Growing Blueberries

Northern gardeners will probably never grow the highbush blueberries common on the East Coast. However, the University of Minnesota has released several cultivars of "half-high" blueberries that are hardy to -35 or -40 degrees Celsius, and no more than three or four feet tall. These berries are smaller than those usually found in flats at the supermarket, but many people prefer their somewhat "wild" flavour. 

Unfortunately, blueberries require very specific growing conditions, which are not likely to be found in a prairie backyard. The soil must be acidic and well-drained. Alkaline clay soil will slowly kill the plants. If you are very determined, a trench can be dug just over a foot deep and filled with a light, acidic soil mix. Add peat moss and sulpher to lower the pH value of the soil and compost or leaf mould to improve drainage. The plants should probably be mulched with something acidic, such as pine needles or oak leaves, every year. Blueberries also require snow cover in the winter to produce fruit. Try planting them by a fence where the snow will drift over them, or cover them with straw or snow shovelled from other parts of your yard. 

Despite the initial effort required, blueberries make a lovely landscape plant, with white spring flowers, a compact shape, and good fall colour. They also have very few pest problems as long as you can keep the birds, rabbits and deer away. If the planting location is prepared carefully, plants should produce for two to three weeks within a couple of years, although the plants will not be fully mature for eight to ten years.
 
Although these half-high blueberries are usually self-fertile, planting two or more varieties will usually increase production. Recommended varieties include Northcountry and Northblue. Chippewa and Northland are also worth trying and Polaris is a good variety but it is not self-fertile. Although blueberries require quite a bit of effort initially, you may find that the years of wonderful fruit production make them worthwhile. If they seem too difficult, try growing saskatoons instead.

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