June 20, 2014
Photo by Janeen Langley: Rufous Hummingbird and Native Blueberry
By Donna Legare
We planted blueberry bushes in 1983 as a present to my father-in-law for Father’s Day. It is hard to think of any plant that has consistently given us so much pleasure over the years as these blueberry bushes. And for so little care! Jack is no longer with us, but the blueberry bushes continue to delight.
Now they are 7-8 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide. In early June, they are covered with green berries that gradually turn blue as they ripen. Bring on the blueberry cobbler and fresh blueberries over vanilla ice cream.
Blueberries are easy to grow. Plant them in loose, well-drained soil in full sun to light shade. Ours are planted in a large bed that they share with tall pines which provide a nice dappled shade. They do not like wet, mucky spots and will not thrive in heavy clay soils. Blueberry bushes do well in our naturally acidic soil. Blueberries like the same kind of soil as azaleas; if azaleas do well in your yard, chances are blueberries will too, providing you have enough sun. Plant them at least six feet apart unless you are trying to create an informal hedge.
Plant at least two different varieties as they need to be cross pollinated to provide lots of fruit. Blueberries are pollinated primarily by the Southeastern blueberry bee, which looks like a small bumble bee. In addition to the hybrid rabbiteye blueberries that produce large tasty fruits, we also planted native highbush blueberries. The berries are darker and smaller, but also very tasty.
We fertilized ours yearly with an organic azalea-camellia fertilizer when they were young but now that they are mature and in large beds with natural mulch that slowly breaks down and provides nutrition, they don’t seem to need any fertilizer.
My mother-in-law, Sue Walthall, always reminded her grandchildren to get out early to “beat the birds” to the ripe berries. Of course, it’s always cooler in the morning for picking! I have such pleasant memories of picking blueberries with her and our children over the years. One child always took pride in filling up the bucket as fast as possible and the other always had a very blue mouth attesting to the fact that she ate as many as she picked.
For efficient picking, Betty Komarek from Birdsong Nature Center taught me long ago to cut open a plastic milk jug and attach it to my belt. This frees both hands for picking and you don’t have to bend over to reach the bucket.
Water, especially in the early years, is critical. Blueberry bushes produce berries while they are young, but you will not get a big crop for several years. My advice is always the same to anyone who is interested in producing fruit – get started as soon as possible and be patient! And don’t forget to water!
Jody’s Best Blueberry Cobbler:
Heat oven to 400
6 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Heart Smart Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup milk
3 T. melted butter
Combine blueberries, sugar and cinnamon. Pour into 9X13 baking dish, well greased. Mix remaining ingredients until blended and drop by spoonfuls onto fruit. Bake 15 minutes at 400; reduce heat to 350 and bake 10 minutes longer. Top each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Donna Legare is co-owner of Native Nurseries. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov