A grow, harvest, and cook blueberry guide, with garden tips as well as recipes for cooking, baking, and preserving your blueberries.
This blueberry guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking – both fresh and preserving – a specific fruit or vegetable. See more fruit and vegetable guides here. Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them and purchase I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Blueberries - and blueberry bushes - may be some of the most versatile fruits out there. The bushes are actually beautiful in themselves and are well-behaved, making them perfect in either rows or in mixed shrub borders. That means it's easy to grow a couple of blueberry bushes no matter where you live - they even have varieties specifically for growing in containers. No excuses, right?
Why would you want to? Well, obviously blueberries taste delicious - that's a given. But they are also super easy to preserve when they're in season and of course you've probably read how good blueberries are for you. So good in fact, that there are more and more acres of land being put into growing blueberries in my part of the world every year (and maybe yours, too).
Maybe that's why it seems that there are more recipes using blueberries coming out, too, that are beyond the usual muffin or pancake (though there's nothing wrong with those...). So the case for growing at least 2-3 blueberry plants is strong!
Ultimate Blueberry Guide: Grow & Harvest
Types of Blueberries to Grow
There are a lot of varieties of blueberry plants and where you live or how you want to grow them will determine what varieties you choose.
You'll find basically three main types: highbush (5-9 ft. tall), lowbush (a groundcover type at 1.5 ft. tall), and half-high (3-4 ft. tall). Both lowbush and half-high blueberries are good for containers, with Top Hat, Northsky, and Patriot (3-4 ft.) being a couple of stand-out varieties.
Within these types, there are varieties bred for either northern or southern climates. And while most blueberries are considered self-pollinating, you will get a bigger and more reliable harvest by planting 2-3 varieties. This is also a way to extend your harvest through out the summer.
As examples, here are three of the some of the best varieties for both northern and southern climates that grown together will ensure a harvest of berries for 3 months:
- Duke, June harvest, 4-5 ft. tall & wide
- Bluecrop, July harvest, 5-6 ft. tall, 3-4 ft. wide
- Jersey, August harvest, 6-7 tall; 5 ft. wide
- Biloxi, May-June harvest 5-6 ft. tall, 3-4 wide
- Misty, June harvest, 4-6 ft. tall, 4-5 wide
- Sunshine Blue, June-July harvest, 3-4 ft. tall, 3-4 wide
Blueberry Guide Growing Tips
Once you have your plants chosen, you'll want to choose a spot that gets the most sun possible. In both rows and planting with other shrubs in a border, give blueberries more room between shrubs to make picking easier (a good 4-5 feet between plants).
Blueberries like acidic soil, so adding a large amount of compost and mulch will go a long way to growing healthy plants. You'll need to give them consistent water - I use a soaker hose turned on once a week for 3-4 hours - and add a mulch of pine needles, saw dust or pine bark. Apply an organic fertilizer yearly (my favorite is a simple garden compost).
After about four years, you'll need to prune to keep the plant healthy, but it's a light pruning. In early spring, look for dead and old branches to cut out, as well as any that are touching the ground or crossing and crowding others.
Blueberry Guide: Harvesting
There are two keys to harvesting blueberries: keeping the birds away and picking often.
You can cover the plants completely with bird netting, draped on the plants or stapled to a wood frame. Or you can use these Dollar Store finds to keep birds away long enough to harvest. I found them much easier to deal with than bird netting, though I had a lot of plants and didn't mind if the birds took some.
Other than this, growing and harvesting blueberries is a breeze - almost a plant-it-and-forget-it food that comes back reliably each year when planted in the right spot. You can read more about planting and growing blueberries here.
And here are a few books I've found helpful in growing backyard fruits and vegetables:
- Homegrown Berries: Successfully Grow Your Own Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, and More
- The Fruit Gardener's Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in the Home Garden
- The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers
Preserving & Cooking Blueberry Guide
How to Freeze Blueberries
- Wash and dry if needed (if grown organically and picked yourself, there's no need).
- Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. As single as possible - as you can see in the photo on the left, there are some berries on top and that's okay.
- Freeze until solid, 12 hours or overnight.
- Place frozen berries in a freezer bag or freezer container, label, and return to freezer to storage. Blueberries prepared this way have lasted as long as 2 years in our freezer!
How To Dry Blueberries - (the easy way*)
- Wash and dry blueberries, if needed.
- Lay the berries on a tray of a food dehydrator in a single layer (I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, which I really love). If you want to take the time, you can save out all the big blueberries for eating and try to dry berries of roughly the same size so they'll be done together. Or not - you can see above I usually don't.
- Dry the berries at 125 degrees (or recommended setting for fruit for your dehydrator model) for 4-5 hours before doing the first check. I pull out berries that are dried (no moisture remaining when pressed) and place into a freezer bag or mason jar, before continuing to dry the rest. Check every 2-3 hours after the first check.
- If you are absolutely sure the berries are all dry you can store at room temperature. Since I'm taking the easy way and drying all different sizes without blanching, I choose to store dried blueberries in the freezer. They are perfect on cereal and in baked goods directly from the freezer where I can be sure they will last.
*The 'official' way to dry blueberries is to blanch them first to break the skins, but since I'm not a fan of blanching (like beans or snap peas), you can guess I don't go to the trouble. I'm okay with the slightly more papery end-product without blanching, but if you want a chewier dried blueberry, follow the steps outlined here (which also has oven drying directions if you don't have a food dryer).
Blueberry Guide Recipes
Blueberry Jam & Sauces for Canning, Fridge or Freezer
Most of our berries are either frozen or dried, but last year I made a jam/syrup we enjoyed:
Blueberry Maple Sweetened Jam (used this recipe, but replaced the strawberries with blueberries) - it makes a loose jam that works as a syrup, too, and we like that it's only sweetened with maple syrup.
Canned Blueberries in Syrup @Pick Your Own
Pickled Blueberries @Saveur
Blueberry Compote @Wild Wild Whisk
Refrigerator Blueberry Jam @Recipe Girl
Refrigerator Blueberry Chipotle Chutney @Cooking Light
Easy Blueberry Freezer Jam @She Wears Many Hats
Lemon Blueberry Jam @Butter with a Side of Bread
Instant Pot Blueberry Jam @The Frugal Navy Wife
Blueberry-Lime Chia Seed Jam @Low Carb Maven
Fresh Blueberry Sauce or Syrup @Carlsbad Cravings
Fresh Blueberry Recipes
Blueberry Muffin Bread @Frugal Mom-eh!
Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes @Annie's Eats
White Chocolate Blueberry Bars @This Gal Cooks
Blueberry Crumble Bars @ Just So Tasty
Blueberry Bakery Style Muffins @Little Sweet Baker
Easy Blueberry Crisp @Sugar Apron
Blueberry Crumble Pie @Saving Room for Dessert
Blueberry Baked Oatmeal @Lynn's Kitchen Adventures
Oven-Baked Blueberry Donuts @Spoon Fork Bacon
Blueberry Cobbler @Serena Bakes Simply From Scratch
Blueberry-Ginger Relish for Pork @Eating Well
Blueberry, Watermelon, Feta Salad @Running with a Skirt
Grilled Salmon Flatbreads with Fresh Blueberry Salsa @Blueberry Council
Blueberry Pecan Chicken Salad @Renee's Kitchen Adventures
Blueberry Broccoli Spinach Salad @Peas and Crayons
Blueberry and Red Bell Pepper Salsa @The Stay At Home Chef
-Other Fun Recipes-
Blueberry Lemonade @Julie's Eats and Treats
Blueberry Frozen Yogurt @Simply Recipes
Frozen Blueberry Yogurt Pops @All Recipes
Blueberry Ice Cream @Baked By Rachel
Chocolate Covered Blueberries @Ricardo Cuisine
Frozen Yogurt Covered Blueberries @Family Fresh Meals
Blueberry Margaritas @Gimme Some Oven
What are your favorite blueberry recipes? Feel free to leave a link in the comments to share!
Check out these Ultimate Guides, too (or see them all here):
Note: this article has been updated - it was originally published in June 2013.
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