The oak and pine forests of eastern and central North America are home to more than a dozen Vaccinium species commonly known as blueberry. Depending on the species, the shrubs range in height from ground-hugging to 12 feet tall. All bear dark green leaves, white or pink bell-shaped flowers, and sweet, round fruits that range in color from light blue to black. Selections of Vaccinium corymbosum (northern highbush blueberry) have produced a wide range of cultivars grown commercially in North America and throughout the world.
Blueberries were a staple food of Native Americans, who ate the fruit fresh, dried, or cooked into desserts, relishes, cakes, and sauces.
Common Name: Blueberry
Description: Shrubs (varying in height from trailing to 12 feet tall); dark green, oval leaves; bell-shaped white or light pink flowers; light blue to black fruits
Hardiness: To Zone 2, depending on species
Flowering: Spring to early summer
Parts Used: Fruit and leaves
Range/Habitat: Most are native to eastern and central North America; woodlands and bogs
Fresh or dried, blueberry fruits are delicious in baked goods, such as muffins, cakes, and pies. They also make tasty jellies, jams, and syrups and can be added to many foods.
Blueberry fruits contain relatively large amounts of vitamins B6 and C and the mineral manganese. They are also rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, which could inhibit the production of LDL (bad) cholesterol, improve heart health, and help prevent or reverse memory loss due to aging. One study with a small group of older men and women who had mild age-related memory decline showed that drinking three glasses of wild lowbush blueberry juice each day increased memory test scores compared to a group that drank a placebo. Other research suggests that eating blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections.
How to grow it
Grow blueberries in full sun and moist, acidic (4.0 to 5.0 pH) loam. Blueberries won’t thrive in soil that has a neutral or alkaline pH. Lower the soil pH before planting by amending with peat moss or elemental sulfur and composted leaves. After planting, mulch with a 4- to 5-inch layer of composted leaf litter or pine needles, and replenish it annually. Fertilize each spring with composted manure, cottonseed meal, or another high-nitrogen fertilizer. Plants begin bearing fruit during their third year. Cover the ripening fruits with netting to protect them from wildlife. Propagate by hardwood cuttings.