How To Grow Blueberries In Your Backyard Garden

The question I get asked most often about growing blueberries in the home garden is about the acidity of the soil.  So without further introductions, let me deal with this right off the top. And yes, of all the other fruit you can grow in your backyard fruit garden, blueberries generate the most questions.


Blueberries grow best in acidic soils (pH 4.0 to 5.5) on well-drained, coarse soils that are high in organic matter.

While water is needed, standing water or a wet soil is not going to make this plant happy.

Acidifying Soils

I get this question most often when it comes to this plant and here’s the deal for backyard gardeners.

Understand your soil pH (acidity) is a function of the underlying materials that make up your soil. If those underlying materials are mostly limestone-based, then you’re going to have a less acid soil than if the underlying materials were granite-based. That’s just a function of gardening life

The fascinating outcome of this is that the soil microorganisms are all suited to growing and thriving in that soil acidity. Think of a large flywheel. You can make a small area more acidic for some plants but you have to maintain that area’s acidity or the microorganisms surrounding it will slowly recolonize and turn it back to less-acidic.

That’s the first thing you have to understand. Blueberries want acid soils but you have to maintain that acidity – it isn’t a do it once and forget it thing

How To Modify Your Soil.

Get a soil test. If you don’t know where you want to go – you don’t know where to drive. It’s the same thing. If you don’t know what your soil pH is, you have absolutely no idea how much material to add to bring it to the right level.

Here’s the rule of thumb. Add sulphur at the rate of 3/4 to 1.5 pounds per 100 square feet of garden soil to drop the pH 1.0

In other words, if your soil is 6.0 and you want to bring it to 5.0 to grow blueberries, you’re going to add 1.5 pounds of sulphur to every 100 square feet.

Blueberries are plants of acid soils and this is where home fruit gardeners tend to have problems.


Early spring planting of 2-year old plants is recommended for high growth and yields. Set highbush plants 5-feet apart from other plants.

Plant at same depth as nursery

Lowbush plants can be planted on 24-inch centers.

Important – it is advisable to plant more than one variety for cross pollination if you want superior yields. You’ll get bigger harvests and more fruit over a longer period of time.

Care and Handling

Remove all blossoms the year of planting. Allow the plant to develop strength rather than fruit.

This plant has a very shallow root system so cultivation needs to be shallow if you’re a hoe-lover. Otherwise, a good mulch makes both the plant and gardener much happier.

Feeding means tossing a shovel or two of compost around the base of the plant (not right up against the base but out around where the roots are spreading)

You have to check pH every year to make sure the roots can take feed up.

Water regularly, deeply so the soil doesn’t dry right out. But adequate drainage is essential


Leave the plant alone for the first 2 years.

Fruit is produced on one-year old wood and the largest fruit is produced on the most vigorous shoots.

So – remove dead and dying branches. Keep the centre of the plant as open as possible by not allowing too many branches to head towards the center of the plant (prune out most inward facing shoots)

Remove weak and spindly growth.

If you need more side branches for fruiting and your plant is mature size, you can prune the tips off the outer shoots forcing them to send more branches out.


A good highbush blueberry will live and produce fruit for 20 years or more. You can figure a well-maintained plant will produce 6-8 pints of berries a year on average – but individual years and harvests can exceed that by a goodly amount.


Birds love blueberries and will make very short work of several shrubs in a short morning’s feeding. You’re going to have to cover the bushes with bird netting and make sure the bottom of the net is well secured with absolutely no openings.

Do this netting over a framework if possible so the birds can’t reach through the netting to pick the berries (they will and often get themselves caught up in the net)

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Common Varieties

  • Collins: early, ripens mid-July in USDA 5/6. Mid-range productivity
  • Bluecrop: ripens a week after Collins – but much higher productivity
  • Berkely: ripens a week after Bluecrop and higher fruiting than Collins
  • Herbert: ripens a few days after Berkely. Fruit acceptable
  • Jersey: ripens a week after Berkely. Not as productive as others.

 Here’s a source of blueberries for ordering

How To Get Great Harvests Of Currants and Gooseberries

The care and feeding of currants and gooseberries is almost identical when it comes to growing them so rather than repeat myself, here’s the data with important differences noted.


These small fruits grow in almost any soil so that’s the good news. You’ll find a heavy clay doesn’t work as well.

And if you’re looking for the optimum soil, it’s a cool, evenly moist but well-drained, rich clay loam. (And good luck finding that) 🙂


These are not heavy feeders so several shovels of compost around the base of the plants in the spring should be all you require in the home garden.


  • Early spring planting is best in colder climates but a fall planting will work in anything over a zone 5.
  • Commercially we’d use 1 year old plants but 2 to 3 year old plants are fine in the garden setting. This plant grows *very* fast so young plants are fine.
  • Plant each bush 5 feet apart. They’re big spreaders. You can squeeze them down to 4-feet apart but you really have to watch your pruning at this spacing. Rows should also be 4-5 feet apart (as wide as the plants are in the row so equal spacing all way round)
  • The roots are covered and indeed because of the way this plant grows, you can plant it a touch deeper than it was in the nursery and it will be fine.
  • Firm soil around the roots and water it in thoroughly


Shallow hoeing or a deep mulch will keep the surface roots from being damaged. If they were mine, I’d be mulching them.

Remember – you have to keep this plant evenly moist if you want to see fruit.


Now this is where the rubber meets the road. If you prune properly, you’ll get fruit. If you don’t prune, your harvest will be decidedly low or non-existent.

Black currants produce the most fruit on strongly growing one-year old wood. So you need to cut out the old wood every year. Any shoot (and there will be lots coming from the ground) older than 2-years is removed. You also only allow 10-12 shoots (the biggest and strongest) to survive and grow (spring pruning) from each mature bush.

Red Currants and Gooseberries produce on 2 to 3-year old wood for the most part. Keep 2-4 shoots (again the largest and strongest) of 1-year old canes every year. This way you have 2-4 of 1, 2, 3 year old canes (for 10-12 canes per plant) and you cut out the 4-year old canes in the spring.
if you don’t do this – you can quickly see your canes will go mature and you won’t get any fruit.

Harvest Amounts

If your bushes are giving you 6 quarts of fruit per bush, you’re in the ballpark. If they’re giving you less, your cultivation or pruning techniques are not good enough (see feeding and watering needs)

Older Usually Easily Found Varieties

Black Currant

  • Topsy – early season (early July). Plants are vigorous, productive. Berries are firm.
  • Consort – mid summer a week after Topsy, Vigorous, Moderate resistance to rust, berries medium size, firm but not as firm as topsy.
  • Magnus and Kerry similar to Consort but ripen between Topsy and Consort.

Does not require two plants for cross-pollination.

Red Currant

  • Stephans #9 – ripens mid-July. Moderately vigorous, spreading growth more than upright, berries are large
  • Red lake – ripens a week after Stephans, Very Vigorous, more upright growth, berries not as large and lighter in color
  • Cascade: ripens a week earlier than Stephans. Vigorous and sprawling. Berry larger than Red Lake but must be picked immediately when ripe or they sunscald.

Gooseberries (British type)

  • Clark – ripens mid-July, plants spiny, fairly short, good branching, berries large and red when ripe
  • Fredonia – ripens a week after Clark, plants spiny, short but branching not as dense as Clark. Berry large, red and good quality.

Gooseberries (American type)
American varieties tend to be hardier, more vigorous, less susceptibility to mildew (a problem with this plant) and have much smaller berries than British types.

  • Captiva is the common one and it ripens with Clark. Plants tall, very vigorous and almost thornless. Open growth habit and lesser thorns makes it very much easier to pick. Berries medium to small, dark red and of good quality.

Here’s a link for a source of red and black currants.

Here’s a source for gooseberry bushes.

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