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Blueberry bliss

Grow this fruit for health benefits and beauty

Blueberries (Vaccinium) are one of the most popular fruits in the United States for several reasons. According The Ohio State University Extension, blueberries have a great amount of healthful properties — from low calories to low sodium, no cholesterol and having a great amount of fiber, they’re nearly perfect.

A major constituent of the fiber is pectin, renowned for its ability to lower blood cholesterol. It is even good for other parts of the body, as blueberry juice contains a compound that “prevents bacteria from anchoring to the bladder, hereby helping to prevent urinary tract infections,” according to the Extension.

Last, but not least, they have been shown to improve the memory.

So, should you try to grow blueberries at home? Absolutely.

The most exciting of the new cultivars being introduced are the compact or dwarf varieties that offer us easy-to-grow-and-care-for fruit plants. So choose these if you want a small plant that may be less care.

Know that while blueberries don’t require a second cultivar to produce fruit, a second cultivar will greatly increase the amount of fruit you get each year. So two plants are better than one.

These plants can bear five or more pounds of delicious fruit a year and can live for 50 years. Choose wisely.

Growing your own fresh fruit can be easy and simple if you go for one of the dwarf blueberries. These are a great option for containers or raised beds. The plants stay naturally small, offer full-size fruit and are fun to grow. And they are a delight for kids who can reach and harvest those juicy berries themselves.

Because our northeast Ohio soils are mostly clay, planting blueberries in containers or raised beds makes it much easier to provide the optimum acidic soil in a sunny spot that has six to eight hours of sun.

The plants require very acidic soil conditions to grow and thrive. Blueberries grow best in moist, well-drained soil with a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.0 that is partially loamy and has high organic content. They need lots of water when fruit is on the plant for good production and the overall health of the plant.

Local garden stores carry bags of soils and amendments that are prepared for just such crops. You will need to prepare containers or soils with the proper acidic conditions before planting and the acidity level must be monitored and maintained over the life of the planting.

A bonus is that the shrubs beautify your landscape. They have a dense, rounded form with white or pink flowers in the spring, glossy silvery-green leaves, lovely purple fruit in the summer and red foliage in the fall.

Depending on the size of plant you buy, do not expect a crop until the second or third year. And once that happens, be sure to cover with adequate netting, also available at your favorite garden center, or the birds will harvest them long before you can.

Japanese beetles also favor blueberry bushes and will eat both the leaves and fruit. While you can buy pesticide to combat this, you can stay organic by arming yourself with paper towel and killing them by hand or by dropping them into soapy water.

More detailed instructions on changing pH, weed control, mulching, fertilizing, pruning, watering and care of any established blueberry plants are available at http://go.osu.edu/blue berry .

Novotny is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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