The trick with blueberries is that they put out very shallow roots that form a mat of fibrous threads very near the soil surface. Most of us know that blueberries like acidic soil, but what we forget is that they need a great deal of organic matter and regular water.
So before you even think about bringing blueberries home, choose a site that gets plenty of sun and that you will realistically get around to watering, even in the summer. Putting them right in the middle of your vegetable garden might be a good way to go.
It’s a common practice to use peat for blueberries; if you’re concerned about depleting a peat bog, the manufacturers of Canadian sphagnum peat would like you to know that their peat is harvested sustainably and renewed constantly. However, if you’re not happy with that solution, ask at the garden center for a few bricks of compressed coco fiber. Be sure and pick up a dry organic fertilizer intended for acid loving plants while you’re there.
Soak the peat or the coco fiber in buckets of water. It takes a few hours for them to absorb the water and be ready to go into the ground. Prepare the ground by digging a wide, shallow hole. Add the wet peat/coco fiber, mix well with an equal amount of native soil, add fertilizer according to the package directions, and integrate as much organic matter as you can. Compost, decomposed leaves or grass clippings, worm castings, and aged manure are all good options.
If you’ve done it right, you have a loose, rich pile of soil to plant into. Get your plants in the ground and keep the roots covered in organic mulch. Plan on watering them weekly in the summer, and add a ring of fertilizer about a foot away from the plant in June.
There are lots of varieties to choose from. One popular cultivar is called ‘Draper’– it grows 3 to 4 feet tall and is popular on U-pick farms throughout the Pacific Northwest. I’m also very excited about a new container sized blueberry called ‘Peach Sorbet,’ which has just been introduced by Fall Creek Nursery. I’ve been growing one in a large pot for a year and it looks fantastic all year long and produces a surprising number of berries for such a compact plant.