Choosing BlueberriesA bountiful blueberry harvest starts with the berry variety that best fits your goals and your region's climate. Blueberry bushes need some winter cold in order to produce their fruit . The amount needed, known as chill hours, varies depending on the blueberry type. Chilling comes easy in northern gardens, but southern gardeners need blueberries bred for moderate winters.
Southeastern gardens suit varieties of rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei), native to the Southeast and hardy from USDA zones 7 through 9. From the South and Southwest along the West Coast, look to southern highbush blueberries. These crosses between northern highbush and native southern blueberries excel in western USDA zones 7 through 11. Plant southern types from fall and winter through spring, so blueberries root well before summer heat hits.
Blueberries will flower and fruit sparsely their first year in the ground, but it's best to remove the first-year blossoms by hand. This keeps new blueberries focused on good root development instead of fruit and seeds. They'll reward you with better harvests in years to come.
Growing More Than OneThe more, the merrier with blueberries. Grow two or more varieties for higher-quality berries and larger harvests, which naturally result when blueberries cross-pollinate. Blueberries come in early-, mid- or late-season-bearing varieties. Extend the berry season more than three summer months by choosing varieties with overlapping bloom times from each category.
If your planting area is limited or contained, chose blueberries suited to small spaces. Some bushes grow 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, but many blueberry bushes for home gardens reach 6 feet tall and wide, or larger.
Blueberry bushes are also high on ornamental beauty. Spring brings delicate white or pink-and-white flowers, and glossy leaves that might carry hints of pink, lime or maroon. In fall, blueberry leaves blaze with red hues that rival any autumn display. In between, blueberry fruit shine with shades of blue.
Getting Soil Right
Blueberries belong to the same plant family as azaleas and rhododendrons. Like these relatives, blueberries prefer soil with high organic matter and pH levels in acidic ranges. Necessary blueberry nutrients, such as iron, can get lost in high-pH soil. These nutrients stay most available with soil pH near 4.5 to 5.5.
Soil amendments help create a healthy planting foundation. Layer 4 inches of pre-moistened peat moss, which helps lower soil pH, over your planting area, and then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of earthworm castings per 100 square feet. Mix the peat moss and earthworm castings into the soil 10 to 12 inches deep to increase organic matter and lower soil pH.
If your garden has high-alkaline soil of 7.0 pH or higher, keeping pH low enough for blueberries can be difficult. Container growing eliminates the problem. Accommodate blueberry roots by using a pot that is at least 16 inches in diameter and that will provide ample drainage. Use a commercial potting mix designed for acid-loving plants, or mix equal parts compost, pre-moistened peat moss and soil to give your container blueberries an opportunity to thrive. Add 1/2 cup of Pennington Earthworm Castings for beneficial matter and microorganisms container blueberries need.
Blueberries are highly susceptible to insects and diseases, such as powdery mildew, mites, japanese beetles, and thrips. Visible signs of damage can be white, fluffy leaves, blistered red scales on buds, skeletonized leaves, or less berries. Sevin Sulfur Dust starts killing immediately upon contact, and will not harm blueberries. People and pets may enter the area once dust has settled. Apply a light dusting frequently to keep your blueberries healthy and free from insect and disease damage.
Watering BlueberriesUsing the right fertilizer at the right time supports your plants' beauty and fruit. Without the extra nutrients blueberry plants prefer, leaves and berries disappoint. Blueberry roots are sensitive to overfertilizing, so don't overdo it, and always water bushes before and after fertilizing. Feed established blueberries as growth begins in early spring, and feed again six weeks later.
Feeding BlueberriesUsing the right fertilizer at the right time supports your plants' beauty and fruit. Without the extra nutrients blueberry plants prefer, leaves and berries disappoint. Blueberry roots are sensitive to overfertilizing, so don't overdo it, and always water bushes before and after fertilizing. Feed established blueberries as growth begins in early spring, and feed again six weeks later.
Fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants provide the nutrients blueberries need. Fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants provide the nutrients blueberries need. Pennington UltraGreen Azalea, Camellia & Rhododendron Plant Food 10-8-6 delivers complete nutrition for up to 4 months and helps acidify soil. Application amounts vary based on plant and container size, so follow label directions closely.
Pruning for More Berries
Blueberries flower and bear fruit each year on wood grown the previous growing season. Stems become unfruitful as they age. Each year, remove two or three of the oldest stems all the way to the ground, and prune back budless tips. Annual pruning keeps blueberries productive and encourages fresh, vibrant growth for the following year.
Prune bushes in late winter, while blueberries are dormant and their large buds stand out. Prune about 1/4 inch above healthy buds, using sharp bypass pruners for crisp, angled cuts. Limit major pruning to a late-winter session — but don't hesitate to snip plenty of berry-laden stems for summertime bouquets.
By choosing the right blueberry bushes for your garden, amending your soil and providing the proper care, you'll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.
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