Blueberry bush a great choice for garden 'edible ornamental'

Blueberry bush a great choice for garden 'edible ornamental'

by Nan Sterman

Are you trendy? If you grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, corn or any other yummy edible in your garden this year, then the answer is yes. And chances are the experience was so rewarding that you're ready to try your hand at growing more of the foods you eat.

If you want to stay trendy (and of course you do!), then as you ponder your plans for spring, include some trees and shrubs that do the double duty of feeding your family and beautifying your garden.

Edible ornamental plants aren't new, but, according to wholesale growers, they're going through a renaissance. And blueberries, it appears, are among the hottest plants in this category. Monrovia Growers, a wholesale grower whose brand is available at garden centers across the country, grew its largest crop ever of blueberry shrubs for 2009-10.

"Still, if we'd had thousands more plants, we could've sold them, too," says Nicholas Staddon, Monrovia's director of new plant introductions.

Blueberries are medium-sized shrubs with deep green leaves that turn orange and gold in autumn. They're great as low, informal hedges or lining walkways, a flower border, or even growing in large containers.

In fact, blueberries are especially well suited for long-term residence in containers, according to Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery in Modesto, Calif., one of the country's largest suppliers of fruiting trees and shrubs.

Fruiting trees and shrubs tend to outgrow containers after a few years, as their root systems have nowhere to expand to.

Blueberries have relatively small root systems, small enough that Spellman has kept blueberry shrubs in the same containers for more than a decade. Other fruiting plants would gradually slow their production, but Spellman's blueberries continue to produce generous crops.

All blueberries do best in acidic soils. That can be a challenge, especially in areas of the country where soils tend to be alkaline. Here again, blueberries' adaptability to containers comes in very handy. Simply fill the containers with an acidic potting soil that contains plenty of peat moss and they'll do fine.

There are two major groups of blueberries. Varieties of northern highbush blueberries, such as "Blue Ray," "Blue Crop" and "Elliott," require a long, cold dormant period in order to fruit.

On the other hand, southern highbush blueberries, such as "O'Neal," "Sunshine Blue" and "Jubilee," have been bred to lose their cold requirement. So, they produce well in both cold winter parts of the country and warmer winter areas.

Grow all blueberries in fertile, well draining soil and full to part sun. Fertilize with an acidic fertilizer. Prune branches right after fruiting to encourage new fruiting wood for the next year. For container grown blueberries, trim branches back to about the diameter of the container.

Blueberries are fairly thirsty plants, so if you live in a water-challenged part of the country, you might want to consider some of the lower water edible/ornamental trees and shrubs.

Nan Sterman is author of "California Gardener's Guide Volume II." She is a gardening expert, communicator and designer who has long grown an organic garden of plants that both feed her family and beautify her garden.

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