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You Can Grow It: Planting blueberries

Garden master Jim Duthie gets some tips from a blueberry-expert on how you can get started.

BOISE, Idaho — Do you love berries? Here in Idaho we grow lots of them – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries. But have you tried growing blueberries?

Blueberries aren’t only delicious -- they’re really healthy, too. So on this replay of a previous ‘You Can Grow It’, garden master Jim Duthie gets tips from a blueberry-growing expert, and shows us how easy they are for you to grow them, too.

I’m with Dennis Fix of Far West Nursery. We’re talking about blueberries today, because you’re telling me that a lot of folks love to plant blueberries.

“Absolutely. Blueberries are a great crop for our area here, and everybody should have them. They’re a wonderful plant,” Fix said.

Blueberries are native to North America, and they offer lots of health benefits.

I brought a few blueberries here, these nice big plump blueberries. And can you really get these good-looking blueberries in your own backyard?

“Absolutely. I grew them at my house in Eagle, and they’re that size and lots of them, and you can even get varieties that are bigger than that. And they taste great, because you grew them yourself.”

Idaho’s neighbors, Washington and Oregon, are the biggest blueberry-producing states in the nation, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a bumper crop of home-grown blueberries here in Idaho. All it takes is the right dirt.

“Blueberries don’t like our very alkaline soil. So what we want to do is, wherever you’re going to put your blueberries, you’re going to want to put them in a full sun spot, and you’re going to take that native soil that we have around here, you’re going to dig it up, and you’re going to move it somewhere else in your yard. You’re going to make a nice hole, and fill it back in with an acid-loving planting mix.”

Most of the blueberry plants sold at garden centers grow to be about 3-4 feet high and can bear up to two gallons of berries each season. And if you’re planting blueberries for the first time, you’ll need at least two plants for cross pollination.

Don’t have a lot of garden space? That’s not a problem.

“Blueberries are a nice compact plant. A lot of people don’t have a garden spot for them, they just incorporate them into their landscape beds”

Blueberries make excellent container plants, saving space in the yard, and dressing up the patio.

They’ll grow in big pots and do just fine. You’ve got a great patio plant. Go out and just pick a couple of blueberries, bring them in and put them on your cereal in the morning.

Blueberries come in early-blooming varieties, as well as mid- and late-season bloomers. Early varieties start to ripen in June, and if you plant a few different blooming varieties, you can keep picking berries right on into September.

With new plants, it’s best to remove the blossoms the first year, so the plant can put its energy into growing.

“If this was the plant I was selling you today, I would actually tell you to pull these flowers off. The plants themselves in the first year, they want to produce so heartily that they’ll actually stress the plant themselves out trying to produce heavily. So the first year you plant a blueberry, you actually want to pull the flowers off, just let the plant grow, and then the next year, and every year after that, you can just let it go crazy.”

“And these clusters, each one of these is going to have a cluster on it, and so you’re going to pick at different days. So about three days a week I would go out and pick, because about every three days some of these are going to ripen up.”

Depending on the variety, blueberries can range from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter, like the ones Dennis grows in his backyard.

“Each one is just like a treat by itself.”

Oh, and one more thing to keep in mind about blueberries -- birds love them and so do dogs, like Ellie.

“So when the blueberries start coming on, you’re going to need to net them or keep the dog out, or you see my dog here, she loves to get out in the blueberry patch, eat all the blueberries off.”

So hopefully, you’ll have some success growing blueberries in your yard, and you can end up with a crop like this, or like Dennis’s that are even bigger than this. Good stuff. Oh yes, definitely.

Now is the best time to plant blueberries. Local garden centers carry different varieties, but you can also order plants online. And with proper care, blueberry plants can keep producing berries for up to 25 years or more.

If you are a beginning gardener, there are lots of resources to help you get a garden  started. Join the You Can Grow It: Idaho gardening with KTVB Facebook group to share pictures and gardening tips and get helpful advice from other Idaho gardeners.

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