Blueberries are as nutritious as they are tasty, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. High in Vitamin C and other antioxidants, they're also rich in fiber and the bone building mineral manganese. The many kinds of blueberry bushes, however, are ornamental--as well as fruit-bearing--plants. From spreading ground covers to shrubs the size of small trees, blueberry bushes brighten gardens with delicate spring blooms, dusky blue-purple fruit and three seasons of colorful foliage.
The direct ancestor of cultivated blueberry varieties, highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosoum) is a densely branched, 6- to 12-foot shrub native from New England south to the Gulf Coast and Texas. As valuable as its edible berries are to birds and wildlife, highbush blueberry has equally appealing ornamental features. Its foliage progresses from spring's greenish red to summer's greenish blue to autumn's brilliant yellow, orange, scarlet and purple tones. In May and June, its red or green stems have nodding clusters of delicate, belled white or pink blooms. Its sweet berries follow, changing from greenish white to pink, lavender, and finally deep, smoky blue. Highbush blueberry tolerates dry to wet condtions in full sun to full shade. It needs acidic--pH below 6.8--soil or peat. Plants and alkaline locations develop iron deficiency, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) is showing up in more and more southern home gardens, says Texas A&M University horticulture professor, Dr. George Ray McEachern Ph.D. These large shrubs stand up to 15 feet high and 10 feet wide at maturity, usually when they are 10 years old. They spread by suckers, producing blueberries on the previous year's growth. Fruit production depends on bees for cross-pollination, so gardeners should plant three or more cultivars. Picked fruit does not ripen. Rabbiteye blueberry needs highly acidic soil, and won't survive pH above 5.5. The shallow-rooted plants need deep watering twice a week and deep mulch when they are young.
Late Lowbush Blueberry
Standing just 6- to 24-inches high, late lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) grows in pinewoods and abandoned fields from New England south to Tennessee and West to Wisconsin. Glossy, bluish green summer foliage on its heavily twigged branches is purple red in autumn. Mid-to-late summer blueberries follow pinkish-white, late spring flowers. Planting more than one bush will increase fruit production, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Late lowbush blueberry grows in moist or dry locations with full sun to shade and acidic soil.