In spring fuschia blossoms dangle from the branches of blueberry shrubs.
Blueberries might just be the best shrub ever. In spring beautiful magenta blossoms dangle from their branches. Blueberry leaves turn bright red in fall and their colorful branches look pretty throughout the winter. And, of course, they produce loads of berries in summer.
Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are native to the Northeastern United States and they are divided into three categories: lowbush, highbush, and rabbiteye. Tiny lowbush varieties form a 12-inch tall mound, making them the perfect size for the front of perennials beds. You can mix highbush varieties, which can reach 8 feet, and rabbiteyes, which grow to 15 feet or more, into hedgerows and shrub borders. Whichever type of blueberry you choose, it's important to grow them in acidic soil. The berries grow well in areas of the United States that have naturally acidic soil like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast. In areas with more alkaline soil, you will need to adjust the soil pH with elemental sulfur. If you live in a region with very alkaline soil, like the Rocky Mountains, your best bet maybe to grow blueberries in containers, because it will be easier to manage the soil pH (for more info on adjusting the soil pH, check out this article from Purdue University Cooperative Extension).
Four Seasons of Interest
One of the best ways to make your garden more productive is to integrate edible and ornamental plants. Blueberries are an excellent choice for edible landscaping because they come in a range of sizes and look good year round.
Fall. Burning Bush (Euonymous spp.) are popular landscape shrubs because they turn fiery red in fall, but blueberries put on just as pretty as a show. Most blueberry varieties are deciduous, but before they drop their leaves in autumn they turn a brilliant ruby red.
Winter. Blueberries are fairly twiggy-looking shrubs, but their limbs often have a vivid red stems during the winter, which look especially pretty when it snows.
Spring. Blueberry blossoms range from magenta to petal pink. As they open, the flowers look like little bells hanging from the branches. Most blueberry varieties fruit heavily, which means that the shrubs are covered with flowers in spring.
Summer. Blueberry varieties are classified by when their fruit ripen (most plant tags will note if the shrub produces early, mid-season, or late blueberries). You can harvest blueberries from July through September if you plan ahead and plant two or three varieties with berries that ripen at different times.
'Sunshine Blue'. I love this evergreen highbush variety because its leaves turn from silvery green to rouge when the weather cools down. It grows into a cute 3 foot mound and produces loads of big, blue berries. A good choice if you live in a warmer climate.
'Tifblue'. This rabbiteye variety produces big light blue fruit late in the season and is quite cold tolerant. It grows into a large attractive plant.
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Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Vegetable Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: First image from Fine Gardening. All other images by Willi Galloway.)