Blueberries, Vaccinium sp., are one of the few plants that offer both beauty and taste throughout most of the year. The actual blueberry fruit is touted by the National Institutes of Health as a way to delay the aging process. Blueberries are nutritional stars, providing a powerhouse boost of antioxidants and nutrients without adding many calories. So why not plant them in your home landscape?
Blueberries are typically used in the landscape as hedges for screening purposes, but they can also be used in cluster plantings or as single specimen plants. Blueberries are spectacular in the fall with brilliant yellow and red foliage that lights up the landscape. They have attractive, bell-shaped, white and occasionally pink flowers in the spring. The summer fruit is a dark purplish blue. An added bonus is their lack of disease and insect problems.
Blueberries require a lower pH than many other small fruit crops and other plants. Therefore, consider grouping them with other acid-loving plants such as hollies, azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. Before planting, take a soil test. The ideal pH for blueberries is between 4.0 and 5.0 or 5.5, depending on the cultivar.
Both the highbush and rabbiteye types grow well in North Carolina. Highbush typically have larger fruit and better fruit quality than rabbiteyes, but are not as widely adapted to various soil types. The cultivar ‘Premier’ is an excellent choice for a rabbiteye and has the added advantage of being self-fruitful, unlike most blueberries that require cross-pollination for fruit set.
Dr. Jim Ballington, NC State University horticulture professor, has developed a series of Southern highbush blueberries that retain the high fruit quality of standard highbush but demonstrate greater adaptation to a wider range of soil types. Cultivars ‘O’Neal,’ ‘Sampson,’ and ‘Legacy’ are good choices. Little annual attention is required, except for occasional pruning.