As our office is near a new development, a great deal of landscape plants are being installed. One that I noticed which is being planted here, as well as elsewhere in the County, is the Japanese blueberry tree. It is originally from temperate East Asia, but it is not a true blueberry. This small tree is relatively new to our local plant palette and is not commonly seen in local box store garden centers. The Japanese blueberry is a fine, relatively short, evergreen tree that might do well in your landscape.
Growing upwards to thirty-five feet tall and wide, most local specimens you see are cone-shaped, narrow, and upright in appearance. The growth rate is somewhat slow, so keep this in consideration when selecting the original plant size. At least a twenty-five-gallon pot sized specimen is recommended to make an impact in the landscape. The new leaves of this broadleaf evergreen are bronze in color before turning green. Each spring, the older inner leaves turn red adding additional color features. Spring also features small, inconspicuous, yet fragrant, white flowers followed by non-edible purple/blue fruit which are noted as non-staining, but potentially messy. Also keep in mind that leaves shedding in the spring and throughout the year may – to some homeowners – constitute too much litter.
Japanese blueberry trees do best in full-sun to part-shade sites with well-drained soil. While one sources indicates this tree has good to excellent drought-tolerance, water to establish this tree and then irrigate as needed thereafter. Very cold hardy in our area, Japanese blueberry is suitable on through Hardiness Zone 10B. As this tree matures, it will have a more open in nature so hand-pruning to keep its shape will be beneficial. Just do not overdo pruning as per its relatively slow growth.
According to the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas, the Japanese blueberry tree is “Low Risk for invasion, therefore Not considered a problem species at this time” – always good news!
One drawback with Japanese blueberry trees is that they can become chlorotic and yellow when planted in high pH soils. Many of our residential-fill soils are alkaline in nature, so have the soil tested before planting.
This is a newer tree in our area and, as such, long-term observations of its adaptability have not been documented. I have seen a few “older” trees that have been in for several years maintaining a generally pleasing ornamental appearance. So, while time will tell, the Japanese blueberry tree is being planted in greater numbers adding to the visual variety of our local landscapes.
To find Japanese blueberry trees locally, check larger nurseries and family-run garden centers. These newer attractive evergreens may be just what is needed in your landscape. Trying new plants is a great adventure in gardening, so enjoy the ride! For more information on all types of trees suitable for area, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
Gilman, E. F. (2015) Elaeocarpus decipens, Japanese Blueberry. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. (2022) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
What can you tell me about the Japanese blueberry tree, and can I grow it here? (2017) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Nassau County.
Landre, C. (2023) Japanese Blueberry – Elaeocarpus decipien. s South-Florida-Plant-Guide.com.
Japanese Blueberry – Elaeocarpus decipien. (2023) N.C. Cooperative Extension.
Seal, J. (2020) Care & Maintenance of the Japanese Blueberry Tree. SFGATE.