Beyond Fruit Lay Intense Colors
Why write about a plant in October that everyone knows produces an abundant amount of fruit in the summer? After all, if a plant is known for producing huge quantities of fruit, that must be its single greatest attribute. Nothing could be further from the truth with Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).
Every year, gardeners alike, wait with anticipation for the changing of foliage in autumn. Shorter days and cooler temperatures cause plants to slowly loose their green chlorophyll from their leaves thus giving way to some of the most electric colors in the landscape. Japanese maples are at their best as they prepare for dormancy. Burning Bush has solidified its place as one of the most notable garden candidates for intense, red fall color. But what about Blueberries?
North American Highbush Blueberry is always remembered as a plant which yields large amounts of fruit in the summer. Blueberries are an important agricultural crop that should also be revered for their gorgeous hues of reds and oranges in the fall. Highbush Blueberries grow comfortably between six and twelve feet tall and offer something in every season. Obviously the blue-black fruit in the summer have perpetuated this plant to culinary stardom. Anyone who has traveled to Maine and tasted the jams or famed blueberry pies can attest to this. However, in the spring, corymbs of white urn-shaped flowers precede the fruit. The fall display of vibrant red, orange and yellow lend itself well to “Monosweep” design work. And let’s not forget winter attributes. More established plants are attractive in winter with limbs that turn red and yellow. Not to mention the shredded bark appearance on older specimens.
Many varieties of Highbush Blueberry are available at your local garden center and most benefit from being planted with other cultivars. “Northcountry” is an early season blueberry that has dainty, white tinged, pink bell shaped flowers. “Northland” is a cultivar which is extremely cold hardy with dark blue fruits. “Northsky” is a midseason variety that is exceptionally sweet with pink tinged, white, bell shaped flowers. Finally, “Patriot” produces enormous sweet berries and as with all varieties has fantastic fall color markings.
Culturally, blueberries can be a bit tricky. They prefer acidic soil contents between 4.5 and 5.5. Moist, well drained soils are necessary and remembering to mulch around the base during the winter will ensure their survival. Pruning should be done right after fruiting or before spring bloom. Blueberries enjoy full sun to part shade and to be fed with a slow release acid fertilizer in late winter or early spring. Avoid concentrated amounts of fertilizer near the plant and remember that these are shallow rooted plants and thus do not like to compete for root space and moisture with the likes of perennials and annuals. Remember “Monosweeping” techniques.
The health benefits of blueberries are famed and numerous. Having one of the highest concentrations of iron, blueberries are also rich in carbohydrates, low in fat and high in vitamins A, C and K. Rich in antioxidants blueberries really are among the healthiest food choices.
The concentrated attributes of spring white flowers, plentiful blue-black fruits in the summer, screaming fall color, shredded bark and red and yellow tipped limbs in the winter can act as a suitable substitute for a collection of other plants. Red and Yellow Twig Dogwoods, Burning Bush, Japanese Pieris and Paperbark Maples all have something spectacular to offer. However, Vaccinium corymbosum shares similar characteristics to the above mentioned. The next time you want to create a hedge line of green with stunning fall color, hopefully Blueberry bushes will at least enter your mind when someone suggests the more pedestrian solution of Burning Bush. After all you can literally feed your mind, body and soul with Vaccinium.