How To Plant And Grow Blueberries The Right Way

Lillian SteinBy Lillian SteinNov 6, 20170

Blueberries can be a challenging fruit to grow and are generally not for the beginning gardener.

However, they can be a splendid addition to any landscape. Blueberry bushes manage to provide color year round with their red or yellow branches, white and pink flowers, blue berries, and fall colors of yellow, orange, and red.

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For this reason, blueberries are well worth the effort it takes to grow them. Just make sure that you properly prepare the soil and plant the bush correctly. If these are done right, your blueberry bush should grow well with very little maintenance. So, if you have wanted to try your hand at growing blueberries, here is how you should do it.

Planting Blueberry Bushes

Planting Blueberry Bushes 1

Blueberries should be spaced between three to six feet apart. Low-lying areas that are surrounded by woods or hills should be avoided. They are considered “frost pockets” and will collect cold air, which will damage the blueberries. Because blueberries have shallow roots, they will not tolerate any flooding. Make sure the soil is light and well draining. The soil should also have a high organic content, which will increase its aeration.

One of the most important aspects of the soil is its pH level. You must test the soil before planting blueberries because they require an acidic soil with a pH between 4.5 and 4.8. You can add sulfur to the soil to make it more acidic, but this will need to be done at least three weeks before you plant your blueberries.

Spring is the best time to plant blueberry bushes. Bare-root plants will need to be soaked in water for at least an hour before they are planted. Do not allow the roots to dry out before they are planted. Dig a hole about two feet wide and two feet deep. Spread the roots out making sure that they are not crowded or doubled under the plant.

Planting Blueberry Bushes 2

Next, fill in the hole with a mixture of soil and moist peat. Top this mixture off with about an inch of plain soil because exposed peat can draw moisture away from the shrub and dry out the roots. When finished, the plant should be planted so it is at the same depth that it had been setting at in the nursery.

Pack the soil down firmly and water thoroughly. Wait four to six weeks before fertilizing in order to avoid burning the roots. Prune back the plant by one-half by removing small side branches and heading back the main branches. It is very common for the leaves of blueberry plants to turn yellow or red right after planting. Some may even fall off. Do not worry; this is normal and the foliage should return to normal in a few weeks.

Planting Blueberry Bushes 3

When selecting blueberry shrubs, try to find plants that are two- to three-years old. Although these older plants are more expensive, they will be easier to mange and establish more quickly. Even though many varieties of blueberries are self-pollinating, you will produce a higher yield if you plant two or more varieties of blueberries near each other.

Mulching is generally recommended to protect blueberries from weeds and help the soil retain moisture. Apply about three to five inches of mulch around the plant initially, and then increase this to maintain a four to six inch base around the bush. Pine tree chips or pine needles are excellent mulches because they are somewhat acidic.

Avoid using sawdust or leaves that can prevent rain from reaching the soil. You may need to add more nitrogen to your fertilizer the first year until the mulch has begun to decompose.

To ensure that your blueberry plants become established, it should not be allowed to bear any fruit for the first two years after it is planted. You can prevent fruit from forming by removing all the blossoms. This will maximize the plant’s growth and increase blueberry yields later on.

Maintaining Blueberry Bushes

Maintaining Blueberry Bushes

Blueberries will require regular watering – at least one inch of water during the growing season and two inches of water during harvesting. When watering, make sure that at least the top twelve inches of soil are moistened. Watering should be done in the morning to ensure that the plant is allowed to dry out before nightfall. This will help minimize fungal growth. For best results, use rainwater instead of tap water, which may contain lime.

Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 about four to six weeks after planting. Avoid fertilizers with potassium chloride. After the first year, blueberries should be fertilized in the spring when they begin to bloom. Do not apply fertilizer in the late summer or early fall. This would lengthen their growth period and make them more likely to break during the winter months.

If the leaves begin to turn yellow, check the soil’s pH level. A pH which is to alkaline is usually the cause of this problem. However, if this is not the cause, try spraying them with a mixture of a tablespoon of iron chelate in a gallon of water. Leaves should become greener in a few days.

Pruning is not generally required during the first three years. After that, pruning should be done between November and March while the bushes are still dormant. Remove any lower, weak branches, any dead or diseased wood, any branches with a diameter over two inches, and any branches that are less than six inches long.

Do not make pruning cuts near the soil’s surface while the plants are young, because diseases can enter those areas. Remove one or two of the oldest canes that do not produce much fruit at the base each year to make room for younger, more productive ones.

Birds are a huge fan of blueberries and are willing to eat them before they are ripe. Bushes can be protected with the use of scarecrows or other scaring devices. However, specially designed netting will be much more effective. You may need to build a support structure around the bushes to keep the birds from reaching in and damaging the fruit.

Harvesting And Storing Blueberries

Harvesting And Storing Blueberries

Fruits are ripe when they have turned a uniform color and are easy to pull away from the cluster. Not all fruit within a cluster will ripen at the same time. If a reddish ring appears around the area where the berry was attached to the stem, they are not ripe.

Pick blueberries by gently rolling them away from the cluster with your thumb into the palm of your hand. This will help guarantee that berries that are not ripe do not come loose. Chill berries as quickly as possible after picking, and store them in a shallow tray in the refrigerator.

Whether you eat them immediately or use them in pancakes, muffins, jams, or simply eat them immediately, blueberries make a healthy and tasty treat. Somehow, it is always more rewarding, not to mention tastier, when you have managed to grow them yourself. While it can take a couple of years before you get a good crop, it is well worth the wait.

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