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Garden Journal

Try a dwarf plant on for size

By Paul Barbano | Jun 20, 2012
Dwarf blueberries can be grown in pots, so they are ideal for even the smallest gardens.

While making the animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the animators told Lucille La Verne, the voice of the Wicked Queen, that they needed an older, harsher voice for the old witch. La Verne stepped out of the recording booth, came back a few minutes later, and gave a perfect "old hag's voice" that astonished the animators. When asked how she did it, she replied, "Oh, I just took my teeth out."

The story of a young woman and her seven dwarf friends went on to win an Oscar, actually one full-sized Oscar and seven smaller statues.

Dwarfs in the plant world don’t mine diamonds but still serve a purpose.  While standard blueberries can reach over 5 feet tall, dwarf blueberries can be grown in pots.  Even if you have no garden space for bushes, you can still grow these nutritious berries in pots or containers.   The glossy, blue-green leaves change to a stunning red in the fall.  Even the bare red-colored branches are eye-catching in the winter.

By growing dwarf blueberries in containers, you can control soil acidity, which is critical for blueberries that like very low soil pH.  Blueberries prefer full sun and moist, acidic soil. Blueberry plants prefer well-drained sandy soil with a pH of 4.0 to 4.5.

Blueberries are shallow-rooted, so choose large, wide containers with ample drainage holes. Use a potting soil mix of one part peat moss, one part medium-sized bark, and one part acidic potting soil (such as soil intended for azaleas).  Add a cup of soil sulfur. You can mulch with bark chips or peat moss to help keep the roots moist and cool. Fertilize lightly in early spring with an acidbased fertilizer.

After filling your containers with soil, dig a hole twice as wide as the blueberry bush root ball and as deep as the blueberry’s original pot. Tamp the soil firmly around the blueberry bush to get rid of any air pockets. Water thoroughly so the soil is moist and damp. Water every week during summer and never let the pots dry out. Place the potted blueberries where they will get sunshine for six hours a day.

It may take up to three to four years for container-grown blueberry bushes to mature and begin producing blueberries.

The Dwarf Top Hat Blueberry bush grows just 1 to 2 feet tall and with a spread of up to 2 feet across.

The variety Top Hat (Vaccinium angustifolium) grows best in cool climates. Top Hat blueberries have a beautiful, compact, mounded plant shape that explodes with delicate white blossoms in the spring.

For a small plant, it sets many delicious berries. The small, finely serrated leaves are a soothing glossy green. Top Hat is self-fertile so you can even have a single plant and still set fruit.

The dwarf southern highbush blueberry Sunshine Blue does well in warmer climates.   Sunshine Blue blooms with hot pink flowers followed by classic blueberries in August.  Dwarf Northblue is just a bit larger bush than Top Hat with dark blue fruit with a zesty wild flavor; its berries are among the largest of any dwarf blueberries. Norhtblue is a robust, cold-hardy bush, enduring temperatures below zero°F.

Dwarf blueberries are available from local nurseries or specialty mail-order nurseries such as Logees or Gurneys.   With dwarf blueberries in containers, you can enjoy all of the beauty and nutrition of full-sized bushes and of course, you don’t need to take your dentures out!

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