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 One
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
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.
High temperatures, high winds and low rainfall mean your berries will need more water. Additionally, containers dry out much faster than ground soil, so be sure to adjust watering accordingly. A thin layer of mulch on the soil surface helps retain moisture. If your area has alkaline water, offset the pH with 2 teaspoons of household vinegar per 1 gallon of water.
Fertilizers designed for acid-loving plants provide the nutrients blueberries need. Lilly Miller Rhododendron Evergreen & Azalea Food delivers complete nutrition for up to four months and helps acidify soil. Application amounts vary based on plant and container size, so follow label directions closely.
Pruning for More Berries
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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