I have just bought a few blueberry bushes, and there is a good selection of varieties available, and am in the process of planting them. I thought it would be good to write an article on how to go about preparing the soil and planting the bushes.
Blueberries should be planted in full or partial sun and require soil that is acidic with an optimal pH between 4.3 and 4.8. At least two different varieties will need to be planted for pollination to be successful as larger and more berries are produced if flowers are pollinated from a different variety. They will need to be regularly fertilized, especially during growing season.
So, let’s take a look at all of this now step by step.
First, you will need to select blueberry bushes that are winter hardy or cold tolerant to your USDA zone. Buying from a local nursery should be sufficient to find the right varieties that will suit your local climate. For example, in North Florida Rabbiteye Blueberries do really well and in South Florida Southern Highbush blueberries do really well. Check out the article: Best Fruit Trees To Grow in Florida for more information about this.
If you live in Minnesota then Northblue and Northcountry are excellent varieties that suit the Minnesota climate and will produce good tasting fruit.
Next, you will need to consider a place to plant your blueberry bushes.
Where Is The Best Place To Plant Blueberry Bushes?
Blueberry plants grow best in full sunlight and can tolerate partial shade well. Because of this, avoid planting your blueberries near or around tree areas. Trees will block out sunlight and will compete for nutrients and water. Trees will also hinder air movement around the blueberry bushes which could favour disease development.
Space the blueberry bushes at least 3 feet apart to allow enough space for plant growth.
Try to avoid areas that get harsh drying winds as these will damage plants. If your area does get a lot of wind then consider putting up a windbreak around the bushes.
Because the blueberry plants roots are shallow, they prefer soil that is well draining and doesn’t stay wet, as in the case of clay soils, yet holds moisture. To help maintain moisture and keep the soil pH right, use 2 to 4 inches of mulch of either sawdust, oak leaf, peat moss or pine needle after planting. More about soil pH later so please keep reading. You might also like to take a look at the article: Why Are My Blueberry Leaves Turning Red to help correct your soil acidity.
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Blueberry Bushes?
The best time of year to plant blueberry bushes is Fall (Autumn) or Spring. If you live in a colder region, such as Zones 5 and below, it is better to plant blueberry bushes in early to mid spring, as frost can damage young newly planted bushes.
If buying your blueberry bushes from a nursery then select those that are 1 to 3 years old, as newly transplanted blueberry bushes prefer some time to establish themselves before producing good crops. However, they do begin producing fruits at a very early age.
If you are wondering what age your blueberry bushes might be when purchasing from a nursery, then as a very rough guide consider the following:
1 Gallon Pot – Your Blueberry bushes are likely to be 12 to 18 months
2 Gallon Pot – Your Blueberry bushes are likely to be 24 to 30 months
3 Gallon Pot – Your Blueberry bushes are likely to be 36 to 48 months
Of course, it’s best to ask the nursery as they may have an idea of the exact age of your blueberry bush.
How Do You Prepare The Ground For Blueberry Bushes?
Blueberry bushes prefer soil that is acidic between pH 4.0 and pH 5.0 with optimal acidity between pH 4.3 and pH 4.8 and is well draining yet holds moisture. If your soil is too alkaline then your blueberry bush will suffer as it will not be able to access the nutrients from the soil and possibly die.
To prepare your soil, dig a little sulphur into the soil 3 months before planting. Pine needles and peat moss are also good additions to the soil to make it more acidic. If you are unsure of your soil pH then you can get it tested at a soil lab for accurate readings or use pH strips for a general reading.
If you have already planted your blueberry bushes and find that the soil is not acidic then this can also be corrected by scratching some sulphur into the soil around the base of the plant. I have also used some juiced lemon that I have diluted (mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in 1 gallon of water) and then pour onto the soil around the base of the blueberry plant. You can do this as often as you need to keep the soil pH acidic, however avoid pouring over the leaves as this will kill or damage them. For more information about this please take a look at the article: Why Are My Blueberry Leaves Turning Red.
I like to also regularly feed the soil with some good organic liquid seaweed and a good potash of Sulphur, especially during fruiting and growing season. The liquid seaweed will provide a lot of nutrients including trace minerals for good plant health and growth and the potash of Sulphur will provide a good source of potassium and nitrogen, especially when fruit is about to set.
You might like to check out the video below for help on planting your blueberry bushes.
When planting the blueberry bushes, dig a hole deep enough the cover the roots and also so that the uppermost roots are covered with 3 to 4 inches of soil. Then mulch the plants with 2 to 4 inches of oak leaf, sawdust, peat moss or pine needle mulch.
These are very good types of mulch as they are acidic and will help maintain a soil pH that is low. It will also help to maintain soil moisture, reduce soil temperature during the hotter summer months and prevents weeds.
Blueberry bushes should be watered and fertilized regularly. They will need 25-50mm water per week during the fruiting season. Its also good to continue with a routine of monthly seaweed solution and a bi-monthly potash of sulphur, to keep the blueberry bushes going strong during growing season.
You will also want to put up some netting during growing season to keep the beds and rodents from eating your blueberries as they begin to ripen and become ready to be picked.
Do You Need 2 Blueberry Bushes To Produce Fruit?
Some blueberry varieties are self-pollinating and will produce fruit even with only one plant. However, some blueberry varieties, such as rabbiteye blueberries are not self-pollinating so will need at least two different varieties to pollinate each other. Even if you have a self-pollinating variety, cross pollinating with other varieties will yield better crops.
When Do Blueberries Flower?
A blueberry bush will flower in spring and early summer and will produce fruit between June and August. The early flower buds become readily visible with pink petals which eventually turn white as the individual flowers fully develop.
The flowers will eventually reveal small green fruit as the petals fall. The fruit will get bigger and eventually change colour from green to pink to blue. Blueberries can be picked a number of times as the fruit ripens with 2 to 5 pickings.
How Long Do Blueberry Bushes Live?
Blueberry bushes can live as long as 40 to 50 years if they are given a good start and have strong roots. They will reach full size within 10 years.
Keeping your blueberry bushes well maintained with regular pruning and fertilizing will help them grow strong and keep them producing fruit for decades.
How Big Do Blueberry Bushes Get?
A blueberry bush can grow to a height of 3.6 meters (12 feet) and a width of 3 meters (10 feet).
How Far Apart To Plant Blueberry Bushes?
Blueberry bushes can be planted as close as 2 – 2½ feet (0.6 to 0.7 meters) apart to form solid blueberry hedges or they can be spaced up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and grown individually.
If you are growing your blueberry bushes in rows, then allow 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) between the rows to allow enough space for cultivating.
In conclusion, blueberry bushes grow best in well drained soil that is acidic and fertilized regularly. They prefer full or partial sunlight and are best grown with two or more different varieties to produce better crops.
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