Blueberries for the Valley

Many valley and foothill gardeners enjoy the sweet taste of blueberries. Few homes here, though, feature any backyard plantings of this delicious, fruit-bearing shrub. We've been told through the years that it's tough to grow them in our heat; and, our neutral-to-alkaline soil doesn't treat them very kindly. However, there's no reason why our neighbors along the coast and in the Pacific Northwest should have all that enjoyment for themselves. Blueberries can be grown successfully here, if given the right conditions.

At the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park in Sacramento County, the Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are testing several southern highbush blueberry varieties that early reports indicate should do well in the Sacramento-San Joaquin area. Among the varieties they are growing this season: Bluecrop, Blue Ray, Cape Fear, Georgia Gem, O'Neal, Ozark Blue, Reveille, Sharp Blue and Sunshine Blue. In your home garden, try several different varieties; not only will that improve pollination and give you an extended season for harvesting the berries, it will let you know which ones do best in your yard.

Blueberry shrubs can get to six feet or more in height; plant them three feet apart as a hedge; four to five feet apart as individual shrubs. Blueberries need plenty of water and acid soil. Wherever azaleas and rhododendrons flourish in your yard will be a good location for blueberries. Give blueberries protection from the hot, late afternoon sun and wind; the east side of your home may be best. Acidify the soil with moistened peat moss and feed the plants with an acid fertilizer, such as one intended for azaleas and rhododendrons. Mulch the area beneath the blueberries with several inches of ground bark or sawdust, to help acidify the soil.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on Choosing, Planting and Caring for Blueberries, visit the Dave Wilson Nursery Blueberry page.