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Growing Blueberries

Question:

Please tell me the best blueberry bushes to grow in Middle Tennessee. I was born and raised in New Jersey and we had the best blueberries. Nashville, TN (zone 6b)

Answer:

Blueberries are a North American native shrub and actually quite easy to grow. Even if you never harvest any berries, their interesting form and showy fall foliage make them worth planting in the garden.

There are many types of blueberries but Northern highbush, low bush, rabbiteye, and Southern highbush are the most common. The blueberries you remember from New Jersey were probably Northern highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum). In fact, it is the state fruit of New Jersey.

Northern highbush blueberries need a period of winter chilling, at least 2 months of temperatures below 40 degrees, so they are best suited for climates with cold winters.

Low bush blueberries are grown in the Northeast. They are low to the ground with a distinctive flavor. These are the blueberries you see growing in Maine.

Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) are native to warmer climates. They fruit earlier than their northern cousins and the berries are smaller and sweeter. Rabbiteyes tend to be more adaptable and pest tolerant than other types.

The hybrid Southern highbush is the best suited for California and southern gardens in the U.S. They were developed specifically for heat tolerance and minimal winter chilling.

In Nashville it appears that you could grow Northern highbush, Southern highbush or rabbiteye blueberries with success.

The best time to plant blueberries is late winter and early spring. Plant more than one variety of the type you choose to encourage cross pollination. The payoff will be lots of big, sweet berries.

To ensure success provide your shrub with well-drained, loamy, acidic soil (pH of 4.0 to 5.5) and consistent moisture. Blueberries are shallow rooted so a thick layer of mulch is beneficial for keeping the soil cool and moist.

Except for protecting Northern highbush varieties from hot afternoon sun, site the shrubs in an area that receives at least 6 hours of light. If you select Northern highbush varieties consider planting them in a cool microclimate in your garden. Look for a spot that is shaded from afternoon sun, on a northern slope or out in the open with good air circulation. This will increase the odds for achieving the required chilling period even if you have a mild winter.

Blueberries do not need much fertilizer. In fact you should avoid feeding them in the first year. After that give them frequent, small applications of a fertilizer blending from azaleas or camellias.

Varieties to Try: