University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry,
University of Vermont
Blueberries are a great choice for
their fruit, as well as shrubs for your landscape. Their fruits are
easy to pick, freeze, have
many uses, and stand out among fruits for their high content of
antioxidants—those chemicals that slow aging and help your immune
infections. Blueberry bushes are easy to
grow, have few problems if any, with attractive glossy green leaves
turning a beautiful red in fall. When
choosing which blueberries to grow, first determine which group you
want. There are many cultivars to choose from
within each of these groups, varying mainly in time of bloom and
You’ll want to choose at least 2 if
not 3 different ones for cross pollination, unless they are one of
listed as “self fertile” or “self-fruitful”.
Make sure to choose ones from the same group as, for instance, a
won’t pollinate a highbush type. Make
sure too that they are listed to bloom at the same time. You’ll
find cultivars (cultivated varieties)
listed as early, mid, or late season.
Although this often refers to ripening of the berries, relative
time is similar except for some commercial cultivars. So the bees
can move the pollen among your
different bushes, plant them near each other, or preferably
There are five main groups of
blueberries, representing three main species.
Three of these groups are suitable for northern gardens. In the
South you’ll see rabbiteye and
southern highbush cultivars, which aren’t hardy in the north. They
can’t survive below about 0 to -10
degrees (F) minimum winter temperatures.
Hardiest of the blueberries, the
lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) are
the fruits those in colder
climates love to pick from the wild. Native Americans dried the
pounded them into “moosemeat” -- an ingredient they used to make
lowbush blueberries are grown commercially in some northern states,
particularly in Maine. They’re grown more in the coldest northern
merely as they are more hardy (zones 3 to 7), but that being only a
foot or so
high and usually under snow they survive better than highbush
cultivars. Space these about 2 to 3 feet apart. Gardeners who grow
wild blueberries in their
backyards can expect about a pint of berries for each foot of row in
There are only a few cultivars for
fruit, and a few selected for their ornamental use as low, massed
or even as a plant for large containers.
If growing in containers, give some winter protection such as an
unheated garage, or bury pots (not tops) in the compost pile. ‘Top
Hat’ is a mounded cultivar under two
feet tall and wide. ‘Burgundy’ has a
beautiful dark red fall leaf color, and grows about one foot high
three feet wide.
The Northern highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) is the most
popular blueberry plant in many areas, both for home gardeners and
growers. They’re usually the ones you find at u-pick farms. The
bushes grow from 6 to 15 feet high, and
produce large berries midsummer in zones 4 to 7 usually (-20s to 10
minimum winter temperatures). Yields vary widely among the
cultivars, but most
gardeners can expect from 5 to 15 pounds per bush.
Although less hardy than the
lowbush, some cultivars of the highbush grow well in zone 3 (-30
planted in a spot sheltered from the wind.
They usually grow in areas with growing seasons of at least 160 days
between frosts. Many cultivars require a
chilling period of 600 or more hours below 45°F, making them
unsuitable for hot
and mild climates.
Some of the more popular highbush
cultivars include the early-season ‘Duke’, ‘Bluecrop’ in mid-season
‘Jersey’ in late mid-season, ‘Nelson’ in late-season, and ‘Elliott’
If you only have room for one, look for the self-fruitful
‘Bluetta’. For really red fall leaves look for
‘Brigitta’, ‘Hardyblue’, ‘Legacy’, or ‘Reka’.
Some of the largest berries can be found on ‘Chandler.’
Crosses between highbush and
lowbush blueberries have resulted in several lower cultivars than
taller than the lowbush, which are often termed “half-high
hybrids”. Being shorter (3 to 4 feet) and so more protected
by snow in the north, they often survive better there than many
cultivars. They grow in zones 3 to
7. Yields on these generally range from
2 to 8 pounds per bush.
Most of the half-high cultivars
are self-fruitful, but even these will have larger fruits and better
more than one cultivar is nearby. ‘Chippewa
, ‘Polaris’, and ‘St. Cloud’ require another cultivar for cross
Some popular cultivars in this group include the early ‘Patriot’,
mid-season ‘Northland’, and the mid-season ‘North Sky’.
‘Friendship’ is one of the few late-season
When choosing blueberry bushes, to
make their culture even easier, look for ones with some disease
particularly to “mummyberry” and stem canker.
Mummyberry causes fruits to turn pink prior to ripening, shrivel and
fall off (these are termed “mummies”).
Stem canker may cause cracks in the canes and then death,
on Northern highbush cultivars.
When planting, allow sufficient
space for mature growth—5 to 6 feet apart for the highbush, 4 to 5
for the half-high, and one to 2 feet apart for the lowbush. You can
on blueberry culture in the Fruit
Gardener’s Bible, by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.