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Growing Blueberries

Dan from Randolph would like to grow his own blueberries and needs information about the growing requirements and how to get started.

Blueberries need acidic soil (pH of 4.0 to 5.0) to grow their best. A soil pH that is too high will cause the plant to grow slowly, have yellow foliage, and eventually die. It’s important to have a soil test done before planting to determine the soil pH of the selected site. Contact the county extension office for instructions on taking a soil sample. The results of the test will determine if the soil needs to be amended. A soil pH above 7.0 will be difficult and challenging to alter to a lower pH. Any amending of the soil should be done before planting. According to the UW Extension publication # A2307 Fertilizing Small Fruits in the Home Garden lime should never be added to the soil where blueberries are to be grown. Other options are to grow blueberries in containers or raised beds.

Blueberries prefer full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. The more shade, the less blossoms and fruit the plant will produce. Blueberries don’t like to compete for water and nutrients so avoid planting in areas surrounded by trees and keep weeds under control. In addition to being acidic, the soil should be well drained with high organic matter, which will increase plant vigor and fruit production. Also important is to choose a cultivar that is hardy to our area.

Plant blueberry bushes in late April or early May. Plants should be mulched with sawdust, peat moss, or chopped straw and watered frequently to keep the soil moist but not saturated. For the first two years the flowers should be removed to encourage vegetative growth, which is essential for healthy plants that will produce more and larger berries. Fertilization with an acid producing fertilizer is usually done once a year when growth starts or blossoms appear. For newly planted bushes prune only to remove dead or dying parts of branches. After the fifth year, prune bushes annually in the early spring, just before growth starts.

To protect the blueberries from being devoured by birds, cover the plants with bird netting supported by a light frame. A chicken wire fence is one solution to protect the bushes from rabbits and deer that find the young branches tasty.

In the right conditions blueberries can live 15 – 30 years. Planning and preparation before planting is important to successfully growing blueberries and will save time and money down the road.

The State of MN Extension Web site http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg3463.html has more information on growing blueberries in the home garden.

An UW Extension fact sheet on growing blueberries in containers can be found at http://hort.uwex.edu/articles/growing-blueberries-containers.

Chris Jacobs
Certified Master Gardener

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