Few people grow fruit in their gardens these days, because most think it’s too much trouble. And if they’re talking about peaches, plums, cherries, or grapes, they may be right. But blueberries are different. They’re easy to grow, highly productive, and make wonderful ornamental plants. And the good news is these great plants have just gotten better.
For the last couple of years, Grumpy has been trialing a new group of blueberries called BrazelBerries. Their parentage has not been revealed to me, but from their appearance and performance, they seem to be hybrids of Northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) that does well in the North and Southern rabbiteye blueberry (V. ashei) that does well in the South. I bet other species are mixed in there too. The upshot is that they’ll grow and fruit in both hot summer and cold winter climates (USDA Zones 5-8 for some selections and 5-10 for others). But that’s not their best feature.
For one thing, unlike rabbiteye blueberries, they’re self-pollinating. This means you don’t need to plant two different selections to get fruit (although cross-pollination does result in larger crops). For another, the foliage is very attractive and holds on into winter in my Alabama garden. One of my favorites, ‘Pink Icing,’ sports new pink leaves in spring that turn crimson and bluish-purple in fall and winter, sometimes lasting until the next bloom.
But the best thing about them, especially for newbie gardeners, is their small, compact size. ‘Pink Icing’ grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. ‘Peach Sorbet’ and ‘Jelly Bean’ grow half that big. This makes all of them excellent for growing in containers.
Why is growing in containers such a big deal? Well, blueberries need highly acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5). This means in lots of places you can’t grow them in the ground, unless you’re spreading sulfur around them every year. But plants in pots can be grown in an organic potting mix that’s already acid. To keep it acid, feed with an organic, acid-forming fertilizer, such as Holly-tone, every spring. Containers also provide blueberries with the excellent drainage they require. If your garden soil is acid, fertile, and well-drained, you can also grow BrazelBerries as edging plants or even ground cover.
All blueberries demand full sun and acid, moist, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter. BrazelBerries need just a few minutes of pruning a year. In winter, prune off all canes that fruited the previous year. This promotes new growth and better berry production. Birds are the only major pest, but you can foil them by covering your plants with netting while they’re fruiting. Look for these new blueberries at your local independent garden center this spring.