and you may loose one if you do not.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 12:01PM
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alan haigh

I think there's probably a big difference in northern highbush performance as you get down below NJ. I have found that Elliot tastes fine if you leave it long enough on the plant to sweeten, but it takes a very long time. I still appreciate the heads up on Aurora and it may well be a step up from Elliot.

It's been a long time since my testing of blueberry varieties. I've stopped growing them in my nursery and I'm happy enough with the plants I have for my own use. I use most of them in cereal and over waffles anyway and only eat them alone as I harvest them. Of course that's when I eat most of my fruit during the season- off the plant.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 6:03AM
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With adequate irrigation and mulching, northern highbushes do well and are grown commercially in VA. I've tried leaving the Elliot berries on the plant and they do sweeten up, but an unpleasant aftertaste (almost vinegary) still lingers.

I agree that one of the nice things about blueberry varieties is that in my experience almost all of the varieties I have tasted at least taste good.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 11:15AM
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With adequate irrigation and mulching, northern highbushes do well and are grown commercially in VA. I've tried leaving the Elliot berries on the plant and they do sweeten up, but an unpleasant aftertaste (almost vinegary) still lingers.

I agree that one of the nice things about blueberry varieties is that in my experience almost all of the varieties I have tasted at least taste good.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 9:06PM
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I added another late variety to my collection this year--Liberty from Nourse. While I can't comment on its taste as I remove all blossoms on new plants, I am amazed at its vigor. In just a few months it has caught up and surpassed a few two and three year old plants--granted, its height at maturity is 7-8 feet.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 5:47PM
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I've found mulching with pine needles have benifited our blueberries. Water, deeply, during dry spells only. Blueberries don't require large amounts of fertilizer. We were picking ours too early. Someone told us to hold a container under the blueberry cluster, hold the cluster with the other hand and gently rub to loosen only the ripe ones. When the birds start showing up, you know they're gettin ripe! Most varieties are sweet and plump if watered properly and left to ripen fully. Plant different varieties of bushes, you'll find some do better in your area than others.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing Blueberries

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 10:40AM
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