Growing blueberries in containers is so easy and effective that you might want to try it even if you have enough in-ground garden space for this antioxidant-rich fruit. The plants can thrive and bear fruit in containers in any area that gets a lot of sunlight. Just be aware that growing blueberry plants in pots (or anywhere else) requires some patience. As with most fruit-bearing species, it can take a couple of years for the plants to produce a lot of fruit.
Equipment / Tools
- Watering can or garden hose
- Containers (at least 18 inches deep with drainage holes)
- Blueberry plants of your choice (at least two plants)
- Acidic potting mix
- Regular potting mix
- Organic fertilizer
- Bird netting (optional)
Choose Containers and Blueberry Plants
If you've grown other fruit-bearing plants, you know you're in it for the long haul. Your plants can happily produce fruit for years with relatively little care, but you'll want to start them off right. That means putting them in as large of a pot as possible. Pick one that's at least 18 inches deep with drainage holes. Half-barrels and other deep, wide containers work well for the long term.
When choosing plants, blueberries need friends. To get your blueberries to fruit, you will need at least two plants for pollination; three plants are even better. Place your plants fairly close together. It’s also a good idea to grow a couple of different varieties of blueberries that produce fruit at different times to extend your blueberry season.
Moreover, it's important to choose a plant variety that's right for your climate. There are four main types of blueberries: highbush, lowbush, rabbiteye, and half-high. Within these types, there are many more varieties to choose from. Ask a local farmer or nursery to learn what will thrive in your area. You might also choose a variety based on the desired size of the fruit. Large berries tend to be good for eating while small berries are usually preferred for cooking.
Acidify Your Soil
Blueberries require acidic soil. Most need soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 to thrive and produce berries. Because most garden soil doesn't naturally come close to these levels, this is one of the main advantages of growing blueberries in containers. You can easily buy or create an acidic blueberry-friendly potting mix to ensure your plants will thrive.
To get started with the right soil mix, fill your pot two-thirds full of regular potting mix and the top third with a potting mix designed for acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias. You can find this mix at most nurseries and garden centers, as well as the houseplants section of some home centers. If you can't find a high-acid potting mix, you can add fertilizer for acid-loving plants into your soil.
Water Your Plants
Blueberries need lots of water, but they also like sandy, well-draining soil. In other words, they don't like to be sitting in water, so try to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy.
When it rains, don’t assume that you don’t have to water your plants. The leaves of the blueberry plant can act as an umbrella, preventing water from making it into the container. So always check the soil with your finger to see whether it’s wet about an inch or two below the surface. If you have to leave your blueberry plant and can't water it, move it into some shade to conserve water. It's also helpful to add a layer of compost with a topdressing of pine bark to retain some moisture.
Maintain the Right Amount of Sun
Blueberries need around six to eight hours of sunlight per day. It's easy to overestimate how much sun an area gets, so it's ideal to take the time to accurately measure the light in your garden. One simple method is to use a watch to time the hours of full-sun exposure on a typical day during the growing season. However, if you live in an area that gets very hot afternoon sun, be aware that blueberry plants can overheat. They likely could use some light shade during this part of the day.
Blueberries don’t like too much fertilizer. Fertilizing in the early spring typically works well. For organic fertilizer, try blood or cottonseed meal or an organic fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants.
Furthermore, don't just fertilize and forget. Test the soil's pH regularly to keep it in the sweet spot for acid. Because acid washes out of soil over time, you might find that it's more effective to start with a half dose of fertilizer in the spring and then add a light monthly dose throughout the growing season.
Watch Out for Pests
Birds love blueberries just as much as people do. The best way to protect your fruit from feathered poachers is to surround your bushes with bird netting a few weeks before the berries are ripe. Bird netting may be a pain, but it works.
Winterize Your Plants
When the growing season is over, protect your plants for the winter ahead. Blueberries are tough plants, but if you live in a cold-winter climate you should move your containers against a building or into a protected area to keep them out of the wind. You can also mulch your plants with straw or wrap them in burlap. In the winter while the plants are dormant, they don’t need much water. But don’t let them dry out completely.