I’ve had blueberries on my mind ever since last August’s trip to Alaska. My yearly summer tradition in the Last Frontier is alpine blueberry picking. Above the tundra, off the ATV paths, on the island meadows, and beneath the rainforest trees, blueberries grow abundantly near and around Anchorage during the warmer months. Picking blueberries is a favorite summer pastime for Alaskans and visitors alike. While picking, the challenging part is filling the empty yogurt containers rather than our mouths!
Back home in the garden, we’ve begun growing all of my favorite fruits and vegetables, so why not try our hand at blueberries? The problem is that most blueberries don’t generally grow well in our southern California climate and they could take a lot of effort. After doing some research, we found a few highbrush varieties that require lower chill hours and produce an abundance of sweet berries, that is, with the proper soil pH. Not sure whether we were going to try our hand at this or not, I was surprised with two robust five-gallon blueberry plants on Valentine’s Day: Bountiful Blue and Sunshine Blue. Yay!
Our Varieties: Bountiful, Sunshine, & Misty Blues
Keep in mind that the blueberry is self-pollinizing, but will produce larger fruit if planted with more than one variety.
The Bountiful Blue and Sunshine Blue are southern highbrush plants, meaning they grow in tall shrubs and require only 150-200 chill hours.
Bountiful blueberries have magnificent blue tinted foliage, dainty flowers in shades of pink, and produce large sweet juicy fruit berries.
The Sunshine Blue is complimentary to the Bountiful variety as a pollinator and produces an abundance of tasty berries. This plant has aesthetic qualities as well, such as its hot pink spring flowers.
We bought a third plant, the Misty Blue, as an additional pollinator. The Misty chill hours are slightly higher, up to 300. The foliage is a beautiful blue green with pink and white flowers. The Misty berries are expected to be high yielding with spicy notes on top of juicy sweetness.
All three varieties grow well in compact areas, such as along a fence as hedging or in a large planting container. We planted ours in a 26in diameter rustic whisky barrel container.
Proper pH: 4.0-5.0
One of the key elements to growing blueberries successfully (besides choosing the right variety for your zone) is getting and maintaining the soil to the proper pH level. Blueberries prefer acidic soil with a pH between 4.0 and 5.0. In Alaska, the natural average pH of soil around the Kenai Peninsula, where blueberries grow in abundance, is between 4.61-4.63. Using a testing kit, we measured the pH in our southern California soil between 6.5-7.5, which is rather low in acidity. In order to raise the pH for our acid loving blueberries, we combined an even amount of azalea planting mix (E.B. Stone Azalea, Camelia and Gardenia Planting Mix) with planting soil. This instantly worked in bringing the pH balance within ideal levels.
Adding Blueberry fertilizer to the soil in early spring helps promote healthy growth before leaves come in. We used “Acid Mix” by Down to Earth, great for blueberries.
At the moment, in late April, our young Bountiful and Sunshine Blues are already producing beautiful large delectable berries. I can’t wait to see how many yogurt containers we’ll be able to fill with our backyard pickings!