Blueberries are not only an enjoyable and rewarding fruit to grow but are attractive plants that lend themselves well to the home landscape. Its great fall color makes it very appealing.
Site and Preparation
Select a planting site where the blueberries will be in full sunlight most of the day. Blueberries require an acid soil (pH 4.0 to 5.0) which is well drained, porous and high in organic matter. If the soil is not acid enough it can be amended by mixing equal parts of acid peat moss with the topsoil and adding aluminum sulfate to the soil mixture.
Plant blueberries early in the season. Set the plants 4 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Dig the holes large enough to accommodate the plant's entire root system. Set the plant in the ground one inch deeper than the level at which it grew in the container. Incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil and firm it well around the plant. Water thoroughly.
Because blueberries are shallow rooted – three-quarters of the root system is in the top 4 inches of soil – any cultivating should be limited to a shallow hoeing. To eliminate cultivation, it is best to apply a 4 to 6-inch deep layer of mulch around the plants. (Peat moss, shredded bark or clean straw work well.) This mulch helps control weeds, retains moisture and eliminates potential root injury from cultivation.
Watering Your Blueberries
Blueberries like a moist, but not wet soil. One to two inches of water applied every week to 10 days should satisfy the plants requirements. It is important to check the soil moisture frequently to avoid under or over-watering the plant.
Fertilizing Your Blueberries
Blueberries should be fertilized in early spring just before the buds break. A balanced fertilizer designed for acid loving plants is best. Aluminum sulfate should be added to maintain a low pH level. A chelated iron should be applied to the soil around the plants to prevent iron chlorosis in the foliage.
Pruning Your Blueberries
Pruning is done anytime from leaf fall until growth begins in the spring. From planting until the end of the third growing season, remove only dead and diseased branches, and branches too close to the ground.
As the bushes come into bearing, usually in the fourth year, regular pruning is necessary. Remove dead and injured branches; fruiting branches too close to the ground; spindly, bushy twigs on mature branches; and old stems or parts low in vigor. Remember, heavy pruning is not recommended. The heavier the pruning, the bigger the berries, but the smaller the yield. If properly pruned, a mature bush may yield 4 to 6 quarts over a 3 to 5 week period.
Protect Your Blueberries in the Winter
In the Midwest, winter protection of blueberries is usually required, as temperatures below -20F will injure shoots and flower buds. A covering of straw or hay helps to reduce plant injury. Apply the mulch after the plants have been subjected to a few good frosts.
Blueberry Pest Control
Blueberries are very attractive to birds. Covering the bushes with plastic netting supported by a light framework protects them best.
Rabbits love to eat the shoots of blueberries in the fall and winter, which can cause severe damage to the plant. A wire fence placed around the blueberry plant will protect it.
Although blueberries can be attacked by insect pests as well as several diseases, these plants seldom become a problem in the home garden. Using good sanitary and cultural practices such as removing diseased branches and overripe fruit from the ground and bushes, will help to minimize the pest problems. Maintaining a good spray program using Earl May Fruit Tree Spray will also help prevent insects and disease.