The Blueberry Family

    • Choose living Christmas trees now. Most will be able to be kept in their containers and used for one or two more years as a Christmas tree before planting them.
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your peach and nectarine trees next spring.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Plant Paperwhite narcissus in pots this weekend for holiday gifts.
    • Primroses and pansies will add color to your flower beds and containers all winter.

The Blueberry Family

Blueberries, known botanically as the Vaccinium, are one of relatively few native American fruits. This large family of plants has edible berries, most of them are very tasty and healthy as well. They are known by their common names like cranberries, lingonberries, blueberries, huckleberries and others.

Vaccinium plants can be found in nearly all climate zones, but they all require acidic soil. Our native Huckleberry grows wild in the local redwood forests. Other California natives include California red huckleberry, grouse whortleberry and bilberry.

From the Ohelo berry, native to Hawaii, to the lingonberry, native to the northern states, Canada, Scandanavia and Finland, berries in the Vaccinium family are so acidic themselves that they are easy to preserve. They don’t need added pectin to jell, so it is very easy to make jelly and preserves out of them.

Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines with slender, wiry stems and evergreen leaves. They were first used by Native Americans, who discovered the wild berry’s versatility as a food, fabric dye and healing agent. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.

Blueberries are the most popular of the Vacciniums. They are renowned for their health benefits and delicious fruit. The three general types of blueberries are Northern highbush, Southern highbush, and Southern rabbiteye.

Northern highbush blueberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall and have clusters of white bell-shaped flowers in spring, rich green foliage that turns deep red in the fall, and abundant crops of sweet blue berries in midsummer. They are the best known and the largest, sweetest and juiciest blueberries you can grow. These varieties, however, are native to Canada, Michigan and other northern climes. They prefer cool summers, where they have the best fruit quality, but are worth growing in our area in partial shade.

Southern highbush blueberries have an earlier ripening season and grow 5 to 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide. They are all self-pollinating, although the yields are higher with cross pollination. These varieties are suitable for areas from Florida to California because of their low chill requirement and heat tolerance. They grow in full sun or partial shade, and are grown commercially in the Central Valley.

Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the South. They are large bushes growing 6-12 feet tall. They are very tolerant to heat and drought, but need more than one variety for pollination and fruit set.

Blueberries need mostly sun and rich, acid soil that is high in organic matter. A pH of 4.8 to 5.0 is ideal. When planting, add lots of peat moss, equal to 50% of the planting mix. Dig a wide hole and add a couple of cups of soil sulfur per plant.

Blueberry roots are shallow and should not be disturbed. Mulch the plants with 4 to 6 inches of sawdust or compost, but keep it away from the base of the plant. This will keep down weeds and retain moisture. Keep replenishing the mulch all summer. Plants should be kept moist throughout the growing season.

Berries possess a high proportion of antioxidants and vitamin-packed flavinoids, and are among the healthiest fruits you can eat. Blueberries are a wonderful addition to your diet as well as your garden.

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