Picking blueberries: when to pick, storage tips & health benefits


Whilst blueberries are especially delicious when picked fresh from the blueberry bush, there are also various ways to store them to enjoy at a later date. Find out more about picking blueberries as well as the health benefits of blueberries.

Person with basket picking blueberries
Freshly picked blueberries are especially flavoursome and extremely healthy [Photo: Stone36/ Shutterstock.com]

Do you remember having blue fingers and mouths after picking blueberries (Vaccinium)? Compared to the fruits of the European blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), also known as the common bilberry, highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) have pale flesh, so do not stain as badly. If you want to pick blueberries yourself, it is a great idea to grow them in your own garden. Read on to learn more about picking blueberries, from how and when to harvest them to how best to preserve these tasty little berries.

Picking blueberries: when are they ripe and ready to pick?

Blueberries have varying ripening times and fruit structures depending on the variety and it can take anywhere from 70 to 100 days for the fruit to develop. As the blueberries will ripen at different times, you will need to go picking several times over the course of a few weeks to harvest as many as possible. Ripe blueberries are plump, dark blue in colour, easy to remove and have a nice flavour. When blueberries are overripe, the base of the stems will shrivel and the berries themselves will be soft.

Tip: The first round of blueberries at the beginning of the harvesting season are almost always the largest berries.

Unripe blueberries on bush
Blueberries ripen within 2.5 to 3.5 months [Photo: Jackie Tweddle/ Shutterstock.com]

To extend the harvesting season, you can plant early and late blueberry varieties. This way, you could be picking fresh blueberries from early July to September. Depending on the variety and the plant’s stage of development, a total harvest of about 4 to 5 kg of berries is possible. From their sixth year onwards, blueberry bushes that have been well looked after can reach their full variety- and site-specific potential

Tip: Blueberries ripen faster in warm weather. So, during warmer periods, check and harvest your bushes more often.

Cluster of ripe blueberries on bush
Blueberries are ready for harvesting when the stem base is dark blue [Photo: Maria Dryfhout/ Shutterstock.com]

Picking blueberries correctly

Blueberries can be harvested when fully ripe, but as they are climacteric fruits, they will continue to develop their flavour after being picked. To pick blueberries, you can either use a blueberry picker or simply roll the individual berries off the bunch with your thumb and catch them in your open hand. You can then collect the blueberries in a bowl. The berries can be very sensitive to pressure, so it is best to divide your harvest between several collection containers so as not to squash them. Blueberries have a natural waxy coating which protects them from drying out, so you will want to avoid rubbing it off as much as possible.

Tip: Younger, non-senescent wood produces larger fruits that are easier to reach. Regularly pruning blueberry bushes is important as it keeps them young and healthy and makes harvesting blueberries easier.

Blueberry bush
Pruning blueberry bushes is an important maintenance measure [Photo: Sam Supimpa Photo/ Shutterstock.com]

Storing and preserving blueberries

Fruits that are not fully ripe will keep the longest. You can store them at 0 °C to 2 °C and a high humidity of 90 to 95 % for a maximum of two weeks before they begin to wilt and soften. Blueberries will only last about a week in the fridge. It is best to put freshly harvested blueberries in a sealable container and only wash them right before you want to eat them. Go through the berries and dispose of any with bruises and mould to avoid spoiling the other fruit. Because of their thicker skin, European blueberries from the garden will keep a little longer than wild blueberries. However, if you want to get something out of your harvest in the long term, consider preserving your blueberries.

Blueberries in container
Blueberries cannot be stored fresh for too long [Photo: AstroStar/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Some blueberry varieties can be picked without damaging the fruit skin too much. With other varieties, some tearing of the skin is inevitable. The latter are difficult to store, they lose liquid more quickly and are more susceptible to rotting in storage.

How to preserve blueberries

Besides making juice, drying, freezing, boiling down and making jam have proven particularly effective for preserving blueberries. Blueberries are naturally rich in pectins and therefore require less gelling agent than other fruits to thicken them.

How to freeze blueberries

Freezing blueberries is best done as soon as possible after harvesting. If this is not possible, you can also store the blueberries in the fridge for a few days, but this way the fruit may become slightly mushy after freezing. Wash the fresh berries briefly, then drain them well and dry them on a paper towel. Pre-freezing the berries makes it easier to portion out the blueberries later. To do this, spread them out on a baking tray or plate and place them in the freezer for a few hours to prevent them from sticking together. Transferring the blueberries to freezer bags or plastic allows you to store them in the most space-efficient way possible. When frozen, blueberries will keep for up to a year.

Bags of berries in freezer
Berries can be stored in the freezer for up to a year [Photo: Ahanov Michael/ Shutterstock.com]

How to dry blueberries

It is possible to air-dry blueberries as long as you spread them out and keep them somewhere warm enough and well-ventilated. However, drying blueberries in a dehydrator or in the oven is faster and more effective. Dry blueberries in the oven at 50 °C fan. How long this takes depends on the size of the berries and, of course, the drying conditions. The berries are ready once they no longer feel sticky, give way when squeezed or leak liquid. Although the berries would dry faster at a higher temperature, many vitamins would also be lost and skin could burst open due to the water inside the fruit expanding. The drying process can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the method. Store the completely dried blueberries in airtight jars.

Bowl of dried blueberries
Dried blueberries are an ideal snack for in between meals [Photo: Mayur_Mehta/ Shutterstock.com]

Health benefits of blueberries: are blueberries good for you?

Blueberries are not called a local superfood for nothing. Blueberries have many benefits and are rich in vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium. They also contain antioxidant polyphenols and digestive fibre. In addition to being eaten fresh, these berries also go well in dairy products (milk, yoghurt, curd) to make shakes and desserts.

Fertilising blueberries ensures many healthy and long-lasting fruits. The best fertiliser for bog plants is a primarily organic fertiliser. Our Plantura Hydrangea Food promotes an optimal acidic soil pH and thus supports plant growth.

Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
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  • For beautiful hydrangeas with lush blooms in pots & flower beds
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The best ways to use blueberries in the kitchen

Dried blueberries can be added to muesli or tea mix for breakfast. Fresh or frozen blueberries can be made into compote or juice. You can also make jam using just blueberries or use a combination of blueberries and other fruits, such as currants (Ribes), blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) or strawberries (Fragaria). In contrast to raspberries or blackberries, blueberry seeds are very small and not irritating to chew, so it is not necessary to pit them before processing.

For those of us with a sweet tooth, blueberries can be baked into delicious blueberry pancakes), cakes or even tarts. Blueberry muffins are also very popular and available in many coffee shops. For those who enjoy the occasional bit of booze, blueberries can of course also be made into fruit wine, liqueur or brandy.

Blueberry cake on cutting board
A blueberry cake can sweeten the day [Photo: Elena Shashkina/ Shutterstock.com]

If you want more blueberry bushes in your garden, you can easily propagate blueberry bushes yourself.