The question I get asked most often about growing blueberries in the home garden is about the acidity of the soil. So without further introductions, let me deal with this right off the top. And yes, of all the other fruit you can grow in your backyard fruit garden, blueberries generate the most questions.
Blueberries grow best in acidic soils (pH 4.0 to 5.5) on well-drained, coarse soils that are high in organic matter.
While water is needed, standing water or a wet soil is not going to make this plant happy.
I get this question most often when it comes to this plant and here’s the deal for backyard gardeners.
Understand your soil pH (acidity) is a function of the underlying materials that make up your soil. If those underlying materials are mostly limestone-based, then you’re going to have a less acid soil than if the underlying materials were granite-based. That’s just a function of gardening life
The fascinating outcome of this is that the soil microorganisms are all suited to growing and thriving in that soil acidity. Think of a large flywheel. You can make a small area more acidic for some plants but you have to maintain that area’s acidity or the microorganisms surrounding it will slowly recolonize and turn it back to less-acidic.
That’s the first thing you have to understand. Blueberries want acid soils but you have to maintain that acidity – it isn’t a do it once and forget it thing.
How To Modify Your Soil.
Get a soil test. If you don’t know where you want to go – you don’t know where to drive. It’s the same thing. If you don’t know what your soil pH is, you have absolutely no idea how much material to add to bring it to the right level.
Here’s the rule of thumb. Add sulphur at the rate of 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden soil to drop the pH 1.0
In other words, if your soil is 6.0 and you want to bring it to 5.0 to grow blueberries, you’re going to add 1.5 pounds of sulphur to every 100 square feet.
Blueberries are plants of acid soils and this is where home fruit gardeners tend to have problems.
Early spring planting of 2-year old plants is recommended for high growth and yields. Set highbush plants 5-feet apart from other plants.
Plant at same depth as nursery
Lowbush plants can be planted on 24-inch centers.
Important – it is advisable to plant more than one variety for cross pollination if you want superior yields. You’ll get bigger harvests and more fruit over a longer period of time.
Care and Handling
Remove all blossoms the year of planting. Allow the plant to develop strength rather than fruit.
This plant has a very shallow root system so cultivation needs to be shallow if you’re a hoe-lover. Otherwise, a good mulch makes both the plant and gardener much happier.
Feeding means tossing a shovel or two of compost around the base of the plant (not right up against the base but out around where the roots are spreading)
You have to check pH every year to make sure the plant can take feed up.
Water regularly, deeply so the soil doesn’t dry right out. But adequate drainage is essential
Leave the plant alone for the first 2 years.
Fruit is produced on one-year old wood and the largest fruit is produced on the most vigorous shoots.
So – remove dead and dying branches. Keep the centre of the plant as open as possible by not allowing too many branches to head towards the center of the plant (prune out most inward facing shoots)
Remove weak and spindly growth.
If you need more side branches for fruiting and your plant is mature size, you can prune the tips off the outer shoots forcing them to send more branches out.
A good highbush blueberry will live and produce fruit for 20 years or more. You can figure a well-maintained plant will produce 6-8 pints of berries a year on average – but individual years and harvests can exceed that by a goodly amounnt.
Birds love blueberries and will make very short work of several shrubs in a short morning’s feeding. You’re going to have to cover the bushes with bird netting and make sure the bottom of the net is well secured with absolutely no openings.
Do this netting over a framework if possible so the birds can’t reach through the netting to pick the berries (they will and often get themselves caught up in the net)
Collins: early, ripens mid-July in USDA 5/6. Mid-range productivity
Bluecrop: ripens a week after Collins – but much higher productivity
Berkely: ripens a week after Bluecrop and higher fruiting than Collins
Herbert: ripens a few days after Berkely. Fruit acceptable
Jersey: ripens a week after Berkely. Not as productive as others.