Blueberries are touted as a “super-fruit.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, blueberries are one of the leaders in antioxidant content, are packed with vitamin C, and contain a day’s worth of fiber in just one handful. Blueberries are not only one of the healthiest fruits around, but they are also one of the easiest to grow right here in Robeson County and Eastern North Carolina.
Blueberries prefer sandy soil, full sun, good drainage, and a low pH, somewhere around 4.5. This lends itself well to our soil and climate here in Robeson County. If you are not sure about the pH or fertility of your soil, you can send a soil sample to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to be analyzed for free. Your local Extension office has all the necessary boxes and paperwork.
Once your soil is suitable for growing blueberries, the next step is to select your plants. There are two main types of blueberry bushes, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) and rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei). Highbush varieties are more cold tolerant while the rabbiteye varieties are more drought and heat tolerant.
There is also a new group of plants referred to as “Southern Highbush”, which are better acclimated to the dry hot weather of our area than the typical highbush varieties. Remember that more than one rabbiteye variety is needed for cross-pollination and a maximum yield. Highbush varieties can be expected to begin ripening in late May or early June, while rabbiteye varieties ripen later in June.
Once planted, blueberries lend themselves well to organic production. Pesticides and herbicides are not typically needed if the bushes are well cared for.
A yearly pruning during the dormant season to remove weak, diseased, and/or damaged portions along with a flower bud reduction of approximately 50 percent is recommended. Bearing plants should be fertilized in early spring with about one cup of a complete fertilizer (i.e. 10-10-10) per plant. Using mulch around each plant will aid in weed control. Plants should be watered regularly for the first year and during dry spells there after.
It may sound like a lot of work, but bets are your soil sample results will come back with perfect conditions for blueberry planting and with a little mulch and some TLC; you will be good to go. Blueberries are also great to add into the landscape.
Plants have beautiful pink and white flowers, gorgeous blue berries, and great fall color. So get out there, plant a few blueberry bushes, and if you’re adventurous, look up the ‘Pink Lemonade’ variety.
n As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to contact Kerrie Roach by phone at (910) 671-3276 or e-mail Kerrie_Roach@ncsu.edu.