There's nothing like fresh-picked berries to add to a morning smoothie, fruit salad or evening dessert. For foodies and families wanting to grow their own blueberries, picking which variety and growing them doesn't have to be hard.
The secret to blueberry success, according to berry expert Amelie Brazelton Aust, a second generation owner at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery who's been growing blueberries on her family farm since she was a child, is the Four Ps: planting, pruning, picking and protecting.
"While I know a lot about the blueberry business, I do not have a green thumb like the rest of my family. However, blueberries are relatively simple and even I have great success with my blueberry plants at my home," says Aust. "Simply following these four simple tips help bushes flourish with berries season after season."
The first secret to success is planting the right variety. BrazelBerries® blueberries are perfect for growing in patio pots, raised beds and directly in the garden.
Home gardeners and cooks who grow BrazelBerries know these small edible fruit bushes are simple to grow, beautiful in the landscape and delicious to eat.
Once you have the blueberry bush, it's important to plant it in the right place. Blueberries need at least six hours of sun each day. "It's the sun that makes berries sweet and juicy, so plant in a very sunny spot," says Aust.
Next, consider the soil. "Blueberries love acidic soils," says Aust. A pH of 4.5-5.5 is ideal. A simple soil test indicates acidity, which can easily be adjusted with amendments. Both soil kits and amendments are available at any local garden center.
Aust recommends giving the plant's roots plenty of growing room when planting in a container. "Plant them in pots 16 inches or more in diameter and water deeply and regularly to make sure all of the soil within the pot is moist to the point that water is dripping from the pot's bottom drainage holes."
Cutting beautiful branches off any plant can be daunting. Aust says, "The truth is that blueberries over-produce, and pruning helps it to put enough energy into producing the best plant and big, yummy fruit for the next season."
Pruning also gives the bush more space between its branches and allows air to flow freely through the plant, helping to prevent disease.
"It's best to prune blueberries in late winter when the plants are still dormant," says Aust, "but I've pruned mine in the spring too before flowering, and they've done great." Remove all the stems that are damaged, old or dead. Aust says not to be afraid to take out up to a quarter or even a third of the bush, then trim it up to a neat and tidy look.
Fertilizing is recommended in early spring. "Add an acid fertilizer such as those for rhododendrons and azaleas," Aust suggests. "I tend to throw on half a handful of slow-release fertilizer. A high-nitrogen organic fertilizer such as blood meal or acidic cottonseed meal works great too." She recommends a second fertilizer application in late spring to give the plants an extra burst of energy for fruit production. If you're not sure which fertilizer to use, ask an expert at your local garden center.
With planting and pruning in the bag, the next step, picking, is the payoff. Be sure to watch your berries carefully and pick them before the birds do.
Here's what you can expect from each BrazelBerries variety:
Peach Sorbet blueberry: Juicy, sweet blueberries appear in midsummer on plants with stunning leaves ranging from peach to pink to orange to emerald green.
Jelly Bean blueberry: Large, flavorful, super-sweet blueberries reminiscent of homemade jelly in midsummer with super sweet flavor like homemade blueberry jelly.
Blueberry Glaze blueberry: Bundles of small, almost black, and intensely flavored wildlike berries packed with antioxidants are ready for midsummer.
A little protection provided by the home gardener ensures the blueberry bush will thrive for another bountiful season. If birds are a problem, cover with bird netting in the spring to keep critters away. Birds are less likely to eat the fruit when the plants are in containers on the patio.
Winter weather poses the biggest risk to berry bushes. "In very cold regions, apply a deep layer of mulch around the base of the bush to protect the roots," Aust says. "Blueberries in pots are even easier to protect from winter weather- if you are in a really cold area, just move the pots into an unheated garage or against a building and cover with thick mulch, burlap or a blanket."
Both Peach Sorbet and Blueberry Glaze are hardy to USDA Zone 5, while Jelly Bean withstands the slightly colder conditions of USDA Zone 4.
Spring's sudden cold snaps endanger emerging growth, as well. Again, Aust suggests covering blueberry bushes with burlap or blankets when the forecast calls for frost once buds and flowers are emerging. "Spring's warm days can be deceptive," Aust says. "Keep an eye on the weather, and before night falls, cover and protect that tender new growth."
For more information on all things berry, visit the BrazelBerries® Collection website at www.BrazelBerries.com.
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