It’s finally here…spring! Hooray! We’ve all anxiously awaited the arrival of warmer days, heralding the beginning of gardening season. However, with the arrival of spring, freezing temperatures also appeared in Upstate SC. What a crazy week—with 90 degree temperatures last week, many local gardeners began planting annuals and tender vegetables, only to face frost this morning. As tempting as it is, I never plant annuals outside before our last expected frost date, which is typically near the end of April. Who wants to plant a garden twice? And I definitely don’t want to endangered all the green babies I’ve grown from seed! (Find your last expected frost date here.)
Instead, let’s spend a few more days planning our beautiful edible gardens and dreaming of what we’ll grow this year. Soon enough, we’ll scrub dirt from under our fingernails. But for now, let’s be patient just a bit longer. After all, there are so many seeds to start inside…plus, a chance to win beautiful edibles for your garden!
In support of my Beautiful Edible Garden campaign, my friends at Nature Hills Nursery kindly offered to provide a giveaway of two gorgeous, unique, food-producing machines: blueberry bushes!
Photo courtesy Nature Hills Nursery.
One lucky winner will receive both ‘Top Hat,’ the ideal blueberry bush for small spaces, as well as the unique ‘Pink Lemonade,’ a gorgeous bush with pale pink flowers—and pink berries!
Photo courtesy Nature Hills Nursery.
Blueberry bushes provide the perfect addition to an edible garden and landscape. Not only do the berries taste delicious, they’re rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants and high in vitamins. They’re consistently top-ranked in lists of anti-inflammatory foods as well.
Blueberry bushes offer ongoing interest in the garden, from the sweet, bell-shaped clusters of flowers in the spring to summer’s ripening fruit to the rich colors of the foliage in fall—and many varieties also provide winter interest, with yellow or reddish twigs as focal points in the garden.
You’ll find many varieties of blueberries. Some, like the northern highbush or low bush, thrive in colder zones, requiring at least 1,000 chill hours to produce fruit. Others, like rabbiteye, tolerate warm climates and produce an ample harvest without a long chill season. All blueberry bushes, however, benefit from acidic soil, requiring a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. They benefit from moisture-preserving mulch, as blueberry bushes prefer moist, well-drained soil. Mulching with pine needles can serve a dual purpose: keeping the soil moist while adding acidity as the needles decompose. Blueberries thrive in full-sun or partial shade, appreciating afternoon shade in the strongest southern sun and heat.
Let’s talk for a minute about self-fruitful plants. While these bushes will produce fruit without another variety of blueberry bush nearby, it’s always best to plant at least two blueberry bushes, each of a different variety, within 100 feet of one another. Even self-fruitful plants produce bigger fruit and a larger harvest with a pollinating partner. Varieties that are not self-fruitful must have at least one additional blueberry bush of a different variety nearby to produce a good harvest of fruit. By selecting several varieties appropriate to your zone and choosing plants with diverse harvest dates, you’ll extend your blueberry season into the fall.
Plants need to be well watered throughout the season and kept moist—but not soggy. Tender blueberry roots are susceptible to fertilizer burn, so do not add fertilizer into the planting hole. Instead, top dress the plant with a good organic fertilizer, such as soybean or alfalfa meal.
For the sweetest berries, practice patience. Blueberries ripen to a lovely blue—but they are not fully ripe until a few days after they’ve turned blue (or pink, in the case of ‘Pink Lemonade.’) If you gently shake the clusters of berries, the ripe ones will fall into a bowl held underneath the branch. You may find yourself battling the birds for your precious berries, but draping a light row cover or bird netting over the bush may help save your harvest. Fortunately, we’ve never had an issue with birds, although I know many gardeners share their fruit unwillingly with their feathered foes.
As the plants grow and produce more berries than you can eat while carrying them to the kitchen, preserving blueberries is ridiculously easy. For those of us who prefer minimal work in food preservation, simply rinse the berries, pat dry, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and freeze. Once the berries are frozen, store them in a freezer bag and return them to the freezer. (The pre-freezing keeps them from sticking together in clumps.)
Now, on to the good stuff: who wants to win free blueberry bushes?! (Me! Me! Oh wait. I can’t play. Shoot.)
My friend Chris at Nature Hills Nursery allowed me to select the plants for the giveaway—and wow, it was a challenge, because they offer so many fabulous edibles and ornamental plants! They offer 20 varieties of blueberry bushes alone, which you can see here. Also check out their amazing selection of fruit trees. I decided to select two blueberry bushes for our theme of beautiful edible gardens: ‘Top Hat’ and ‘Pink Lemonade.’
‘Top Hat’ is perfect for land-challenged gardeners, as it’s a dwarf blueberry plant ideal for containers or small gardens. It’s self-fruitful, produces lovely, white bell-shaped blooms in the spring, and develops loads of gorgeous blue fruit. The foliage turns bronze in the fall, extending the seasonal interest of the plant in the garden. The highly compact bush reaches a mature height of 18-24 inches and spreads approximately two feet. It grows well in zones 4-7.
‘Pink Lemonade’ is a gorgeous plant to add to an edible garden. With pale pink springtime blooms that lead to pink berries, it’s a perfect conversation starter. The berries are sweeter than traditional blueberries, firm, and produce fruit throughout the summer and into fall for a continuous harvest. The autumn foliage provides a lovely focal point in the garden, with orange-red leaves and yellow-red twig color. It’s also fairly compact, growing five feet high and approximately five feet wide, perfect for a hedge. ‘Pink Lemonade’ is hardy in zones 4-9.
(Don’t worry: if you’re the winner but garden outside of the zones for ‘Top Hat’ or ‘Pink Lemonade,’ Nature Hills Nursery will allow you to select two alternate blueberry bushes appropriate for your zone. Aren’t they the nicest people?!)
In addition to the giveaway, my friends at Nature Hills Nursery are giving you a 10% discount for any order to celebrate spring! So, even if you don’t win the blueberry bushes, you still win with plant savings! Just enter the code gardendelights10 at checkout to receive your discount. (Valid through 3/31/16.)
So, now…on to the giveaway!
To enter for a chance to win ‘Top Hat’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’ blueberry bushes from Nature Hills Nursery:
Leave a comment below by March 31, 2016 at midnight EST, telling me what you plan to plant in your beautiful edible garden this year and INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. I can’t stress that enough—I need your email address so I can contact you if you win, please. No email, no entry.
To receive extra entries:
• Visit Nature Hills Nursery’s website. Sign up for their newsletter.
• Share the giveaway on Facebook.
• Like the Garden Delights Facebook page.
• Like Nature Hills Nursery’s Facebook page.
• Follow Garden Delights on Twitter and Instagram.
• Follow Nature Hills Nursery on Twitter and Instagram.
That’s 9 chances to win! Make a note in the comments below with your email address if you participated in the extra entries so I can check the sites and add your name into the pot for the appropriate amount of entries. (You don't need to add separate comments. We’re old school here. One of my kids will--quite literally--pull the winner’s name out of a hat. If you do all the extras, you'll get you name in the hat nine times. It’s one of the fun, quirky things I like to do!)
So, my friends, patience. We must wait for those frost dates to pass by until we plant. Until then, let’s chat about our beautiful edible gardens we’ll create this spring! Tell me: what edible gorgeousness will you grow this year?
Happy Spring, friends! Good luck!
Disclaimer: Nature Hills Nursery graciously provided the blueberry bushes for the giveaway. Contest will end at midnight EST, March 31, 2016. Winner will be randomly selected from entries received and will be notified April 1, 2016—no fooling! Plants can only ship to the U.S. contiguous 48 states. The 10% discount offer is valid until midnight EST March 31, 2016. Good luck, and happy shopping!