Tag Archives: blueberries

All Things Blue in the Garden

While harvesting blueberries at a friends’ garden I started thinking of the color blue and why it appeals to all of us gardeners. I was taking care of this fabulous garden while the owners were out of town so I had a lot of time to enjoy all of the plants including the blue flowering ones.

Blueberries-fresh off the bush- delicious

The color blue, especially in the summer, soothes our senses. Soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Strong blues can stimulate clear thoughts. I’m not sure if the different blueberries fall into this category but I sure enjoyed tasting each of them.

Of the 4 different types of blueberries I harvested I think I liked O’Neal, a variety of Southern high bush, the best.
The large light blue early South Moon were also delicious as were the Blueray and Bluecrop. Although many blueberry species are considered self-fertile, all blueberry bushes benefit from cross-pollination and produce larger and more full flavored crops with another bush nearby. To ensure bees carry pollen from one bush to another, space them within 6 feet of each other.

The author’s hydrangea garden

When the weather gets hot I head to the part of my garden where the blue hydrangeas are blooming. I have several mophead types that vary in color from sky blue to deep blue. One is almost blue-violet this year although I didn’t add anything to the soil this winter to make it more acidic. I don’t have any lacecap varieties so I took a cutting of a spectacular Mariesii variegated one at the garden I was tending. It’s the white in both the foliage and the flower that makes the rest of the blue blossoms really standout.

True blue flowers are rare. We use words like cerulean, azure, cobalt, sapphire, turquoise, electric blue or steel blue when describing blue flowers. Hybridizers have tried for years to produce a true blue rose or blue daylily. Blue plant pigment is hard to manipulate. It occurs in the daylily as a sap-soluble pigment and is difficult to segregate. Lilacs, purples, orchids and mauves we have and working with them hybridizers may eventually get near blue, but pure blue probably never.

Rose hybridizers striving for true blue have come close by crossbreeding lavender hybrid teas in order to produce offspring having optimum amount of cyanidin, The results have been more of a silvery lilac or mauve. A blue rose is still in the future although labs in Australia and Japan are genetically modifying the pigments from petunias to produce a blue rose. Their results are not yet perfected and these roses are more of a lilac in color and can not survive conditions outside the lab. It is apparently very difficult to isolate the pigment cyanadin. Delphiniums have a monopoly on it.

There are many blue perennials as handsome as they are durable that we can enjoy in our gardens today.
Besides the old fashioned hydrangea, there are violas and campanulas. I”m also growing a blue impatien called ‘Blue Diamond’ that attracts the hummingbirds. All are valuable in the shade garden along with omphaloides and brunnera. The blue spikes of a long blooming peach-leaf campanula just go together with the white and green variegated foliage of Jack Frost Siberian bugloss.

In early spring we are dazzled by our native ceanothus which bloom with deep blue, sky blue or electric blue flowers. Emerald Blue phlox subulata carpets the ground in spring with clear blue flowers. Penstemon heterophyllus, a California native hybrid, carries dense spikes of bright blue, bell-shaped blossoms.

Make sure your garden has a blue section to cool you on a hot day.

Blueberries for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Blueberries, the wonder food:  a powerhouse of nutrition and antioxidants. Kids and adults alike love them fresh off the plant, on cereal, in desserts.  And blueberry plants are beautiful in the garden. I often design these highly ornamental shrubs into a garden to provide edibles in the landscape that serve both as a fun food to nibble as you walk in the garden and to provide a colorful accent in the fall when the foliage turns fiery red, orange and yellow.

Under the branches of a large shade tree at UCSC Farm & Garden, I met with fellow blueberry enthusiasts for a  workshop recently to learn from the experts how to grow blueberries in the home garden. Liz Milazzo, field production manager, shared her personal top 8 varieties. She also told us how to choose varieties for different locales and growing conditions, how to select an appropriate planting location, prepare the planting hole or container, create soil conditions that blueberries need to thrive, how to pruning correctly and care for your blueberry plants to keep them productive.

blueberry_old_berries_new_flowers2UCSC Farm & Garden grows 1/10th of an acre of different kinds of blueberries.  As we walked between the rows of plants for the pruning demonstration I noticed many of them still had leaves and almost ripened blueberries. Liz explained that these berries were set last November and although they are ripening slowly their taste will be inferior. The best tasting berries will come from flowers set in March. You can choose early and late ripening blueberry varieties to extend your harvest. Berry size and overall yield are more important to commercial growers as are varieties that set in clusters making it easier for them to harvest. For the home gardening, taste is what we are looking for and it's easy for us to pick a berry here and another there as they ripen to perfection.

So what are the top picks of the Farm manager? Drumroll, please. Her #1 pick for the Santa Cruz area is Southmoon. This variety produces early, mid and late season and is a nice blend of acid and sweet.  Coming in at #2 is Jubilee, an upright shrub with sky blue berries. Liz also likes other southern highbush varieties such as O'Neill, Santa Fe, Sapphire, Windsor, Jewel and Misty.

Some of these are tall woody plants while others are more spreading. For containers, a tall variety like Windsor or Jewel would not work as well as a medium sized bush with an arching form such as Misty, Southmoon or Jubilee.

Blueberries need 6 hours of sun or more, regular watering and lots of mulch over their roots. They naturally grow in bogs. The year before the Farm planted their blueberry field, the pH of the soil was 6. Blueberries prefer more acidic conditions so after having their soil tested they tilled in redwood mulch and soil sulfur at the recommended rate. Striving to keep the soil at 4.5 – 5.5 pH they renew the mulch yearly in the fall and add vinegar to the water each time they irrigate to acidify the soil. The Farm uses a commercial grade vinegar but the home gardening can use inexpensive white vinegar at a rate of 1 tablespoon/gallon of water. Liz explained that this will bring city water down to a pH of 5 and blueberries love it.

The Farm irrigates the blueberries 2-3 times per week with 1/2 gallon per hour emitters on a drip line every 12". They place 2-3 emitters per plant.

Because blueberries require acidic soil rich in organic matter an easy way to supply this is to buy rhododendron and camellia ready made organic soil and use it in containers or to amend native soil 50%.  Renewable and sustainable soil amendments include cottonseed meal, feather meal and mustard meal which comes from crushed mustard seed. Pescadero Gold available at Mountain Feed is a good source for mustard meal.

A 3-4" layer of mulch over the roots is especially important as blueberries have shallow roots close to the surface of the soil. They don't have root hairs like other plants and depend on mycorrhizal fungi to absorb nutrients. Protect this active zone with a mulch of organic woody material such as wood chips, redwood compost, clean sawdust, pine bark, pine or redwood needles.

Blueberries deserve a little extra attention to their growing conditions. They repay you with scrumptious, nutritious berries.