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How To Grow Awesome Blueberries in Containers

How to Grow Blueberries in ContainersPerhaps you have dreams of running outside in your PJs every morning for a quick fix of fresh blueberries from your very own garden? After all, they are delicious, high in antioxidents and a wonderful addition to your morning oatmeal, right? Well they are all of those things and you can have them in your own backyard – you just need to grow them in acid soil.

But if you are like me and only have alkaline soil in your backyard, then the solution is to grow your blueberries in containers. It works great and my kids are now the ones running out in their PJs (or something less appropriate) to grab a handful when the plants are in full swing.

Keeping Blueberries in Their “Happy Place”

To be happy, blueberries need to grow in an acidic pH zone of 4.5 to 5.5. Growing in containers makes this a fairly easy process. You control the pH by using acid potting soil, and feeding them with acid fertilizer. Not that tough. But there is more…

Blueberries in Containers

My #1 Secret to Success:

After growing blueberries in containers for 15 plus years, I have learned that there are a few tricks to the process because sometimes I had success and sometimes not.

Here’s the thing – all the books and blogs will tell you to just plant in an acid soil mix and feed “occasionally”. But I have learned that you have to be a bit more diligent than that.

Sure it works for the first season. But after the first year, the acidity in the soil tends to diminish because the containers are watered alot and frankly a lot of the acidity washes out. So I have found that from the second year on, you need to feed lightly but more often. In fact, I feed pretty much every month during the growing season to keep that acidity level up.

Now, let me be clear: I am not saying to over fertilize your blueberries! I am saying that instead of one big feeding at the beginning of the season and nothing else, I do a half feeding to start and then give lower doses throughout the growing season to keep the acidity up. It is basically the same amount of fertilizer but given in smaller doses rather than one giant dose at the beginning. Make sense? Also, they do NOT like tons of nitrogen (or you get leaf growth with no fruit). I’m just talking about the organic matter you add to keep the pH level in “their zone”. Don’t over feed with general fertilizer you will have the most lush (non-fruiting) blueberry bush in the neighborhood.

Don’t worry, this light monthly feeding is not as difficult or time consuming as it sounds. I am just talking about a small handful of cottenseed meal (or other organic acid food) sprinkled over the top of the soil and watered in. Easy! And you will be rewarded with a great crop! Think of it as paying rent! You pay the plants on the first of every month and they will reward you with lots of yumminess! See below for my full regime.

Here my blueberries are growing in a red container blended into my edible landscape.

Here my blueberries are growing in a red container blended into my edible landscape. I can move the container as I need to.

Tips for growing container blueberries:

  • Pick compact varieites such as TopHat or Sunshine Dwarf.
  • Even if they say you don’t need a pollinator, grow at least 2. You just get more berries that way.
  • Plant initially in acid loving soil (the kind bagged for azalias and hydrangeas)
  • Grow in Full Sun. (They can grow in less sun, but you get the most fruit in full sun.)
  • Choose a large container – but you can always start smaller and pot up as the plants grow.
  • Always use Organic Fertilizer – you are going to eat the fruit and don’t want chemicals in your food.
  • If you can, mulch the pot in the summer months with acid producing mulch such as pine needles, pine bark or true cypress.
  • The first year, feed every few months (as directed on the package of your brand of organic fertilizer). You can use a commercial organic blend or a light sprinkling of cottonseed meal or feather meal.
  • The second year and all subsquent years, feed lightly but monthly with cottonseed meal, feather meal or an organic blend from your local independent garden center.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

35 Comments:

  • Herb Sload says:

    Im gonna give it a Go ! How bad will the bugs and the birds be? should they be covered? I bought these plants 5yrs ago havent really got any berries from them to speak of!

  • Esther Wright says:

    Need to know if the blueberries can be grown in Panama, Central America.
    The climate all year round is about 78 to 84 degrees F sometimes in the summer up to 90s. Can I get seeds or I need a plant.

    • theresa says:

      Hi Esther,

      Yes, I believe you can grow blueberries without a winter. You need to start with plants, not seeds.

  • Lauren says:

    What do I do with the plant in the winter? I live up north and we get a lot of snow. Do in leave it outside in the pot?

    • theresa says:

      Hi Lauren,

      You can leave it outside in the pot, but you should put it in an area sheltered from wind (like up against a wall) and wrap the plant in burlap. Or you can place the pot where it is sheltered from snow – like carport or porch. I would also add some mulch to the top of the pot soil. They don’t need much water and will go dormant. But don’t let the soil get completely dry.

      At that point, the biggest concern is the soil in the pot freezing, expanding and breaking the pot. If it is clay or ceramic, this can be a problem. One thing you can do to prevent this is during planting, line the inside of the pot with bubble wrap before filling with soil. This gives the soil room to expand if it freezes. No one can see the bubble wrap because you bring the soil line over the top of it.

      But to answer your question, yes the blueberries can take the winter months. They are pretty tough plants.

  • Lynn Coulter says:

    We love your garden blog and are pinning this post about blueberries to The Home Depot Garden Club Pinterest board. Thanks for sharing these great tips!

  • Wanda says:

    I drink lots of hibiscus tea. Lots of used flowers. Will they make good mulch for my sickly blueberries? I live in Nevada. Hot dry weather.

  • dan d. says:

    Do blueberry plants have to freeze to go dormant and if so, how long do they have to remain frozen. Or does the lack of light make them go dormant? Im growing mine indoors and was wondering if they had to freeze for any amount of time? Thanks

  • peggy says:

    helping my son set up indoor gardening in the basement of his giant new(er) home. he wants to grow raspberries and blueberries. we are both wondering if growing indoors will extend the producing cycle and if you could grow it in flood plane hydroponic setting. i am not convinced these can be done indoors or hydroponically. what do you say? thanks

    • theresa says:

      Gosh Peggy – I wish I could help here, but I am not experienced in indoor growing of berries or hydroponics. Maybe another reader can chime in on that one.

  • Lloyd says:

    Thx for the tips. I just planted 5 blueberry plants in the ground and look forward to a great harvest using your tips. I live in Georgia where acidic soil is the norm, so, the plants should do fine, however, I need to check the PH level.

  • Jennalyn says:

    How long can a blueberry plant live in a container?

    • theresa says:

      It can live in a container indefinitely if cared for properly. But many times, they get ignored after 3-4 a few years and they start to decline. This is because they become root bound and need fresh soil and more room in the pot.

      To keep them healthy in the pot, you may have to pull them out every 3-4 years and give their roots a little trim, loosen the soil and repot with fresh potting soil. I have one blueberry that has been potted for over 10 years – still going strong.

  • Jeanne Carr says:

    Should potted blueberry bushes be pruned during winter months? If so, how much and how early in the winter season should you prune them back?

  • Paul says:

    Hello. I’m trying to plant one in Virginia Beach, near the ocean (in a pot), and wondered what to do if there was a dog that could get to it from next door. Should I build a ledge only window outside? There are also trees above (giant oak ones) that might block out sun, and it gets pretty windy and stormy here. Any suggestions? Maybe fellow readers could also pitch in. I really want some blueberries for my Raisin Bran Crunch in the mornings…

  • elena jindole says:

    How can i plant a blueberry?

  • MJ says:

    I’m new at growing blueberries and I need help idk how to do it right and I have read a bunch of different things can I get help please.

  • Richard Rankin says:

    Do you get berries from the first year?

  • growingequality says:

    Dont expect 2 get ph in normal garden soil down enough the first year, you cant add that much acidifier at once without possibly hurting the plant. If pH needs to be reduced by more than 0.2 unit, begin the acidification process a year before planting.
    Acidifying using elemental Sulfer relies on microorganisms for conversion to sulfate. This requires warm, moist conditions. (Do in early spring, plant in the fall for minimum timing) [keep potted in azalia potting mix while adjusting the final garden bed soil].
    Incorporation of Douglas-fir sawdust or compost, especially to heavier soils prior to planting is a common industry practice, and mulch w/ pine needles if u can.
    NOTE: Use of cedar, oak, walnut, or other sawdusts AND HORSE BEDDING is associated with chlorosis [leaf yellowing and die-back].
    The frequent sprinkling w/ cottonseed meal mentioned works great. most city waters are alkaline, hard water is very much so.
    I found less yield in yrs 2 + 3 after happily picking a few the first year b4 finding this info: Here are some Commercial growers’ practices:
    “- Allow only plants with sufficient vigor to produce a light crop in the second year [pluck off blossoms yr 1]. Early cropping (fruiting in years 1 and 2) has been shown to reduce root growth and yield in years 3 and 4.
    – Nitrogen application may not increase growth the first year. Most blueberry nursery stock contains sufficient N for the first year’s growth. Apply 0.6 oz N per plant in year 1 and 0.7 oz N per plant in year 2. These rates assume that sawdust and 95 lb N/acre were incorporated prior to planting and that 2 inches of surface mulch are used. These rates are per plant.”
    – Be careful and watch ph: “If the soil pH drops below 4.0, you’ll need 2 apply lime, but Do not apply lime in spring before N fertilizer is used [apply lime as needed in fall, then Sample and test soil pH in the surface 3 inches of soil 8 months after lime application].”
    ph meters arent costly, and bberries are pretty easy IF ur careful the first couple years getting them established.
    For ur other reader, i’ve seen bberries in hydroponic and aquaponic setups thriving, so it can b done, but Im just learning about those now.

  • Heather says:

    How close do the pots need to be to each other? I purchased three mature blueberries in clay pots (about 3 yrs old), with fruit on them, and I would like to know how close the pots need to be next to each other.

  • Renee Mustard says:

    Okay, I’m pretty excited about this! I have ordered my Pink Lemonade Blueberries. Next I will order a couple of dwarf blueberry plants. I think that my granddaughter will LOVE picking and eating them! Thank you for the information!

  • julie reed says:

    can u use wild low growing blueberry bushes

  • Brian Schoenharl says:

    I love the idea of growing the blueberries in a pot to keep the soil acidic but was thinking of using the Smartpots and putting the pot into the ground up to about maybe keeping 3 inches above ground. This way I could keep my soil acidic but at same time have a look that its in the ground. I plan on growing other things, flowers, in front of the blueberry bush. The Smartpots are a fabric though. Do you think this would work???

    • theresa says:

      Yes! I think that would work. I am not familiar with Smartpots. But it sounds like even if some of the nutrients leached out, you would still have a semi-controlled environment. I would give it a shot.

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