Planting & Caring for Blueberry Plants
NOW LISTEN UP! THIS IS WHAT DAD SAYS! -- Before reading ANY of the following information, Dad wants me to mention one critical thing: Blueberries LOVE AN ACID SOIL between 4.5-5.5. If your pH isn't in line with this - YOUR PLANTS WILL NOT THRIVE. Dad says that if you're not going to bother to test your soil - don't bother wasting your money buying plants! They may grow a little, but they will never thrive if the soil acidity isn't right! He says that in the Chelan/Manson area, soils typically run around 6.5-7.0, depending on what the prior use of your land was. Test kits are easy to use and they're cheap at your local hardware store. DO IT RIGHT, FOLKS!
Blueberry Hills Recommended Shopping List
Blueberry Plants: We recommend 2 per plants per blueberry obsessed family member
Peat Moss: figure 1 bale peat moss (4 cu. ft. bale) with do 4-5 blueberry plants
Mulch: About 1 cu. ft. per plant. We use chipped lawn debris from our local recycle center and LOVE it
Fertilizer: We recommend a rhododendron fertilizer
Soil Acidifier: We use Sulfur here at Blueberry Hills?
A Redneck's Guide to
Planting & Caring for Blueberry Plants
This is Kari's version. If you want to serious version...well -- that's down below. But it ain't nearly as much fun.
Site Selection & Preparation
Select a sunny location in well-drained soil, free of weeds and well worked. (Another tried & true method of site selection is "anythin' within the range of the TV remote without having to actually flail or hunker at an odd angle from yer lawn chair." Ya' loose points fer that.) Locate in an area where irrigation water is available, as best results will be obtained by keeping the root zone moist throughout the growing season. It's been proven that even better results can be obtained by simply payin' someone else to care 'bout em. Where the soil is poor or marginally drained, raised beds 3-4 feet wide and 8-12" high work very well for blueberries. These beds can also be ideal for hosting a funeral at home. This is an economical solution, as well as the elderly in attendance will truly appreciate not having to hunker down to pay last respects. This'll likely put'cha DI-rectly on top-a Aunt Martha's Christmas list.
A fail-safe way to grow blueberries in almost any soil is to encourage your family & friends to plant 'em at their own stinkin' house. Tell-em how easy they are to grow & make sure to go on-n-on 'bout how much money they'll make. If that fails, you should incorporate peat moss into the planting medium. For planting directly in the ground, work up a planting area approximately 2-1/2 feet in diameter and one foot deep. Add peat moss to a bunch of the soil. Dig around & mix it up real good. Next, drag yer dog out'a yer fresh hole. Remember, this is YOUR hole. You fight fer' it. It also might be good to lock him up so he doesn't see YOU do sumpthin' he got the boot' fer doin' last week. This tends to confuse. Note: If diggin' is in his moral fiber and sumpthin' he simply must do to be complete as a dog, encourage & reward him to do it in yer neighbor's yard. 2 birds--1 stone.) Add an equal amount of pre-moistened peatmoss and mix well. One 4 cubic foot compressed bale will usually be sufficient for 4-5 plants. If ya don't have that, your nosey, rich neighbors likely got it from "the WalMart". Remember folks: "What's theirs is yours!" It's truly ideal to look for it late at night with a small flashlight. For raised beds, mix equal volumes peat moss with acid compost or planting mix. Again, those lousy-good-fer-nuthins next door likely got that too. Help yerselves. Blueberries thrive in acidic soils. If worse comes to worse, your local garden center representative can recommend a good soil acidifier & underarm deodorant if it's the social season.
Blueberries can be planted as close as 2-1/2 feet apart to form solid hedgerows or spaced up to 6 feet apart and grown as individual specimens. If planted in rows, allow 8 to 10 feet between the rows depending on equipment used for mowing or cultivating. Note: Although it requires effort, its helpful to actually TAKE your personally selected lawn chair out to use fer good measure between rows.
For container stock, remove from pot and lightly roughen up the outside surface of the rootball. You can also save time & achieve the exact same effect by backin' up real fast with your tailgate down & then stompin' on the brake. (Important: Avoid doin' this if yer on a date. It appears lazy.) Set the top soil line of the plant level to the existing ground and firm around rootball. Mound soil up along sides of exposed root mass. Water in well. Clean fingernails with pocket knife. Your job here is done.
Blueberries do best with a 2-4" mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and acid organic matter. Bark mulch, acid compost, sawdust, grass clippings, nail clippings, etc. all work well. Repeat every other year, although the toenail clipping should be more frequent.
It is important that blueberries get established before allowing them to bear fruit. Same with yer good fer nuthin' kids. Thereafter, they should be heavily pruned each year to avoid over-fruiting which results in small fruit or poor growth as well as simply bein' a financial burden on the system.
Remove all blooms, as they appear the first year. (We find that the "she loves me - she loves me not" method is effective and keeps ya' focused.) In years thereafter, follow these steps after the leaves have dropped.
Remove low growth around the base. If it doesn't grow UP, it gets pruned out! (Same goes fer those deadbeat kids!) Remove the dead wood, and non-vigorous twiggy wood. Select for bright-colored wood with long (at least 3 inch) laterals. Remove blotchy-colored short growth. Toss that over the fence into that lousy-good-fer-nuthins' yard.
If 1/3 to 1/2 of the wood has not been removed by the above steps, thin out the fruiting laterals and small branches until this balance has been obtained.
Obtain & consume frosty beverage while admiring the fruit of your efforts from lawn chair of choice.
Blueberries like acid fertilizers such as Rhododendron or Azalea formulations. For newly planted stock, use 2 tablespoons of 10-20-10 in late spring or once plants are established. (Careful! Blueberries are very sensitive to over fertilization!) For subsequent years, use 1 ounce of fertilizer for each year from planting to a total of 8 ounces per plant. If that doesn't sound right, well...jest dump some on there. Apply in early spring and again in late spring for best results. Always water well after fertilizing and don't forget that frosty beverage. Remember not to fertilize after the 4th of July as your bushes need time to go dormant before fall.
For organic fertilizers, blood meal and cottonseed meal work well. Avoid using fresh manure. It'll burn the plants and it simply smells, well...like fresh manure. Note: Fresh manure is always the fertilizer of choice if plants located in your neighbors' yard.
Checklist of "Stuff I Hope My Lousy Neighbors Got at The WalMart"
Blueberry Plants (at least 2 per family member)
Peat Moss (4-5 plants per bale)
Mulch (1 cu. ft. per plant)
THE ANNUAL PLANNER
For them-thet'r thinkin' "Yup. I picked 'em. My work here is done." Wake up & smell the Folgers, folks. It ain't over.
November to mid-March
Apply fall herbicides, November to December
Locate & use toenail clippers for first time all winter
Apply pre-emergent herbicides before weed growth starts, late February to mid-March
Remove diseased and winter-injured tissue. Toss over neighbor's fence. Remember: "It's good to recycle."
Leaf and flower bud break : Late March to late April
Make first fertilizer application
Control weeds by cultivation and/or herbicides
Purchase upgraded lawn chair with smooth action, (make sure to check) insulated cup holder & good spot for your remote.
Bloom period : Late April to late May
Introduce bees for pollination
Make second fertilizer application late May to early June
It's Spring! Let the ladies know yer lookin' & be aggressive!
Position & straddle lawn chair in front yard. (Extra points for binoculars.)
Say "Yes" to the T-shirt with yellow pit stains, socks 'n sandals & plaid boxer shorts that hang open freely. It's important to show a sense of style.
It's also important to present a well groomed appearance. Wax yer back. Clip stray nose, ear & out of control eyebrow hair. Don't just slick it all up & wrap it around yer head like ya did last year. Chicks hate that stuff.
Fruit development : June and July
Cultivate for weed control in row middles. Make sure lawn chair still fits.
Make third fertilizer application, early to mid-July, if needed
Irrigate as neededdamage control devices. Shotguns are ideal & also work well for supporting neighborly relations (again...2 birds-1 stone)
Collect plant tissue nutritional analyses late July. Wonder "what the heck that was for?!" about 3 months later & toss over neighbor's fence.
Harvest : July to September
Harvest and market fruit. Irrigate as needed. Flaunt your giant, fresh berries in front of those lazy good-fer-nuthins' that refused to grow your berries. Be truly obnoxious. Reflect on your behavior while you scratch yourself openly. Apologize for your rude behavior & offer them a fistful of your bounty.
Postharvest growth : September to mid-October
?Cultivate to control weeds
Irrigate as needed
Renew subscription to "Women 'n Ammo"; it's gonna' be a long winter.
:) Blueberry Kari
The Serious, Boring Version...
How to Plant & Care for Blueberry Plants
...according to Oregon State University's Website
Growing blueberries can be very rewarding. You can eat the berries fresh, make them into pies and other desserts, or freeze, dry, or can them for later use. In Oregon, the blueberry fruiting season depending on the type of blueberry and cultivar. The fruit on each cultivar ripens over a 2? to 5?week period. The most common type of blueberry grown in Oregon is the northern highbush blueberry. Other types of blueberries include southern highbush, rabbit eye, lowbush, and half?high. Highbush blueberries are perennial, long?lived (40 to 50 years), deciduous shrubs with a mature height of 5 to 9 feet. Attractive as ornamentals, they progress from a profusion of white or pink blossoms in spring to colorful foliage (fall) and wood (winter). You can grow plants in beds, rows, hedges, or individually. Dwarf and semi?dwarf cultivars (varieties) are available for growing in containers.
Selecting a site
Blueberries require a sunny location for full production. Avoid areas surrounded by trees. Trees can provide too much shade, compete with plants for water and nutrients, encourage birds, and interfere with air movement around the plants. Poor air circulation favors the development of diseases.
Blueberries have very specific soil requirements. Plants grow best in well?drained, light, sandy loam soils that are high in organic matter and have a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Avoid planting on heavy soils that drain slowly. Water standing on the soil surface for more than 2 days during the growing season can damage roots. The soil water table should be at least 14 inches below the soil surface, or roots will suffocate. If your garden has only coarse, sandy or gravelly soils, pay careful attention to watering and fertilizing. You can modify many soils that are initially unsuitable to make them suitable for blueberry production (see “Preparing the soil?).
Growing Blueberries in Your Home Garden
It’s a good idea to plant more than one cultivar. Although most northern highbush blueberry cultivars are self?fertile, cross?pollination produces larger berries. Also, if you plant two or more cultivars that ripen at different times, you’ll lengthen the harvest season. To ensure adequate cross pollination, plant more than one cultivar within each type of blueberry you select. Within each type, cultivars have sufficient overlap in the bloom period for adequate cross pollination.
Preparing the soil
Blueberries require an acid soil, relatively high organic matter content, and good drainage. If your soil is not naturally suitable for blueberry plant growth, you’ll need to modify it before planting. Blueberry plants are long?lived, so considerable time and expense in preparing the soil can be justified. If you plan on growing several plants, it’s better to group them in a bed or row than to scatter them around your garden. You’ll obtain better results if you prepare an entire bed, rather than digging holes for individual plants and preparing soil to fill the holes. Be sure to eliminate all perennial weeds before planting.
Soil pH adjustment
An acid soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5 is considered ideal for highbush blueberries. Poor blueberry plant growth resulting from soil pH that is too high is the most common problem when growing blueberries in the home garden. In this situation, plants often have yellow leaves with green veins. These symptoms are most likely on younger leaves. For most soils, the pH must be lowered (made more acidic). Test soil pH a year before planting because acidification, if necessary, takes more than 6 months. (For more information about soil testing, see Laboratories Serving Oregon: Soil, Water, Plant Tissue, and Feed Analysis, and Soil Sampling for Home Gardens and Small AcreagesIf the pH is between 5.7 and 6.5, acidify the soil by adding finely ground elemental sulfur (S) to the soil before planting. The amount of S needed depends on how much the soil pH needs to be lowered and the soil type.
• To lower the pH from 6.5 to 5.4 in a clay loam soil, apply 3.5 to 4.5 lb S/100 sq ft.
• To lower the pH from 6.1 to 5.4 in a clay loam soil, apply 2 to 2.75 lb S/100 sq ft.
• Heavier soils may require more S for a similar amount of acidification.
It’s best to use the lower rate initially, check soil pH again in 6 months to a year, and apply more S only if necessary. Do not apply more than 7 lb S per 100 sq ft at one time. If the pH is between 5.5 and 5.7, mix in Douglas-fir sawdust and ammonium sulfate fertilizer before planting. These materials will acidify the soil. Yellow foliage caused by high-pH soil. 3 If the pH of an organic soil is higher than 6.5, it’s usually not practical to acidify it enough for growing blueberries. In some cases, soil pH is too low for blueberry production. If the pH of your soil is below 4.0, incorporate finely ground dolomitic limestone at a rate of about 5 to 10 lb/100 sq ft. Incorporating organic matter Before planting, incorporate organic matter, such as Douglas-fir sawdust or bark, to improve soil aeration and drainage. Yard debris compost may be used, but it often has a high pH (above 7.0, compared to pH 4.0 to 4.5 of Douglas-fir sawdust) and can be high in salts. Spread sawdust over the row to a width of about 3 feet and a depth of 3.5 inches. To aid in decomposition of the sawdust, add 2 lb nitrogen/100 feet of row length (10 lb ammonium sulfate, 21?0?0). Incorporate the sawdust and fertilizer with a rototiller. Improving drainage Although blueberries require readily available moisture, they will not tolerate poor drainage. Ideal soils are well drained with a water table 14 to 22 inches below the surface. You often can make poorly drained soils suitable for blueberries by tiling and/or planting on raised beds. A raised bed 12 to 18 inches high and 3 feet wide usually is sufficient to provide adequate drainage and aeration. Raised beds can be constructed with wood walls, but walls are not necessary if you can form a raised bed (using natural soil and incorporated sawdust) by hilling.
Growing blueberries in containers
You also can grow blueberries in containers. Northern highbush blueberries require a large container such as a wine barrel. Half?high types can be planted in a 10?gallon or larger container. A good planting mix consists of about 80 percent fir bark, 10 percent peat moss, and 10 percent perlite.
Establishing your planting
Plant healthy 2?year?old plants in October or from March through April. Purchase container?grown plants from a reputable nursery. Space plants 4 to 5 feet apart in the row. Spacing between the rows can be 8 to 10 feet. Set plants no more than ¾ inch deeper than they were growing in the nursery row or container. Planting too deep can smother plants. Firm the soil well to remove air pockets. Do not fertilize plants when you plant them. Water thoroughly after planting, but don’t over water. Prune all branches back by about 30 to 40 percent by removing older wood and keeping nice new whips (new growth at base of plant); this encourages vigorous new growth. Remove blossoms Prune off flower buds at planting. Do not allow plants to produce fruit the first season. Be patient! It’s important that plants grow well the first year, and flower and fruit production hinders growth. Fruit buds are “fat buds on the tip of last year’s growth; vegetative or shoot buds are barely visible on the lower portion of the shoot. Young plants require little pruning for the first 2 or 3 years compared to mature plants, but it is important to limit fruit production the first 2 years. You will have to remove weak portions of the plant and limit the number of fruit buds to ensure that plants grow well.
Keep at least a 4?foot area around the plants free of weeds during the growing season. Blueberry roots grow mostly near the soil surface. Thus, to prevent root damage, cultivation must be very shallow and not too close to the plant.
Blueberries grow better when mulched. Mulching keeps the soil cool, conserves moisture, adds organic matter to the soil, improves soil structure, and aids in weed control. After planting, apply a mulch of Douglas fir sawdust or bark to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Increase the depth of the mulch to 6 inches over a period of years. You can mulch the entire soil surface (you’ll no longer have to cultivate), or you can place a 3? to 4?foot?wide band of mulch in the row. You may have to apply 25 percent more nitrogen fertilizer on mulched plantings compared to unmulched plantings, depending on how fresh the sawdust is. Fresh sawdust “ties up? nitrogen while it decomposes, so you need to add more for the plants.
In late April of the planting year, apply 0.2 oz of nitrogen (N) per plant (equivalent to 1 oz of ammonium sulfate fertilizer, 21?0?0, or 0.4 oz urea, 46?0?0). Add the same amount of N fertilizer in early June and in late July. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly within 12 to 18 inches of each plant, but not directly on the crown or stems. Ammonium sulfate and urea fertilizers contain no phosphorus (P) or potassium (K). In general, home garden soils have sufficient P and K. However, if soil or plant?tissue analysis shows a deficiency of either P or K, apply a more complete fertilizer. Use mixtures that contain potassium sulfate rather than potassium chloride; blueberries are very sensitive to chloride. Also, make sure the N is in the form of ammonium, not nitrate; blueberries do not take up nitrate N.
Blueberries have a shallow, fibrous root system, so they’re susceptible to drought injury. A uniform and adequate supply of water is essential for optimum growth. On average, young plants need about 1 inch of water per week. If this amount isn’t supplied by natural soil water or rain?fall, you must irrigate. Check the soil frequently for adequate moisture and irrigate if necessary.
Checklist for establishing a blueberry planting and taking care of plants the first year
• Select a good site.
• Eliminate all perennial weeds before you plant and before they go to seed.
• Test the soil pH a year before planting.
• Prepare the soil the year before planting:
— Incorporate organic matter.
— Modify soil pH if necessary.
— If the site drains poorly, use tile drains and/or build raised beds.
• Choose cultivars—planting two or more leads to larger fruit and a longer harvest period.
• Plant in the fall or spring.
• Apply 2 to 3 inches of sawdust or other mulch.
• Prune all branches back by 30 to 40 percent.
• Apply fertilizer in late April after planting.
• Keep the planting weed-free.
• Irrigate as needed.5
Care of established plants
Add mulch as required to maintain a depth of about 6 inches once plants are mature. In row plantings, widen the mulched area to at least 4 feet as plants become larger. As a rule, sawdust mulch decomposes at the rate of about 1 inch per year.
In the second year, apply 0.25 oz of N per plant (1.2 oz of 21?0?0 or 0.55 oz 46?0?0) in April, May, and June. The total amount of N applied per plant will be 0.75 oz. Spread fertilizer evenly around the plant, over an area approximately equal to the spread of the bush. Try not to apply fertilizer to the base of the canes. In year 3, increase the total fertilizer N applied to 0.8 oz. Divide the total into three equal portions and apply one?third each in April (around bloom time), May, and June. In year 4, increase to 1 oz per plant. As the planting ages, slowly increase the total N applied to a maximum of 2.5 oz N per plant (12 oz of 21?0?0) in mulched plantings. Continue to split the total into three applications in April, May, and June. In general, you should not fertilize after July 1. Your visual assessment of plant growth and fruiting can help you know how much to fertilize. If the plants are growing well (10 to 12 inches of new lateral growth each year and new vigorous growth from the base of the bush), leaves look green, and yield is good, there’s no need to worry about whether plants are getting enough nutrients. This assumes, however, that you’ve pruned plants well. Added nitrogen fertilizer will not compensate for poor growth due to insufficient pruning. Check the soil pH every year or two, especially if growth is poor. If the pH is above 6, you can apply elemental sulfur to the surface of the soil or mulch to slowly acidify the soil and improve blueberry growth. Apply no more than 5.5 lb S per 100 feet of row (3 oz/plant). Higher rates will burn or kill blueberry plants. Spread the S evenly under the bushes. Water or lightly rake it into the soil or mulch. Measure the soil pH a year later and add more S if necessary. Ammonium sulfate fertilizers used over a period of years will gradually lower soil pH.
Blueberries need a uniform and adequate water supply from blossom time to the end of harvest. Moisture demand is greatest from fruit set to harvest (time of greatest fruit growth). Fruit bud formation for next year’s crop begins from late July to early August so adequate water is also needed at this time. Plants need from 1.5 to 3 inches of water a week. Irrigate to supplement rainfall as needed. Irrigate frequently enough to prevent the soil from becoming too dry. However, avoid over?watering the plants, or roots may be killed due to lack of oxygen. Overhead watering promotes disease. Drip or another form of under?canopy irrigation is ideal.
After the third year, you need to prune blueberry plants every winter. The best time to prune is January to early March, when plants are dormant. The main objectives of pruning are to promote the growth of strong, new wood and to maintain good fruit production. If you prune too little, plants produce too many small berries and shoot growth is weak. Plants have weak, twiggy growth at the end of the season and fail to develop strong new wood for future production. Severe pruning produces fewer, larger berries and more new wood. If you prune bushes correctly, you’ll have a good balance between fruit production and growth of vigorous new shoots. Experience is the best guide on how hard to prune. A video guide to pruning blueberry plants is available from the Oregon State University Extension Service (A Grower’s Guide to Pruning Highbush Blueberries, DVD 002). Blueberries produce fruit on 1?year?old wood (last year’s growth). Fruit buds are visible during the dormant season. They are the fat buds at the tip of last year’s growth. The small, scale?like buds toward the base of the 1?year?old wood are vegetative buds; they will produce a shoot with leaves next season. The best berries are produced on 1?year?old wood that is from 8 to 12 inches long. Short 1?year?old wood (less than 5 inches long) produces a lot of buds, but fruit quality and vegetative growth are poor. We call this type of wood “twiggy". When pruning, keep in mind the following principles.
• Keep the bush fairly open. Open bushes promote better air circulation (less disease) and good light penetration to improve fruit bud set for next year’s crop.
• Mature bushes should have 6 to 12 canes at their base, depending on cultivar or growth habit. After pruning, there generally should be an equal number of 1?, 2?, 3?, and 4?year?old canes. If you remove the oldest, unproductive canes, and thin to a few of the best shoots at the base (called “whips?), you will be renewing the bush each year. The following step-by-step system will make pruning easier.
1. Cut out any wood that’s dead, damaged, or diseased.
2. Remove whips smaller than pencil size in diameter, but leave larger whips to develop into good fruiting wood next year.
3. Cut out one or two old, unproductive canes (large stems arising near the base of the plant). Fourth?year or older wood with small, weak growth (short laterals or 1?year?wood) is unproductive. Cut these canes back to the ground or to a strong new whip growing near the base.
4. Remove excess whips (or “suckers?) and weak, twiggy wood, especially from the top of the plant, to allow light to reach the center.
5. Plants may overbear. This often results in very little new growth of wood and small, late?maturing berries. If this is a problem, remove some of the weakest (thin and short) 1?year?old wood. If necessary, also tip back some of the remaining long 1?year?old wood by cutting off about one-third of the flower buds.
Checklist for taking care of mature plants
• Add mulch gradually over the years to maintain a depth of 6 inches.
• Apply fertilizer in the spring, starting around bloom time.
• Water to maintain a uniform and adequate moisture supply.
• Pick fruit at optimum maturity.
• Prune in January or February.
Some cultivars do not produce many whips from the base of the plant. Instead they produce whips from the base of older canes between ground level to knee height. When you prune these bushes, you will have fewer canes at the base of the plant, but more new growth or renewal wood higher up on the bush. Follow the same principles described above.
Each blueberry cultivar ripens berries over a 2? to 5?week period. A well?managed, mature northern highbush plant will produce from 13 to 18 lb fruit. Berries occur in clusters of 5 to 10. Don’t be too anxious to pick the berries when they first turn blue—they are not yet fully ripe. They’ll develop better flavor, become sweeter, and grow about 20 percent larger if you leave them for a few days after they completely turn blue. Pick about once a week or more often in hot weather. Gently roll berries between your thumb and forefinger, removing fully ripe berries and leaving unripe berries for the next picking. You can collect berries in an open container attached to a belt or cord at waist level. This frees both hands for picking. You can keep fruit for a week or more in the refrigerator.
Many species of birds feed on blueberry fruit; they can harvest 100 percent of the berries if you don’t control them. Scare tactics such as aluminum plates and strips of foil flapping in the wind have limited effectiveness; birds become used to these devices. The most effective method of bird control is light plastic netting. You can place nets directly on the plants, but this makes harvesting fruit difficult, and birds can feed on some of the outside fruit by pecking through the netting. As an alternative, you can construct a small wooden or PVC frame over individual plants or groups of plants to support the netting. In general, insects and diseases are not a big problem for blueberries. The following diseases might occur:
• Botrytis (gray mold that kills blossoms)
• Pseudomonas(bacterial blight that causes 1?year?old wood to die back in winter)
• Mummy berry, Anthracnose, and Alternaria fruit rots
Insect pests include root weevils and scale. If insects or disease become a problem, check with your local office of the WSU Extension Service for control recommendations.