With the summer firmly here, so are our native fruiting shrubs and trees. A favorite for wildlife and for our kitchens is our native blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, also called the highbush blueberry for its mature height that can reach up to 12 feet. Smaller varieties are available that are more appropriate for the smaller garden.
Highbush blueberry thrives in full-sun and in acidic soils. Their blue to purple fruit are high in iron and appear anywhere from mid-June through August, depending on the variety that is planted. For a long harvesting season, plant blueberries in mass that are early-, mid-, and late-blooming. The cross-pollination will also help with fruit production both in size and quantity.
Highbush blueberry requires little maintenance; light pruning may be required for deadwood and to keep a shapely plant. They tend to tolerate variable soil types, from clay to loamy to sandy soils. They also tolerate moist to occasionally dry conditions. Because of this, highbush blueberry is often found in bogs, swamps, shorelines, as well as upland forests and pine barrens (known for their highly acidic soils).
Their leaves tend to be tinged red in spring as they leaf-out and turn a lovely green during the growing season. Autumn turns their foliage stunning shades of red, purple, and orange. A three-season shrub in the truest sense of the word. The flowers emerge in spring to early summer and are white (sometimes pinkish) and bell shaped.
Wildlife adore this shrub. The flowers attract butterflies and bees, needed for pollination. Other animals that enjoy the fruit are grouse, turkey, black bears, and numerous birds. Rabbits and deer also use their twigs as a resource.
However, us humans enjoy blueberries so much that they have been commercially grown for their fruit for many generations. Numerous varieties are available, including ‘Bountiful Blue’ which grows to about four feet in height and produces large berries in good quantities. The foliage is often said to have the bluest shade of the blueberries.
Another variety is ‘Duke Blueberry’ that grows to about six feet tall and is considered a late-blooming selection. It produces an abundance of large, light-blue berries. Perfect for a hedge or border planting. Blueberries also do rather well in containers.
I hope this gives you inspiration on growing your own fruiting shrubs in your gardens. If you do not have the room for the highbush blueberry, consider growing the lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). It only reaches one to two feet in height and can be used as groundcover. Perfect for smaller spaces.
Since July is a month full of grilling and gathering events for friends and family, I thought I would contribute to the festivities by providing a recipe of my creation that highlights blueberries. This is, at its heart, my mother’s soft sugar cookie recipe with a few items added. Her soft sugar cookies have always been a must have at family events and around holidays.▼
Blueberry & White Chocolate
1 ¼ cups flour, ½ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp baking soda, 5 Tbl softened butter, 4 oz softened cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, ½ tsp vanilla extract, ⅔ cup white chocolate chips,
1 cup blueberries plus more for top of cookies
This recipe makes about 18 cookies. It can be doubled but be careful not to crush the blueberries as it is a thick dough. Smaller batches make it easier.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk together dry ingredients in bowl, set aside.
- In large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese together. Add sugar and mix to combine.
- Mix egg and vanilla into creamed mixture.
- Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, but do not overmix.
- Fold in white chocolate chips.
- Fold in blueberries, making sure not to crush them.
- Drop by large tablespoonfuls on baking sheet, 2 inches apart.
- Press a few blueberries into top of cookies prior to baking.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, just until bottoms begin to brown.
- Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for a couple minutes before moving to cooling rack.
Eric W. Wahl is Landscape Architect at Pennoni Associates, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.