Blueberries

Planting Guide for Blueberries

Blueberries and Blueberry Plants

Blueberry Plants available

Soil   Climate    Planting    Care    Pruning    Harvest     Winter




Cyanococcus

Perennial

Berry / Fruit

USDA Zones All - Depend on Variety

Soil pH4.8 - 5.5

Full Sun ~ Partial Shade

Studies show that blueberries contain disease-fighting compounds not found in any other food. High amounts of antioxidants found in them are believed to have powerful anti-memory-loss and cancer-preventing properties. Despite their natural sweetness, blueberries are remarkably low in the carbohydrates and sugar calories.

The blueberry is probably the most recently domesticated crop we eat. Grain crops have been domesticated for Centuries, blueberries go back only about a century.

Franklin Coville of the USDA began collecting plants from the wilds in eastern US in 1908 and crossing them to get better berries and more productive plants. A blueberry plant will take 3-5 years to get established and bear good yields.

Soil Preparation

Blueberries grow best on a sunny site in sandy peat soil, but will also do well in heavy soils so long as there is good aeration and drainage, high organic matter content and adequate moisture. Organic matter increases the water-holding capacity and improves the aeration of soils,



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Applying a heavy mulch will help with water retention, weed control, and the overall health of the plant. Wood chips, leaves, or any natural organic matter will suffice.

Avoid planting on heavy soils that drain slowly. During the growing season, water standing on the surface for one or two days can damage roots.

Climate

For best results, blueberries need a growing season of 140 days Even when low winter temperatures kill the tops of plants, the crown and roots are protected by the snow cover and they put out new shoots that bear fruit the following year. Where deep snows prevail, much of the bush is protected from extreme low temperatures; heavy snows, however, can cause damage.

An early fall frost sometimes kills back late-growing shoots from the tip, but in most cases this injury can be pruned away.

A late spring frost, on the other hand, can injure partly opened flowers, causing a partial to total crop loss on some early-flowering cultivars. These early cultivars are not recommended for areas that typically receive late spring frosts. See Frost Dates


Planting

All Righty then, So you've Selected a good site for your blueberries, Tested the soil, picked out the bushes that best suit your needs, now you're ready to plant.

  1. It is beneficial to soak the roots for several hours before planting.

  2. Dig a hole 18-20 inches deep X 18-20  inches wide

  3. Mix 1 cubic foot of peat moss with top soil until the hole is filled 4 inches from the top.

  4. Set the plant and cover the roots with the remaining peat-soil mix. In heavy soils, an equal amount of peat can be mixed with an equal amount of soil.

  5. Set the plants 5 feet apart   rows 10 feet apart. (You may have to make some adjustments depending upon the variety you are planting )

  6. Apply 3-5 inches of  mulch in a 2 feet wide circle after planting, This circle should be maintained over the life of the bush

  7. Prune them to approximately 2/3 of their original size. See Pruning






Care for Blueberry Plants

berry and foilage buds on a blueberry plant

Early Care

Remove any flowers or berry buds the first year to divert energy and nutrients to foliage. This may be a difficult thing to do , knowing that those flowers will yield the delicious blueberries that you crave, but it is necessary to ensure an abundant crop and healthy plants in the coming seasons.

Do not use fertilizer on the first year plants ,the roots are very sensitive at this time.

Early spring of the second year, before flowering, apply 4 ounces of ammonium sulfate to each plant.




Watering

Irrigation prior to and after planting should be applied to ensure seed germination and emergence Drip irrigation provides the plants with a more uniform application of water, placing it near the root zone and using less water. Drip irrigation also minimizes the amount of foliage and fruit disease compared with overhead irrigation . Drip Irrigation Systems do not interfere with honeybees and subsequent pollination and fertilization. Inexpensive Drip Irrigation Systems are available.




Cultivation

Cultivate until early July to help control weeds and prevent disease. To avoid root damage, do not cultivate deeper than 2". Cultivation after Mid Summer increases susceptibility to winter injury. Use mulch to conserve moisture and control weeds at this point. Wood chips, grass clippings or leaves make an excellent mulch.




Fertilizer

Generally, blueberry bushes require little fertilizing and are sensitive to excesses. Because of their unusual nutrition requirements, many fertilization practices common to tree fruit production are not appropriate for blueberries.

Blueberries are distinct among fruit crops in their soil and fertility requirements. They require an acidic (low pH) soil, preferably in the 4.8 to 5.5 pH range. When soil pH is appreciably higher than 5.5, iron chlorosis often results - when soil pH drops below 4.8, the possibility of manganese toxicity arises. [See: Nutrient Disorders in Vegetable Gardens]

Seeds should be sown outdoors anytime after last spring frost, minimum soil temp is 48 degrees F, however some varieties such as Lima Beans require a much higher temperature. Plant 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart, a little deeper for sandier soils. Cover soil to warm if necessary. Keep in mind that these are generalized instructions , always consult the seed packet as the requirements of various cultivars vary slightly.


Do not use Fertilizers containing chlorides or nitrates they harm blueberry roots.

Do not use fertilizer the year plants are set because roots are very sensitive at this time.

Do not apply any fertilizer at transplanting.

Do not Fertilize after flowering as it enhances susceptibility to winter injury.

Also See: Proven Methods to acidify the soil for blueberries


Fertilizer- Second Year

In early spring of the second year, before flowering, apply 3-4 ounces of Ammonium Sulfate to each plant.

In March , May and July apply 1 ounce of 12-4-8 or 10-10-10 per plant.Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18 - 24 inches in diameter with the plant in the center.

In March and July of the second year apply 3 - 4 ounces of Acid Lovers Plant FoodAcidic Plant Food (4-8-8). Never over-fertilize; fertilizer damages blueberries easily until they are established. Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18- 24 inches in diameter with the plant in the center.

Fertilizer from the third season on should be based the amount of fertilizer applied on the size of the bushes.

If your soil tests high for phosphorus, use 12-4-8.

If your soil tests low or medium in phosphorus, use 10-10-10.

Also See: Understanding Fertilizer Labels




Pruning

Topping canes to stimulate lateral growth is generally not recommended.

Pruning a blueberry bush - Before

Prune in early spring when the amount of winter injury can be ascertained; nutrients moving down the cane may be lost if pruning is performed too early.


Pruning a blueberry bush - After

Proper pruning practices contribute significantly to consistent production, high yields, and fruit of good quality and helps to ensure a long life for the planting.




Harvesting Blueberries



Two to four years after planting, blueberries will produce fruit. This will be a HUGE test of your patience, don't pick them as soon as they turn blue. Let them hang on the branches a few more days to develop their full sweetness and aroma, this may attract birds who've been waiting patiently ... take evasive measures. See: Bird Control

Up to 5 pickings may be required to harvest the berries. Pick only the ripe ones. A reddish tinge means the berry isn't ripe yet.




Winter Protection

Helping blueberries survive through winter conditions it not just an issue in the fall, but relates to gardening practices carried out year round. The nutrient status of the plant affects it resistance to the cold . If the plant is deficient in phosphorus or zinc, winter injury is more likely. If plants have too much nitrogen or potassium in their tissues, they will not harden properly, - winter injury can occur.

Following proper fertilization practices is vital. Late fertilization can delay the hardening process. Proper pruning allows plants to receive more light, allowing for more carbohydrate production.

An important Autumn practice is mulching. Mulch prevents soil heaving in newly planted blueberries. However, don't apply mulch too early. Wait until low temperatures have been consistently "Cold " for at least 3 nights. If possible, it's best to mulch just before the snow season sets in. Horticultural Oil Spray kills overwintering insects.


 

Blueberry Recipes   Trouble Shooting    Varieties

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Additional References


US Highbush Blueberry Council


Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden -NC State University