Northern highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, is a deciduous shrub native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia and Ontario south to Alabama, and west to Wisconsin. Plants grow in an upright form, and depending upon variety, may range from 3 feet to over of 6 feet in height. In their wild state, highbush blueberries may be found in thickets near or under wooded areas in seasonally moist soils. This plant grows best in wooded or open areas with moist acidic soils. The dark glossy green leaves are elliptical and up to 5 cm long. In fall, the leaves change to a brilliant red. The flowers are white, bell-shaped, 10 mm long. The fruit is a dark blue to black berry.Highbush blueberries may be found planted as individual specimens, in ornamental landscaping plantings or most often in small, medium or large blueberry orchards.
Highbush blueberries produce a round mid to dark blue fruit with a sweet taste verging into tangy. As with most fruit (and many vegetables), allowing the fruits to fully ripen on the plant increases the natural sugars within. Often used in pies and baking, blueberries are widely eaten fresh, used in sauces and jams, and frozen for later use. They keep well cooled in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, and may easily be kept frozen with good flavor retention for extended periods.
Blueberries begin producing in early to mid-July in New Hampshire. Peak production is generally in early August, but with the inclusion of later season varieties in the planting, some harvest may last into September. Fruit is produced in clusters of 5 to 10 berries which ripen in succession over a period of several weeks. Pick only fully ripe berries and harvest all of the ripe fruit on the bush. Blueberries often turn blue with a slight reddish tinge several days before they are fully ripe. Delaying harvest until berries are fully ripe will result in better tasting, sweeter and larger fruit along with increased total yields.
They grow well throughout the southern half of New Hampshire and satisfactorily on warmer sites in northern New Hampshire where the planting is protected from prevailing winds and winter temperatures rarely fall below -25°F.
Blueberries grow best in a well-drained sandy loam, rich in organic matter. Clay soils should be avoided but can be made suitable for blueberries by adding organic matter such as peat moss, rotted or aged sawdust, sand, and/or compost. In very poorly drained soils, blueberries may be planted in ridges 4 inches above the surrounding soil level. Full sunlight all day long is essential for maximum production. Blueberries require an acid soil with a pH range of 4.5 to 5.0. Abandoned pastures and fields and woodland soils generally have a pH suitable for blueberry growth, although only a soil test will determine the actual pH level.
Choose a planting site with full sunlight and protection from strong winds. Avoid low areas that drain poorly or are prone to early frosts. When planting in rows the general recommendation is to plant about four feet apart, with 10 feet or so between rows to allow for mowing between plant and ease of harvesting. Mulching with a heavy layer of aged sawdust or wood chips helps conserve moisture and eventually adds to organic matter in the surface layer of soil.
Birds and pests:
Blueberries don’t usually have significant disease problems when grown in small plantings, however birds can be a menace, since they also like fully ripe fruit and may get there first. Much information can be found on various techniques that may be tried as deterrents; however, netting may be the most practical method.
Great Northern Berry plants are sold at Wayside Farm in North Sandwich, N.H. Quantities of some varieties
are limited and are subject to current availabilities.
Vigorous 5-6 feet tall plants. Duke produces a heavy, consistent crop. Attractive light blue, firm, medium to large mildly tart flavored berries that retain their fresh quality longer than most other varieties. Duke blooms late which protects the blossoms from spring frosts but, ripens early: in mid-July.
Large, firm fruit of good quality and nice blueberry aroma and flavor. Very early variety of upright, spreading form.
Low-growing, compact and spreading bush is highly productive and grows to about 4 feet. Deep blue, highly flavored fruit begins to ripen in mid-late July. Fruit is larger and firmer than most. Excellent for landscapes, turning fiery orange, yellow and red in the fall. Patriot is adaptable to many soil types, shows good resistance to root rot, and can withstand wet soils better than many varieties.
Northland is the most cold-hardy highbush variety, and grows about 4 feet tall. Easy to grow and adaptable to many different soil types. The bright yellow wood and compact shape makes Northland a good candidate for landscaping. This very productive variety may yield over 20 pounds of medium-small, ‘wild-blueberry’ tasting fruit per bush when mature. Northland blueberry bushes produce berries that are excellent for jams and baking because of their high sugar content.
A fast growing and vigorous plant reaching 4' - 6' in height. The attractive, large, early producing berries are dark blue in color. Reka is adaptable to a wide range of northern soil types.
Bluecrop is one of the best all around blueberry varieties offering consistent yields, high quality, sweet medium-large fruit and disease resistance. Easy to grow, Bluecrop forms a very nice 4 -5 feet tall shrub that offers bright red fall color. Bluecrop is perhaps the most widely planted variety in the U.S. Early-midseason.
A very popular old favorite and versatile blueberry variety, Blueray performs particularly well in areas with hot summers or very cold winters, and produces high quality blueberries with outstanding dessert flavor. The stunning rosy pink flowers turn bright white when in full bloom. 4-5 feet tall; mid-season.
Large, deep sky blue berries cover this 5- to 7-foot shrub in July. Self-pollinating, Chandler has one of the longest ripening seasons and may be harvested for more than six weeks during the summer. Perhaps the world's largest blueberry, producing big, delicious berries the size of a quarter.
Small to medium size berries that have a slightly wild taste. Self-polinating. Cold hardy.
A low-growing, compact plant that produces dime-size, dark blue berries.
Plump, medium to large fruit great for fresh eating and baking. Unique raspberry overtones in flavor. Ideal for home gardeners.
Exceptionally attractive and tasty fruit with a tangy sweet flavor. Large, glossy-green foliage becomes orange and yellow in fall.
Big & flavorful fruit will give you firm, easy-to-pick berries perfect for fresh eating or cooking.
Striking flame orange fall foliage color on a vigorous 6-7 foot tall plant. Heavy producer of long, loose clusters of very sweet medium sized dark blue fruit ripening in August. Easy to grow shrub is tolerant of a wide range of soil types. One of the oldest and most widely planted highbush blueberry variety.
6' plant with very small, dark blue fruit with excellent flavor.
Top Hat low-bush hybrid
A compact 2' plant that produces firm, dusky blue fruit. Foliage turns a pretty glowing orange in the fall.
Note: Special thanks to the writings of David Handley, University of Maine, and William Lord, University of New Hampshire for their published information on growing highbush blueberries.
Some links to useful blueberry information:
Bill Lord (University of New Hampshire): “Growing Highbush Blueberries”:
Link to David Handley University of Maine: “Growing Highbush Blueberries”
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. Publication (winter 2007-2008) entitled “Growing Highbush Blueberries”:
North American Highbush Blueberry Council: “The Highbush Blueberry”