Tips on How to Protect and Grow Your Blueberries
We have a blueberry bush that has been growing in our yard since I was young. It seems to grow bigger every year and at this point we end up giving a good amount of the harvest away because it produces so much fruit. But it definitely didn’t start that way. It took years for it to grow to what it is now. It was well worth it though, so if you have been considering planting a blueberry bush yourself, here are a couple of things we learned over the years that could save you some heartache.
One of the biggest and most common hurdles to get over is local wildlife eating your crop. We luckily don’t have deer wandering our garden but we do have plenty of birds and squirrels that love to eat whatever they can get. For a couple of years, they would eat the majority of what we grew before we could harvest them. The best tip I can give you for this is a pretty simple one: never let the animals know there is a source of food in the first place. You must harvest what you can every day. If you leave the berries alone as they ripen, the animals will find them eventually and then they will forever know the spot as a place to forage. You can stop this by noticing when the berries are about to ripen, and then checking every day to see if the blueberries are ready to be picked. You’ll know when it is time by the berries turning, well… blue. They also practically fall off of the plant, you should never have to give more than the slightest tug to pluck a ripe berry off of the bush.
Another way to keep local varmints away is to hang tinsel on or around the blueberries. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, we just used aluminum foil tied with yarn. The reflections that are created when the tinsel moves scares off the birds. We also disguised rocks as berries by painting them the same color and leaving them under the plant. When a bird tries to peck at it, they hit a hard stone rather than a berry and may give up. This method works best when you leave the faux-berries out for a while before the berries begin to ripen. This way the birds will always hit the rocks and have the idea that all of those round blue things in the area are not food. We did this for our strawberries as well, and haven’t lost a single one to a bird this year thanks to it.
Now that you have blueberries to eat in the first place, you can focus on making them taste better. Our berries are tart and great for pies, reductions, and sauces. They taste great raw too, though they are too sour for some. To control how sweet your berries are, you have to look at the soil they grow in. Specifically, how acidic the soil is. More acidic soil produces sweet berries, while less acidic soil makes tart berries. In the lowcountry, you can gauge how well it might grow in an area by looking at the surrounding plants. Another common bush in the south, azaleas, like acidity just as much as blueberries. So if your yard (or a neighbor’s) can grow a healthy azalea without much extra work, a blueberry bush should also do fine.
The last thing I am going to note is that it takes a lot of time to make a good blueberry bush. Years, in fact. The first year you have a blueberry bush, you should not expect much fruit as the roots are still shallow and the plant is focusing on survival over reproduction. In the years following, it should slowly produce more as its root system grows and can spend more of its nutrients on creating berries. After time, if your blueberry bush is like ours, it will grow over a gallon of blueberries. Just by itself! If you follow all these tips, you should start to see a noticeable change in the quality and number of berries that you harvest. Good luck and happy growing!