Sustainable Landscaping with Native Plants – Vaccinium Corymbosum
Highbush blueberry plants are the most widely planted blueberries in the world. These plants are vigorous and very cold-hardy, making them perfect for growers in cooler climates and northern regions. As a landscape bonus, lovely flowers blossom on these bushes in spring, while gorgeous foliage looks beautiful in summer and turns to stunning colors in fall. This all-purpose fruit is delicious when eaten fresh, served with cream or used to make salads or pies.
Northern Highbush typically ripens in July or August (slightly later than their southern highbush counterparts) and produce abundant crops of firm, flavorful, aromatic blueberries. When it comes to fruit in the garden, blueberries rule. Favored for their sweet flavor, blueberries are also known for their high level of antioxidants, thought to help protect the body against free radicals and chronic diseases associated with aging.
Highbush blueberries are perennial, long-living deciduous shrubs with a mature height of 5-7 feet. Attractive as ornamentals, they produce a profusion of white or pink blossoms in spring and colorful foliage in fall. Although most northern highbush cultivars are self-fertile, cross-pollination produces larger berries.” And, if you plant two or more cultivars that ripen at different times, you’ll lengthen the harvest season.”
The plants, which can live up to 50 years, need lots of sunshine and specific soil requirements. When choosing a site, avoid areas surrounded by trees, which can provide too much shade, compete for water and nutrients, encourage hungry birds and deter air movement around the new plants.
The berries grow best in well-drained, light, sandy loam that is high in organic matter and with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Test the soil pH a year before planting. If you need to make the soil more acidic, it can take more than six months. Poor plant growth from soil pH that is too high is the most common problem when growing blueberries in a home garden.
If the pH is between 5.7 and 6.5, lower it by adding finely ground elemental sulfur before planting. The amendment is available at garden centers. The amount needed depends on how much the pH needs to be lowered and the soil type. More detailed instructions on changing pH and changing soil composition, consider a soil test. If you decide to grow several plants, it’s better to group them in a bed or row rather than scattering them around the garden. You’ll get better results preparing an entire bed, rather than digging holes and preparing soil for individual plants.
Although blueberries require a uniform supply of water, they will not tolerate poor drainage. Raised beds can provide adequate drainage and aeration if they are from 12 to 18 inches high and 3 feet wide. They can be constructed with wood walls, or you can make hills with just soil and sawdust.
A row of these plants planted along the back or side of a property line makes for an excellent and bountiful landscape screening, one which you can enjoy for years and years.
Here’s a short checklist for taking care of mature plants:
- Add mulch gradually over the years to maintain a depth of six inches
- Apply fertilizer in the spring, starting around bloom time
- Water to maintain a uniform and adequate moisture supply
- Pick fruit at optimum maturity
- Prune in January or February.
I encourage and strongly promote native plantings. Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water. In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefits as well. Within my wholesale nursery product connections I have access to many native plant species of trees, shrubs and perennials to utilize with any landscape design and build project.