Not only absolutely delicious, of the full range of fruits and vegetables, blueberries are ranked number one in terms of their antioxidant benefits. Whether you grow your own or go to a U-Pick the questions are when is blueberry harvesting season and how to harvest the blueberries?
Blueberry bushes are suited to USDA hardiness zones 3-7. The blueberries we eat today are a more or less recent invention. Prior to the 1900’s, only North American natives utilized the berry, which, of course, was only found in the wild. There are three types of blueberry: highbush, lowbush and hybrid half-high.
Regardless of the type of blueberry, combine their nutrition aspects with ease of growing and minimal diseases or pests (except the birds!) and the only question is when to harvest blueberry bushes? Harvesting blueberries is a simple process but, even so, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First off, don’t rush to pick the berries too soon. Wait until they turn blue. They should fall off right into your hand with no tugging on the delicate berry required. Blueberry harvesting season can be anywhere from late May through mid-August, depending upon the variety and your local climate.
For a more bountiful crop, plant two or more varieties. Blueberries are partially self-fertile, so planting more than one varietal can extend the harvest season as well as inducing the plants to produce more and larger berries. Keep in mind that full productions may take until the plants are about 6 years of age.
There’s no great secret to picking blueberries. Beyond the actual picking of the blueberries, there isn’t an easier fruit to prepare and serve. You don’t need to peel, pit, core or cut plus they freeze, can or dry for long-term storage if you don’t make short work of them as a pie, cobbler or just a snack.
When harvesting blueberries, choose those that are blue all the way around the berry – white and green blueberries do not ripen further once they are picked. Berries with any blush of red are not ripe, yet may ripen further once picked if kept at room temperature. That said though, you really want to only pick ripe gray-blue berries. The longer they stay on the bush to ripen fully, the sweeter the berries become.
Gently, using your thumb, roll the berry off the stem and into your palm. Ideally, once the first berry is picked, you will place it in your bucket or basket and continue in this vein until you have harvested all the blueberries you want. However, at this juncture, I can never really resist tasting the first blueberry of the season, just to be sure it’s really ripe, right? My periodic tasting tends to continue throughout the picking process.
Once you are done harvesting the blueberries, you can use them immediately or freeze them for later use. We like to freeze them and throw them straight from the freezer into smoothies, but however you decide to use them, you can be assured their amazing nutritive properties are well worth an afternoon at the berry patch.
Full sun is needed for the best yields. Excellent soil drainage is essential. In low lying areas with poor drainage, raised beds (6 to 15 inches high) are highly recommended. Areas prone to frost should be avoided. A site on a slight, northward-facing slope helps prevent spring frost injury and gives some protection from drying southwest winds in summer.
Deep, well-drained sandy loam soils with added organic matter are ideal. A pH of 4.5 to 5.2 is best for optimum plant nutrition. If soil pH is too high, sulfur may be added to lower the soil pH. See (Table 1). For in-between numbers and soil types, estimate as needed, or consult the local Extension office for assistance. Very high pH soils will be difficult to lower and keep at the necessary levels. This is why many homeowners have gone to raised beds filled with azalea soil mix, which has the right pH for blueberries.
Newly cleared land may be planted. All weeds should be removed before planting, as blueberries do not compete well for nutrients due to their lack of secondary root hairs. Blueberries need between 1 to 3 inches of natural rainfall or irrigation per week, depending on temperatures and evaporation rate. High-quality water with low salt or lime contents must be available for a successful planting. The pH of the irrigation water should be acidic to prevent raising the soil pH with each irrigation.
Table 1. Pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet to lower soil pH one unit.
Ready to grow your own blueberries? These tips will help you grow great blueberry bushes.
Blueberries are a very rewarding shrub to grow at home, and will produce buckets of fresh blueberries each summer under the right conditions. Location is extremely important for good blueberry picking. Blueberry bushes like full sun with well-drained soil. They are often found growing wild in sandy areas, which are best suited to the shrubs.
You may be lucky enough to have good blueberry-growing conditions in your yard or property already, but look around before planting: you don’t want them near existing wild blueberries. Not only will they compete for resources, but they are also likely to cross-pollinate, resulting in smaller berries on your plants. Another consideration will be cold-hardiness.
Wild blueberries grow in cold climates with early and late frosts, but cultivated blueberries won’t be able to produce as much fruit in shorter growing seasons, so maximum production comes in more moderate climates.
Blueberry bushes like very acidic soil, and will grow in soils that are downright inhospitable to other plants. Sandy, acidic soils in a pH range of 4.0 to 5.0 are best. Test your soil’s pH before planting, and if it is below 7.0 to start, it will be possible to add sulfur, peat or other acidic soil amendments to get it to a good pH for blueberries. If your soil is above 7.0, find a new spot to plant, as it will be impractical to bring the pH down far enough.
Aerate soil thoroughly by digging it up and thinning it out with sand, leaf mold, sawdust, or peat moss.
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For the best blueberry yield, the bushes should be pollinated thoroughly. If you are worried about natural pollinators, you can help to attract birds, bees and butterflies to the area with birdfeeders, insect feeders or attractive plantings with brightly colored flowers and sweet nectars. To be sure of good cross-pollination among your bushes, be sure to plant two cultivars of blueberries that are well-suited to your local climate.
In Northern areas, Chippewa, Northblue, Northcountry and Polaris are good blueberry strains to choose from. Most home gardeners choose highbush varieties of blueberry bushes, but lowbush blueberries may suit your garden or yard better. Cultivars suited to more temperate climates with longer growing seasons include Jersey, Nelson or Blue Gold.
Pick the flowers off the blueberry bushes, preventing them from fruiting, for the first two summers. This forces the bush to put its energy into growing strong enough to give good fruit crops in following years.
After two years, begin to prune in the winter or early spring to encourage best growth. Berries are produced on one-year-old wood, so cutting the blueberry bushes back each year helps fruit production.
If you have lowbush blueberries, you can use a lawnmower to cut them back in the winter, when the plants are dormant. Prune any weak, old, diseased or dying stems, and cut off several of the larger, older shoots evenly around the bush. When the bushes begin to bud in the spring, mulch around the base with a light layer of mulch, and apply an acid-producing fertilizer such as for azaleas.
Stop fertilizing after blooms mature, and prepare for berries by netting the bushes. This will protect the juicy berries from attack by birds. Netting supported by a light frame is best, with the netting well-secured so birds can’t get in. Rabbits and deer also like blueberries. A high chicken-wire fence will help keep these away.
Once the berries have been harvested for the year, get the bushes ready for fall by mulching again to protect the plants, and stop watering to allow them to go dormant for the winter.
Check out these Web sites chosen by us for more information on the subject.
Learn how to prune blueberries with a fact sheet from Ohio State University Extension.
The University of Minnesota Extension explains growing blueberries at home.
Read more with the guide to highbush blueberries from the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension.
Blueberry plants add beauty to the landscape as well as provide delicious fruit for jams and snacking. The challenge of growing blueberry bushes is to get the soil to the proper acidity. Plant the berry bushes in good draining, loose soil with lots of organic material. With proper care in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 to 9, a blueberry shrub can live more than 25 years. Pick good blueberry plants when making a long-term investment in your garden. Healthy blueberry plants give the gardener a better chance of growing the berries successfully.
Look for a grower who guarantees the quality of the blueberry bush. This is offered by most growers, but it is easier to return unhealthy plants to local growers. Always choose certified disease-free plants.
Look at the fruit and leaf buds on the berry plants in the spring. Healthy plants produce an abundant amount of bud, while unhealthy plants will have few buds. Gently touch some of the buds. Do not pick a plant with buds that brush off. This may be a sign of water stress in the plant.
Check the leaves for discoloration and spots if the leaves are out of bud stage. Black spots are signs of plant disease. Yellow or orange veins running through the leaves are not normal during most of the year. These signs on the leaves are normal only when the blueberry plant is going dormant for winter. This is the time when the plant cuts off the nutrients to the leaves and they die off.
Measure the blueberry plant with a tape measure. A 2-year-old plant will be about 24 to 30 inches tall and a 3-year-old plant will measure 36 to 48 inches tall. The 2- and 3-year-old plants survive transplanting to their permanent location better than smaller plants.
Examine the roots for white growth that is not feeder roots or black rot. Nursery plants are shipped bare-root so that examining the roots is easy. Grasp the shrub gently by the trunk and lift the plant out of its container slightly. Do not pick a plant with weak, undeveloped roots.
Sweet, juicy blueberries are a summertime staple. They grow on bushes and ripen from early summer to early fall depending on the region. Picking blueberries is much easier than their thorny counterparts, raspberries and blackberries.
If you’re growing your own blueberry bushes in the backyard this summer (or planning to visit a local blueberry farm), learning the best way to choose and harvest your berries is essential.
First, gently run your hand under the berries. Ripe berries will fall right off the bush and you can catch them in a basket below. If you have to tug at them – or if they’re still white or pinkish in color – the blueberries aren’t ready for harvest.
Keep in mind that blueberries don’t ripen after they’re picked like some fruits, so make sure you only pick the ripe, plump blueberries. Eat them, bake with them, freeze them or make you harvest last even longer by preparing preserves with them quickly after picking.