Know Thy Fruit

spaces garden edible berry pruning

Although it’s painful to do, remove the fruit and flower buds from your plant for the first year—it really does make a difference in the plant’s growth. If you resist the temptation to let the fruit ripen in the plant’s youth, your discipline will be rewarded with bigger, healthier plants in the long term.

Blueberries (Vaccinium) are in the heath family (Ericaceae) and are related to heather and rhododendrons, as well as some 40 other Vaccinium species, including huckleberries, bilberries, and cranberries. They range from petite, bushy, lowbush blueberries (primarily V. angustifolium), which are perfect for pots, to the most common commercial blueberry, the northern highbush (mostly V. corymbosum).

Visit one of the U-pick farms in the area (pickyourown.org), or peruse local farmers markets for berries. Keep in mind that their flavor can vary widely from field to field and year to year, so adopt a scientific approach by sampling as many named varieties as possible and taking notes. Bernadine Strik, professor of horticulture and berry crops research leader at Oregon State University’s (OSU) North Willamette Research and Extension Center, gives a high flavor rating to the ‘Blueray’, ‘Darrow’, and ‘Spartan’ cultivars. And Gary Hongel, a blueberry grower in Brush Prairie, Washington, suggests trying ‘Legacy’ and ‘Bluecrop’, although he cautions not to pick ‘Bluecrops’ until they are fully ripe. As far as quantities go, start with two or three highbush blueberry plants per person, and see how much fruit they produce for your purposes.

Blueberries are self-fertilizing, but by growing more than one cultivar within the species, you can improve pollination and fruit size. Any highbush blueberry will pollinate any other highbush blueberry; any lowbush blueberry will pollinate any other lowbush.