I was obsessed with learning how to grow blueberries in a container garden even before we moved. While we didn’t have ideal growing conditions in the backyard of our old apartment, I was determined not to let that stop me. Okay, I had no idea what I was doing and was just winging it because we love blueberries.
Fate took a hand, and now we have left the backyard with the (often) scorching sun and moved to a much wetter and cooler part of the city (Venice). Victory was at hand, right? Well, the blueberries are starting to bloom, which is a massive win for young bushes. But there are still challenges. So, if you want to know how to grow blueberries in containers and learn what not to do, this blog is for you.
How to Grow Blueberries: Picking the Plants
There are many different blueberry plants, but we selected two Misty blueberry bushes. Why two? Blueberries fruit better with a buddy nearby (they need a pollinator), and we decided to start with two rather than bring in a partner later.
Misty blueberry plants are a hybrid, and they are relatively hardy, growing well in coastal regions and inland (to a degree). California is known for its mild winters, so we don’t have to worry about frost, and we have a nice grouping of “chilling” hours in the middle of winter. We are slightly concerned that being near the coast will mean a foggier/darker weather than is optimal, but we’ll have to wait and see.
We also went with a Misty variety because the plants are more compact than some other varieties. This is critical, as we are growing them in containers rather than planting them in the ground.
Mix Your Plants
BUT it’s always a good idea, if you want maximum fruit output, to mix your varieties. So, in addition to the Misty plants, we are going to get two lowbush plants. More than likely, we’ll go for Sunshine Blues, if we can find them. That way they will be ready to go in the spring.
How to Grow Blueberries: Planting
Honestly, in Venice, it looks like you can get your blueberry plants set up at nearly any time of year. Experts recommend doing it in late fall or early spring if you live in a part of California that gets sweltering summers. If you get extreme cold (or a lot of snow), shoot for planting mid-spring after the last frost. The same is true of growing in containers or in the ground.
Creating the right soil conditions is critical for growing blueberry bushes. The plants thrive in highly acidic soil. It’s another reason why we are growing our plants in containers; it’s easier to control the pH level (ideally, between 4.0 and 4.7). Never fear. Organic potting mixes are already formulated to be more acidic if you don’t want to mix organic blueberry-friendly elements into your standard soil to get to those ideal levels.
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Even with the young plants, we have deep containers (more than 2-feet deep). The roots will dry out quickly if we don’t soak the plants. We approach watering in two stages. I start with a slow soak that fills the gap between the soil and the rim of the container. Then we’ll wander off to do our other watering (perhaps grab a snack) and return to give them another gentle soak once the first round has been absorbed.
If you get a lot of rain, you might not need to water the plants three times a week like we do. But we don’t get drenching rain most of the year. In fact, we’ve just recently gotten out of a drought. We’ll see how this winter goes. Either way, you’ll need to be sure that your branches aren’t guiding rainwater away from the containers. If they shield the soil, it’s likely that the roots won’t have enough moisture to thrive even after a bit of rain. Annoying, I know.
This is a tricky one for us right now. The plants are small enough to move around, so we’ve been testing some different spots as we learn how to grow blueberries at The Cottage. We started in the backyard, but we could tell quickly that the bushes weren’t getting anywhere close to six (6) hours of direct sunlight (although they were well-protected from the wind).
Now, we have the plants on the east side of our small front yard. They definitely get more sun, although I’m not sure six hours occurs because, at certain times of day, the plants get shade from the flowering trees that line the property. Should we move them closer to the sidewalk? Should we take them onto the back deck and hook up some grow lights? These are questions we’ll be asking our visiting horticulturist (what a fabulous job!).
Success So Far
The plants are thriving. The branches have gotten longer, the leaves look healthy, and we got our first blossoms. I didn’t think the blooms would happen for another couple of years (it’s not expected to get much fruit for the first three years). I know we have a long way to go, but I’m impatient. Still, we’re trying hard to get them in the best position possible so that as the plants mature, we’ll have an abundant harvest and healthy bushes.
But also, I totally want blueberries right now.
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