Blueberries are a great crop to grow in your backyard. Besides the pleasure of picking your own homegrown berries, the bushes offer lovely blossoms in late spring, glossy green to blue-green leaves, and reddish foliage in the fall. Blueberry plants love acidic soil, so if you can grow azaleas and rhododendrons, then you can grow blueberries.
Mark Ehlenfeldt, USDA research geneticist and blueberry breeder will present “The native American blueberry—a home garden favorite,” on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. during Fordhook Farm's August Garden Open.
"You need to know four basic things to grow blueberries successfully," Ehlenfeldt said. "These plants need good drainage and some moisture, plenty of sunshine, the right pH or soil acidity, and two varieties for cross-pollination. A raised bed is ideal because you'll have excellent drainage and an acid pH with a 50/50 mixture of peat and sand [pH 4.0 to 5.0]."
If you use fertilizer, Ehlenfeldt suggests using an ammonium-based one. Make sure to mulch your plants.
"You can plant blueberry plants anytime of the year—spring is a great time, but this fall would be a good time too," said Ehlenfeldt.
There are several types of blueberry species including lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye, however, the highbush blueberry is best suited for our area. Burpee will be offering several blueberry varieties for sale this weekend including Bluecrop, Bluejay, Blueray, Coville, Elliot, Herbert, Patriot, Legacy, and Sweetheart.
It's a good idea to choose two varieties or more to plant depending on when they fruit. Early season varieties such as Sweetheart fruit early in the season. According to Burpee's information Sweetheart is "one of the most flavorful blueberries we have tasted." The plants are very productive and vigorous. The variety grows to about four to six feet tall by three to four feet wide.
The variety Blueray is "the largest berry on the market," according to Burpee. It ripens in July and "the harvest goes on for weeks." This bush reaches four to six feet in height by three to four feet wide and becomes "a blaze of crimson in the fall."
If you are looking for a shorter shrub and an earlier harvest, Patriot may fit the bill. Developed in Maine, this variety has excellent cold-hardiness with an early season harvest of large, flavorful berries. The shrub reaches three to five feet tall and is equal in width.
The variety Elliot is a late-season classic, according to Ehlenfeldt. "Let these berries fully ripen on the bush in August, then enjoy them. It is a consistently productive variety." The plant reaches about four to six feet in tall by about three to four feet wide.
Fall is a great time to prepare your planting site even if you don't want to plant berries this year. Choose a sunny planting site and increase the organic matter in your soil by adding compost and shredded leaves. Test the soil pH (obtain a kit from your county extension office). Add sulfur in the fall according to recommendations, then plant the shrubs next year, according to Penn State information. Or build a raised bed and add a 50/50 peat/sand mixture and plant in the fall or spring. For more detailed information on growing blueberries in Pennsylvania, visit this Penn State website.
Following Ehlenfeldt's presentation, you can see planting and harvesting demonstrations for blueberries and other plants firsthand. In addition, attendees can taste both popular and experimental tomatoes and preview some of Burpee’s new vegetable varieties for next year.
The August Garden Open runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25. The farm is located at 105 New Britain Rd. For more information and directions, visit the farm's website. The event will be held rain or shine. There’s a $5 admission fee and guests receive a $5 coupon for a plant purchase.