Are Blueberry Shrubs Considered Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plants?
Are you thinking of adding some blueberry shrubs to your garden, but want to make sure they'll come back each year before you start planting? Blueberry shrubs can be a great addition to any garden, so it's only natural to do your research. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines if these popular shrubs are considered annual, biennial, or perennial plants.
Blueberries are a familiar summer fruit. They are sweet, delicious, and make a healthy snack. Blueberry plants are woody shrubs. They flower in the spring and once mature, will produce fruits in the summer months. In the fall, the leaves turn red and flower buds form for the following spring.
If you have a sunny spot in your yard or garden, you can likely grow blueberries, depending on the location they are planted. But will they come back each season or will you be stuck bringing them inside in the winter, or replanting them?
Before you start planting, it’s important to understand the life cycle of blueberry shrubs. Let’s take a deeper look into their life cycle, as well as if you can expect your newly planted shrubs to return each season. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!
The Short Answer
Blueberry bushes are fruiting perennial shrubs. If given proper care and planted in USDA hardiness zones 3-10, they will grow, produce an abundance of fruit, and come back year after year. Sounds great, right? Keep reading to find out more about how to help your blueberries thrive, and what might affect their overall health.
The Long Answer
Blueberries are a very rewarding fruit crop that you can grow in your home landscape. They are not difficult to grow as long as you understand their basic needs and can provide for them. A healthy plant in ideal conditions will continue to grow perennially and produce berries for many years.
How long exactly? Blueberries are considered perennial fruits and can live for up to 50 years or more!
There are a number of different varieties of blueberry that are well-adapted to different growing conditions and climates. Take the time to do some research before buying plants, and find the varieties that will grow best in your particular region.
For a long and productive life, in addition to selecting the best-suited varieties, blueberries need their preferred growing conditions.
They all need full sun, regular watering, specific soil conditions, nutrients, and pruning. We will look at each of these requirements to see what makes blueberries happy, and what might cause them to struggle, or even die.
Choose The Right Variety
Blueberry plants are all woody shrubs. They all have the ability to grow, flower, and fruit. But if you start looking around, you will see that there are many different blueberry cultivars available to buy.
One of the most important decisions you will make for the success of your blueberry plants is to choose the right variety.
Be sure to choose a variety that is properly suited to your hardiness zone. If you live in a northern climate, for example, and plant blueberries that are not cold hardy, your plants probably won’t survive the winter.
- Small to medium height
- 3-4 feet tall
- Colder climates, northern US and Canada
- USDA Hardiness zones 3-5
The hybrid half-high blueberry is the go-to if you live in a colder climate. If you live someplace a bit warmer, stick to a different variety. These shrubs will have a short fruiting season when it’s warm, but can withstand colder winters down to -30 degrees F.
- Smallest variety of blueberry plant
- 1.5 to 2 feet tall
- Cooler climates
- USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7
The lowbush blueberry plant will produce smaller fruits. This is a great intermediate plant that’s cold-hardy, but can also survive in more temperate climates. They can survive some of the harsher winter conditions of the Midwest, but still grow quite well in southern parts of the United States.
- Medium to tall in height
- 6-12 feet tall
- Cooler to mild climates, Northern US and Canada
- USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7
This variety can only withstand winter temps down to about -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally like it a little more temperate. They should not be grown in zones that are warmer than hardiness zone 7, and prefer milder climates.
- Medium to tall in height
- 6-10 feet tall
- Mild to warm climates, central and southeastern US
- USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9
Rabbiteye blueberries are great for warmer to hot climates. They are most commonly grown in the southern United States and have some of the sweetest fruits when compared to other varieties.
- Small to medium in height
- 2 to 4 feet tall
- Warm climates, central and southeastern US
- USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10
This variety is the ultimate warm climate blueberry. They can survive in states that fall into USDA hardiness zone 10, which is one of the warmer climates. This variety is great for gardeners that live in southern Texas, desert climates of Arizona and California, as well as the hotter southern areas of Florida.
Provide Proper Space
Blueberry plants like to have plenty of space to grow. They do not like to compete for sunlight, water, or nutrients. Plants growing in crowded conditions will not thrive and may not produce as much fruit. Crowded plants are also more susceptible to disease.
Smaller varieties should be planted at least 4-6 feet apart, larger varieties should be planted at least 6-10 feet apart. Don’t plant them too close to trees or other shrubs that can shade them or compete with their shallow root systems.
Also keep the area around your blueberries free from weeds. Mulching around the base of your plants can help reduce weeds as well as retain soil moisture.
Examine Soil Quality
Blueberries are a little picky about their soil conditions. It may seen like a lot of extra work to prepare the ideal soil for your new plants, but it will be well worth the effort.
If you simply dig a hole and put your plant in the ground, it probably won’t do much for you in return. Take the time to prepare a spot for your new plants well before planting, and make sure the spot is in the right location.
The first thing you’ll need to consider is the soil pH. Go ahead and buy a soil test kit or talk with your local Cooperative Extension agent about soil testing. Blueberries need acidic soil. A soil pH between 4 and 5 is good, and generally around pH 4.5 is ideal.
It takes some time (several months to a year) to thoroughly adjust soil pH. This requires testing, working in soil amendments, and re-testing. Again, it’s worth the hassle to do this well!
As you’re working on getting the soil pH to the correct level, you can also be thinking about the composition of your soil. Blueberries have shallow roots and like their soil to be loose and well-drained, but they also like to be kept a little bit moist.
They do not like sitting in water and having soggy roots. They also don’t like being too dry for extended periods of time. Loosen your soil so it isn’t compacted, work in some organic matter, and make sure your plant won’t be sitting in a puddle.
Provide Plenty of Water
If you live in an area with abundant rainfall, you may never need to water. Regardless of where you live, you should pay attention to the soil moisture. A young plant may need more regular waterings until it’s well established.
An older plant may be fine with drying out between waterings. If you live in an arid environment, or during times of drought, give your blueberry a regular drink of water. They don’t like to be kept wet, but they do appreciate a rich moist soil.
They Love Sunlight
Your blueberry plant probably won’t die if you try to grow it in a shady spot, but it certainly won’t thrive either. If at all possible, plant your blueberries where they can get at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day during the growing season.
They can tolerate a little shade, but ideally, an open sunny location is the best. Plants grown in full sun will grow fuller and healthier, and will also produce more flowers and more fruits.
Perform Routine Maintenance
As with sunlight, your plant probably won’t die if you don’t do some regular maintenance. Annual care can certainly help your plants thrive. Things you can do to help maintain your plant’s optimal health and well-being include:
Basic Maintenance Tasks
- Perform annual winter pruning to remove weaker stems.
- Remove dead and diseased branches.
- After plant begins fruiting, apply light fertilizer annually.
- Pull weeds from around your blueberries.
- Pick blueberry fruits in the summer (this one is more a benefit to you!).
If you have a sunny spot for a perennial shrub and want to grow your own delicious summer fruits, give blueberries a try. For the best chance of success, be sure to choose plant varieties that are best suited to your climate zone. Also pay careful attention to the general growing needs of a blueberry plant. If planted in a sunny spot with good soil conditions and proper care, your blueberry plant should live for many years!