How to Grow Blueberries

How to grow Blueberries

Abigal Gordon's Home Grown Blueberries

 Studies show that blueberries contain disease-fighting compounds not found in any other food. High amounts of antioxidants found in them are believed to have powerful anti-memory-loss and cancer-preventing properties. Despite their natural sweetness, blueberries are remarkably low in the carbohydrates and sugar calories.

 

The blueberry is probably the most recently domesticated crop we eat. Grain crops have been domesticated for Centuries, blueberries go back only about a century. Franklin Coville of the USDA began collecting plants from the wilds in eastern US in 1908 and  crossing them to get better berries and more productive plants. A blueberry plant will take 3-5 years to get established and bear good yields.

 

Berry Grower's Companion

Whether for the ground cover effect of a strawberry plant, the colorful autumn foliage of a blueberry plant, the climbing trait of a grapevine, or the hedge potential of an elderberry bush, these plants are highly versatile contributors to a range of garden environments. And growing such gems in your own backyard means convenient access to savory fruits for the table or for sale. Backyard gardeners, as well as small fruit growers and nursery people, will find an abundance of valuable, practical information in this volume, including plant lists and tables, cultivation tips, and color photographs for plant identification.


 

Grow the Best Blueberries: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletins have offered practical, hands-on instructions designed to help readers master dozens of country living skills quickly and easily. .

  

Planting Blueberries

 

A crucial requirement for a successful blueberry harvest is an acidic soil.   (See Soil pH *)

 

Before Planting  

 

 

Site Selection / Soil Preparation: 
Blueberries grow best on a sunny site in sandy peat soil, but will also do well in heavy soils so long as there is good aeration and drainage, high organic matter content (Organic matter increases the water-holding capacity and improves the aeration of soils) , and adequate moisture, applying a heavy mulch will help with water retention, weed control, and the overall health of the plant. Wood chips, leaves, or any natural organic matter will suffice

 

Avoid planting on heavy soils that drain slowly... During the growing season, water standing on the surface for one or two days can damage roots.

 

 

 

 

Watering
Irrigation prior to and after planting should be applied to ensure seed germination and  emergence  Drip irrigation provides the plants with a more uniform application of water, placing it near the root zone and using less water. Drip irrigation also minimizes the amount of foliage and fruit disease compared with overhead irrigation .  Drip Irrigation does not interfere with honeybees and subsequent pollination and fertilization.  Inexpensive drip systems are available.

 

 

Climate:
 For best results, blueberries need a growing season of 140 days  Even when low winter temperatures kill the tops of plants, the crown and roots are protected by the snow cover and they put out new shoots that bear fruit the following year. Where deep snows prevail, much of the bush is protected from extreme low temperatures; heavy snows, however, can cause damage.
 
 An early fall frost sometimes kills back late-growing shoots from the tip, but in most cases this injury can be pruned away. A late spring frost, on the other hand, can injure partly opened flowers, causing a partial to total crop loss on some early-flowering cultivars. These early cultivars are not recommended for areas that typically receive late spring frosts.

 

All Righty then ... So you've Selected a good site for your blueberries,  Tested the soil, picked out the bushes that best suit your needs, now your ready to plant......

 

  1. It is beneficial to soak the roots for several hours before planting.

  2. Dig a hole 18-20 inches deep X 18-20  inches wide

  3. Mix 1 cubic foot of peat moss with top soil until the hole is filled 4 inches from the top.

  4. Set the plant and cover the roots with the remaining peat-soil mix. In heavy soils, an equal amount of peat can be mixed with an equal amount of soil.

  5. Set the plants 5 feet apart   rows 10 feet apart. (You may have to make some adjustments depending upon the variety you are planting )

  6. Apply 3-5 inches of  mulch in a 2 feet wide circle after planting, This circle should be maintained over the life of the bush

  7. Prune them to approximately  2/3 of their original size. (See Pruning)
     

 

 

Early Care   

 Remove any flowers/ Berry buds the first year to divert energy and nutrients to foliage. This may be a difficult thing to do , knowing that those flowers will yield the delicious blueberries that you crave, but it is necessary to ensure an abundant crop and healthy plants in the coming seasons.


Do not use fertilizer the first year plants ,the roots are very sensitive at this time.

Early spring of the second year, before flowering, apply 4 ounces of ammonium sulfate to each plant.

 

 

 

 

Cultivation
Cultivate until early July to help control weeds and prevent disease. To avoid root damage, do not cultivate deeper than 2". Cultivation after July increase susceptibility to winter injury; use mulch to conserve moisture and control weeds at this point. Wood chips, grass clippings or leaves make an excellent mulch.

 

 

 

Fertilizer  

Generally, blueberry bushes require little fertilizing and are sensitive to excesses. Because of their unusual nutrition requirements, many fertilization practices common to tree fruit production are not appropriate for blueberries.

 

Blueberries are distinct among fruit crops in their soil and fertility requirements. They require an acidic (low pH) soil, preferably in the 4.8 to 5.5 pH range. When soil pH is appreciably higher than 5.5, iron chlorosis often results; when soil pH drops below 4.8, the possibility of manganese toxicity arises.

  • Do not use Fertilizers containing chlorides or nitrates they harm blueberry roots.

  • Do not use fertilizer the year plants are set because roots are very sensitive at this time.

  • Do not apply any fertilizer at transplanting.

  • Do not Fertilize after flowering as it enhances susceptibility to winter injury.

 

Beginning the Second Year

 

In early spring of the second year, before flowering, apply 3-4 ounces of Ammonium Sulfate to each plant.

 

In March , May and July apply 3 ounces of MIRACLE-GRO ACID LOVING PLANT FOOD   or 1 ounce of 12-4-8 or 10-10-10 per plant.

Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18 - 24 inches in diameter with the plant in the center.

 

In March and July of the second year apply 3 - 4 ounces of MIRACLE-GRO ACID LOVING PLANT FOOD (4-8-8). Never over-fertilize; fertilizer damages blueberries easily until they are established. Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18- 24 inches in diameter with the plant in the center.


From the third season on, base the amount of fertilizer applied on the size of the bushes.

  • If your soil tests high for phosphorus, use 12-4-8.

  • If your soil tests low or medium in phosphorus, use 10-10-10.

 

 

 

Pruning

  • Prune in early spring when the amount of winter injury can be ascertained; nutrients moving down the cane may be lost if pruning is performed too early.

  • Proper pruning practices contribute significantly to consistent production, high yields, and fruit of good quality and helps to ensure a long life for the planting.

  • Topping canes to stimulate lateral growth is generally not recommended.

 

Pruning Trees, Shrubs & Vines: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-54

Pruning Made Easy: A gardener's visual guide to when and how to prune everything, from flowers to trees (Storey's Gardening Skills Illustrated)

 

Common Blueberry  Varieties

Selecting appropriate varieties is not a simple matter. Many growers are limited by climate to only the hardiest.  Although most blueberries are self-pollinating, planting at least two different varieties improves size and increases the percentage of successful pollination. The USDA Zone Map will help to determine what varieties are best for your area.

 

There are 4 basic types of Blueberries to choose from, which can be further broken down into a multitude of varieties

 

  • Rabbit eye blueberries grow to 15 feet tall,

    • Generally Hardy up to  USDA Zone 6

    • The flowers have both male and female organs and are pollinated by Insects.

    • Rabbit-eye varieties require another rabbit-eye variety for cross pollination

  • High Bush  blueberries grow 6 to 12 feet tall

  • Low Bush  blueberries grow 1 to 2 feet tall

    • Blooms April and May [Rare Exceptions]

    • Hardy to USDA Zone 2.

  • Mid High blueberries grow 2 to 4 feet tall.

    • Generally these are crosses of various cultivars , no standardized characteristics apply
       

The following are my personal favorites, you of course may prefer to scan any of the many online nurseries and seed catalogs.

 
Traditional Varieties   Novelty Varieties
Highbush Blueberry Southern Varieties Best Blueberries to Grow South of Virginia! This collection of top-quality hybrids is specially-selected for success in the south.   Top Hat Dwarf Blueberry Plant - Bonsai/Patio/Outdoors TOP HAT BLUEBERRY PERFECT FOR SMALL SPACES, CONTAINERS AND BONSAI. FULL SIZE FRUIT ON DWARF PLANTS!  Compact shrub that is ideal for containers and small spaces.

 

   
Highbush Blueberry Northern Varieties Best Blueberries to Grow North of the Carolinas! This collection of top-quality hybrids is specially-selected for success in the north. This collection of top-quality Blueberry hybrids was selected for hardiness, fruit quality, drought tolerance

 

  Hotel Giant Blueberries  Some growers boast berries as big as quarters .The flavor of Blueray is excellent, as sweet and juicy as a plum, compact bushy plants often start producing a year after planting. .
Seed & Nursery Catalogs

Common Pests

Birds are one of the most common pests in any Berry crop.  Birds keep the insect population in control., and lend a pleasant musical backdrop to spring and summer days.  However when I see them picking my fruit and berry trees clean, .... the friendship is over.


It would be easy pick them off as they enter my domain, but the local authorities and the ASPCA might have something to say about that.  There are a number of deterrents to birds , the most effective, I find, being Protective Netting. See :Bird Deterrents

      

Leafrollers  the larvae or caterpillars of several species of small moths. The name "leafroller" is derived from their habit of rolling leaves for shelter. Early in the growing season, these brown or green worms tie together blossoms and feed on them. When full grown (1/2 to ¾ inch long), the larvae seal up the leaf. [Image]

 Aphids: Generally, aphids are green and are less mobile than leafhoppers. They feed on the undersides of the youngest leaves and on tender shoots [Image]. Aphids reproduce very rapidly and can literally cover stems and leaves. The sap loss is a concern when the plants are young— the first three years. Most aphids can be controlled by ladybugs and other natural enemies. [Insecticides kill these natural enemies along with the pests.]  Aphids also transmit blueberry shoestring virus, as well as other pathogens.

Blueberry Maggot: The adults are small flies [Image] -about 3/16 inch long- with dark patterns across their wings. These flies lay eggs in the fruit. Each egg hatches into a small white larva, called a maggot [Image], which feeds on the inside of the fruit. After the infested fruit falls to the ground in the fall, the maggot enters the soil, pupates and overwinters. The adult flies leave the soil the next year. Infested fruit is not harmful to eat but has less appeal.

Sharpshooter Natural Insecticide - Citric acid destroys the wax coating of the insect's respiratory system. When applied directly, the insect suffocates. Sharpshooter is biodegradable.Effective on most insects including aphids, beetles, caterpillars, cutworms, earwigs, flies, gnats...

Hot Pepper Wax repels bugs.  100% natural spray uses pepper extract and wax to effectively discourage pests.

See Pest Control  for more extensive data

 

Diseases of Blueberry Plants

Compendium of Blueberry and Cranberry Diseases (Disease Compendium Series of the American Phytopathological)

 

Mummy Berry     

Mummy berry is a fungal disease of major importance ,it causes considerable damage to blueberries. Severe blighting of the leaves, shoots, and flower buds some cultivars are more susceptible.

See 

Anthracnose     

The anthracnose fungus causes dark brown, oval sunken areas or spots on stems. It also causes the crown to rot, which causes young leaves to wilt. The fungus can be carried on apparently healthy plants. Therefore, be sure to use healthy certified plants for transplanting. Avoiding excess moisture during the summer will help decrease the severity of this disease. In the spring, look for orange spore masses on last year’s fruiting stems. Look for blighted shoot tips and flowers turning black or brown. When fruit are beginning to ripen, look for sunken, shriveled berries. Riper fruit may show the orange spores. Anthracnose cannot be controlled adequately by fungicides. [Image]

 

Botrytis Blight     

A fungal disease, a/k/a gray mold, infects leaves, stems, flowers, and bulbs of many plants. It infects dead or dying tissues first, and then spreads to living tissues. Lesions are brown to gray circular spots that later become fuzzy, producing gray masses of fungal spores. Cool, damp weather favors the development and spread of this disease. [Image]

Control: Avoid crowding plants and overhead watering , drip systems are preferable. Prune away and discard diseased tissue. Maintain healthy plants by locating them properly, fertilize at the right time of year with the proper nutrients, and keep a 2-3-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plants. Fungicides are available.
 

Stem Blight   

A Fungus which causes rapid wilt with browning or reddening of leaves on individual branches, often followed by death of the entire plant as the fungus spreads to the plant base. Most infections can be traced to a wound as the initial point of infection. Cold injury has also been observed to cause cracking in the forks of blueberry stems, leaving plants susceptible to early Spring infestations.

 

Powdery Mildew

During mid-summer foliage is covered by a web-like fungus growth called mycelium. As a result, leaves become puckered . In late summer, circular reddish-brown spots 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter appear on the top and underside of the leaves. Conidiophores grow from the mycelium and spread the disease throughout the field. During the late summer and autumn, small round black fruiting bodies [cleistothecia] 1/32 to1/16 inch in diameter develop on the surface of the fungal growth on the leaves. The cleistothecia are a means of over wintering by the fungus. All cultivars are susceptible to powdery mildew. Jersey cultivar is the most susceptible. [Image]
 


 

Blueberry shoestring Virus , a disease that is a serious problem for commercial planters and home growers. Remove any plants exhibiting bright red streaks or strap like leaves . If blueberry shoesting virus is observed in a planting, aphid control with malathion or Sevin should be carried out ASAP.
 

See Michigan University : Blueberry Shoestring Virus

Plant Viruses Online :Blueberry shoestring sobemovirus

 

See Also: Michigan State University - Blueberry Diseases

University of Connecticut - Blueberry Disease management

Blueberry Pest Management - Seasonal Overview


Harvest    

Two to four years after planting, blueberries will produce fruit. This will be a HUGE test of your patience, don't pick them as soon as they turn blue. Let them hang on the branches a few more days to develop their full sweetness and aroma, this may attract birds who've been waiting patiently ... take evasive measures (See Birds )

Up to 5 pickings may be required to harvest the berries.  Pick only the ripe ones. A reddish tinge means the berry isn't ripe yet.

 

 

Winter Protection    

 

Helping blueberries survive through winter conditions it not just an issue in the fall, but relates to gardening practices carried out year round. The nutrient status of the plant affects it resistance to the cold . If the plant is deficient in phosphorus or zinc, winter injury is more likely. If plants have too much nitrogen or potassium in their tissues, they will not harden properly, - winter injury can occur.


Following proper fertilization practices is vital. Late fertilization can delay the hardening process. Proper pruning allows plants to receive more light, allowing for more carbohydrate production.

An important Autumn practice is mulching.  (See Also Compost ) Mulch prevents soil heaving in newly planted blueberries. However, don't apply mulch too early. Wait until low temperatures have been consistently   "Cold "  for at least 3 nights. If possible, it's best to mulch just before the snow season sets in.  Horticultural Oil Spray kills overwintering insects.

 

Additional References

 

 

How to Grow Artichoke

How to Grow Asparagus

How to Grow Blueberries

How to Grow Brussels Sprouts

How to Grow Cantaloupe

How to Grow Carrots

How to Grow Cucumbers

How to Grow Eggplant

How to Grow Onions

How to Grow Peppers

How to Grow Potatoes

 

 

How to Grow Pumpkins

How to Grow Raspberries

How to Grow Rhubarb

How to Grow Strawberries

How to Grow Tomatoes

How to Grow Watermelon

Hydroponics Gardening

Companion Gardening

Composting

Control Garden Pests

 

Contact Information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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