It’s that time of year. A time when local blueberries are abundant – ready for picking, eating, cooking and creating recipes. The Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners share their blueberry knowledge with readers this month, including how to grow, where to pick them locally and a great recipe, too. Enjoy.
It’s easy to grow blueberries in your backyard
Yum! You can almost taste the blueberry scones still hot from the oven made with blueberries fresh from your garden – so much better than store-bought. Not only are they tasty, but blueberries are also a power food, high in antioxidants. And so easy to grow.
You can grow them in a small yard or on the patio; blueberry bushes are now hybridized to be compact and still highly productive. Some are self-pollinating, but usually two different varieties must be planted to ensure cross-pollination (see suggested varieties below). They do require full sun, good drainage and acid soil. Other than that, blueberries are the perfect fruit for our cool northwest climate.
Blueberries need lots of water during the growing season up until their leaf color changes in the fall. As the leaves turn to shades of red and orange, stop watering until next spring. They also require a soil pH of 5 or less, which can be achieved by adding peat moss, elemental sulphur and/or using fertilizers formulated for adding acid to the soil. Our native soils are naturally acidic – that’s why hydrangeas, rhododendron and azaleas thrive here — however, doing a soil pH test to see exactly what the soil pH is in your garden is a good idea. Based on the results you can add acidic amendments to lower the pH if needed.
My first blueberry bushes were planted in whiskey barrels with lots of peat moss mixed into garden soil. They produced well for several years in those containers. Later, I transplanted them to my clay soil garden amended with peat moss in the hole below and around the roots and as mulch.
Pruning is simple and should be done in March. Remove any dead or broken branches and any cane that is over 3 years old. Remove no more than 15 to 20% of the branches, cut out the oldest, largest canes. Leave the newest canes to produce the fruit for the next several years.
Very few diseases attack blueberries, but you will have competition from birds and deer. I have a resident robin that just relishes the summer days of ripe blueberries and will eat every single ripe berry if I don’t cover them with bird netting. I build a framework out of PVC pipe and drape bird netting over it and clip the netting to the poles using with the same clips I use to make my fabric greenhouse. I also tie bird scare tape to the netting to alert the birds that it is there. It’s a bit frustrating to move the netting each time you harvest the ripe berries, but I don’t have a better alternative at the moment and it’s worth the frustration to me.
Blueberries varieties for containers:
- Northsky Blueberry. Half high dwarf blueberry yields 4 lbs per plant per season. Plant grows to 24″ and spreads to 30″.
- Northblue Blueberry. Dwarf blueberry yielding 5 lbs per plant. Plant grows 2’ to 3′ in height.
- Sunshine Blue. Semi-dwarf, versatile evergreen blueberry tolerates higher pH and is self-pollinating.
Larger blueberry bushes:
- Bluecrop Blueberry. Adaptable to most soil types, high yielding, disease resistant, great tasting. Grows to 4 to 6 feet tall and wide.
- Blueray Blueberry. A tasty variety producing good dessert quality berries on a 4 to 6 foot plant.
- Northland Blueberry. Cold hardy and vigorous blueberry produces an abundance of small dark blue fruit. Moderate growth 6 feet tall, 5 feet wide.
- Liberty Blueberry. A new variety, berries ripen in late summer. Liberty is adaptable to many different growing conditions and grows vigorously once established.
- Pink Lemonade Blueberry. The berries are bright pink, medium-sized and have a mild, yummy flavor. The bush reaches 4-5 feet.
U-Pick Blueberry Farms
If your blueberry bushes aren’t quite producing to their full potential yet, visit these area blueberry farms to pick a bushel full.
- Bybee-Nims Farm. 42930 SE 92nd St., North Bend. 425-888-0821.
- Henna Blueberry Farm. 1800 Fall City-Carnation Road SE, Fall City. 425-806-2751.
- Remlinger Farms. 32610 NE 32nd St., Carnation. 425-333-4135.
Cold Blueberry Soup
- 2 pints blueberries
- 1 honeydew melon
- 2 cups nonfat plain yogurt
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla
- 2 tsp. ginger
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
Cut melon into small chunks and purée will all ingredients in a food processor. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove all blueberry skins. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight if possible. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and garnish with a few blueberries. Serves 8.
Additional information on growing blueberries and other fruits can be found on the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners website. You can also bring your gardening questions to the Master Gardeners at the North Bend Farmers Market, Thursdays through mid-September.
[The authors, Beverly Ann Morrow and Vickie Clayton are master gardener interns in the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program. Extension programs and employment are available to all without discrimination. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Extension office.]