CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Maine is home to two different types of blueberries: highbush and lowbush.
Gardening with Gutner met with University of Maine Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetable expert David Handley in a blueberry patch at Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth to learn more about Maine's iconic berry.
"The lowbush blueberry is what we consider the wild blueberry of Maine. So when we're talking about those classic cans of Maine wild blueberries for your pies or nowadays the frozen berries, those are coming from the lowbush, which is a different species, mostly grown in the Down East area, harvested mechanically or with rakes. The highbush blueberry is a different species, although it is also native to Maine. This one is largely used for pick-your-own farms or retail stands," Handley explained.
To grow your own blueberries the UMaine expert emphasized doing your homework.
"There's only a hand full that are really hardy enough to make it in most parts of Maine," Handley said.
Maine Hardy Varieties:
The first step, Handley stressed is to get a soil test.
"Blueberries are in the same family as rhododendrons, azaleas, Mountain Laurel. So if you've got a place in your yard where those are happy, chances are your blueberries are going to be happy too," the fruit and vegetable expert stated.
Blueberries prefer acidic soil:
To fix soil that is not acidic enough, sulfur is added and worked in. This needs to be done the fall before planting because it takes time Handley explained.
To promote growth, for the first three years, Handley recommends rubbing off the flower clusters.
"If I let it fruit every year it's going to stay small. It's going to be unhappy. It's going to take a long time to get up to full production," the UMaine expert said.
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Once the bush is productive it should be pruned every year in late winter or early spring before leaves appear.
Finally, knowing when the berries are ready to pick is important. If you pick too soon, the berries can be tart.
"If you want to make sure your blueberry is going to taste good when you pick it. You want to make sure it's blue all the way around that stem mark. If it's still white, if it's still red it's going to be tart," Handley instructed.