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Monday, 1 March 2021

Home gardening 101: How to grow antioxidant-rich blueberries in a container

 Blueberries are an amazing superfruit. They’re low-calorie and they’re full of various nutrients like vitamin C.

You can even grow them at home in a container garden! Just keep in mind that blueberries take several years to bear fruit.

Blueberries: A low-calorie superfruit

Blueberries aren’t just nutritious, they’re also low in calories! In fact, one cup of blueberries only has 83 calories.

The health benefits of blueberries are often attributed to anthocyanin. This plant compound belongs to the family of polyphenol antioxidants called flavonoids that give the berries their dark blue hue.

If you’re craving a delicious and tasty snack, enjoy a handful of blueberries that are full of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Below are three incredible reasons to grow some blueberries in a container garden:

  • Blueberries are full of vitamin C. This essential nutrient helps boost your immune system. One cup of blueberries contains 24 percent of your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)!
  • Blueberries can help promote weight loss. Since these superfruits are also full of fiber, consuming blueberries can help you feel full longer and reduce overall calorie intake. Studies also suggest that the flavonoids in berries can help with weight loss.
  • Blueberries help speed up muscle recovery. Good news, gym-goers! Some studies have found that consuming blueberry smoothies can help promote faster recovery post-exercise.

Growing blueberries in containers

If you don’t have an in-ground garden at home, you can plant blueberries in containers as long as you have access to an area that receives full sun. You’ll need one hour and about $50 to $100 dollars to buy the equipment you need to grow blueberries in pots.

But like most crops, growing blueberries requires patience. Like other fruit-bearing plants, it can take several years for your plants to produce berries.

Equipment and tools:

  • Trowel
  • Watering can or garden hose

Materials:

  • Blueberry plants of your choice (get at least two plants of two to three different varieties.)
  • Containers (must be about 18 inches deep with drainage holes.)
  • Acidic potting mix
  • Regular potting mix
  • Organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants
  • Bird netting (optional.)

Choosing containers

Blueberries will bear fruit for years with minimal care, but it’s crucial to start off plants properly. To grow healthy blueberries, plant them in the largest pot possible and have only one plant per pot.

Get a pot that’s at least 18 inches deep with drainage holes. Half-barrels and other deep, wide containers also suit blueberries.

Choosing blueberry plants

Blueberries need “friends” before they can produce fruit. Get at least two plants of two different varieties for cross-pollination. If possible, buy three plants and place the pots at least two to three feet apart.

Extend your blueberry harvests by growing different varieties of blueberries that produce fruit at different times of the growing season.

Before you buy plants, do your research and look for a blueberry species and cultivar or cultivated variety that suits your climate.

The four main blueberry species are:

  • Highbush
  • Lowbush
  • Rabbiteye
  • Half-high

Within these species, there are different cultivars to choose from. If you’re not sure which cultivars will grow well in your area, ask a local county extension office, a local farmer, or a nursery professional.

Alternatively, you can select a cultivar based on the desired size of the fruit. When growing blueberries for eating, large berries are best. If you’re going to cook with the berries, find a cultivar that bears small berries.

Preparing the soil

Blueberry bushes require very acidic soil. You also need a soil pH between 4.0 to 4.8 for the plants to absorb water and nutrients and produce berries.

But most garden soil is not naturally this acidic. Thankfully, planting in containers gives you more control over soil acidity levels. To keep your blueberry plants healthy, purchase or create an acidic potting mix.

To make your own blueberry soil mix, fill a pot two-thirds full of regular potting mix. Fill the top third with a potting mix for acid-loving plants like azaleas or rhododendrons.

You can buy this potting mix in nurseries, garden centers, or the houseplants section of some home centers. If you don’t have a high-acid potting mix, add fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

Alternatively, you can make your own potting mix by following this recipe from Cornell University.

  1. Mix equal parts peat moss and vermiculite.
  2. Add a granular 11-5-11 fertilizer.
  3. Test the mix’s pH with a simple soil test kit then adjust the pH level if necessary. Add limestone to increase the pH or iron sulfate to lower the pH.

You can also use a potting mix that includes equal parts garden soil, well-rotted compost and coarse sand. Test the mixture’s pH balance then add iron sulfate to increase acidity as needed.

Planting the blueberries

When planting the blueberries into the containers, do it at the same level they were in their nursery containers. Leave the soil level an inch or so down from the lip of the pot.

Water the pot immediately after planting to settle the soil and eliminate air gaps around the plant’s roots.

Water the plants regularly

Blueberries need lots of water. However, they also prefer sandy, well-draining soil. To keep things balanced, don’t let them sit in water, keep the soil consistently moist, and don’t leave the soil soggy.

Even if it rains, you can’t skip a day of watering your plants. Blueberry plant leaves can act as an umbrella that may prevent water from making it into the pot.

Check the soil with your finger to see if it’s wet to an inch or two below the surface. If you can’t water your blueberry plants because you’re going on a long trip, leave the plants in a more shaded area to conserve water. You can also add a layer of compost with a topdressing of pine bark to help retain some moisture.

Giving blueberries the right amount of sun

Blueberries need six to eight hours of sunlight per day.

To ensure that you don’t overestimate how much sun an area gets, accurately measure the sunlight in your garden. One way to do this is by using a watch to time the hours of full-sun exposure on a regular day during the growing season.

If you live in an area with very hot afternoon sun, note that blueberry plants can overheat. To protect your plants, move them to some light shade during the afternoon.

Move the pots around during the day so your plants get the required amount of sunshine. When using big pots, place the containers on rolling casters so you can move them around easily as you follow the sun.

Fertilizing blueberries

Blueberries don’t need a lot of fertilizer. Fertilize your plants in the early spring using organic fertilizer like blood or cottonseed meal or organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

Don’t fertilize and neglect your plants. Test the soil’s pH regularly and keep it between 4.0 and 4.8.

Acid washes out of the soil over time and it might be better to start with a half dose of fertilizer in the spring then add a light monthly dose throughout the growing season.

Protecting blueberry plants from pests

Birds love blueberries, but you can protect the fruit from birts by surrounding bushes with bird netting several weeks before the berries are ripe.

If the leaves of your plants turn yellow, the culprit could be a high soil pH causing chlorosis. To address this, acidify the soil with fertilizer made for acid-loving plants.

You might also encounter insect and fungal problems when growing blueberries. Use organic fungicides or pesticides safe for edible plants and avoid harmful chemicals.

Winterizing blueberry plants

Your job doesn’t end once the growing season is over and you need to protect your plants during the winter season. Blueberries are hardy plants, but if you’re growing them in a cold-winter climate you need to place the containers against a building or move them into a protected area to protect them from the wind.

Another option is to mulch plants with straw or wrap them in burlap. Plants are dormant during winter and they don’t need much water, but you need to make sure that they don’t dry out completely.

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