Even at our local U-Pick field, they are $3.00 a pound. That's considered a great deal!
Then there's the work of picking in the hot sun. And potentially having to use a porta potty. Yikes.
Blueberries bought at the store for $4.50 a pint will suffice at times. But their mushiness can make them inedible other than in oatmeal.
Time to grow our own!
Perhaps that's why I'm a great source for blueberry growing~ I've never done it before and managed to grow an astounding amount of blueberries from a crop planted in the fall.
But not before doing my research. Hours of fun and thrilling blueberry reading!
Are you ready to grow the plumpest and juiciest blueberries?
Here's my best tips and tricks to get those blueberries growing and glowing!
Why pH is paramount!
So if you are a pH perfectionist~ aim for a pH between 4-4.5, other than that, under 5 is still considered good!
You can't ignore the pH problem and hope it goes away. In fact, if you're not going to test the pH of your soil, I wouldn't even bother planting blueberries at all.
Why go through the hassle and expense of purchasing plants, watering, fertilizing and fretting for little or no result?
But zero yield is what you'll get if that pH isn't spot-on. Soil can always be amended with additives like granulated sulfur, peat moss, pine bark or pine needles to make it more acidic.
Don't get me wrong. At a pH of 5, I was happy.
Tom was not. So he ended up ordering Espoma Soil Acidifier to lower the pH just a tad more to be in that 4-4.5 zone. Men!
Test your soil by sending it to the local unit of the Cornell Cooperative Extension or a similar service in your area. Currently, they charge roughly $2 per sample.
Also this time of year, the garden/wellness/health section of your local paper posts events/places that will test your soil for free or a very small fee. Worth it!
I bought a soil testing meter and it's been an invaluable resource to me in nailing the pH for the blueberries.
Not to mention my hydrangeas are happier, too!
Blueberry plant site selection is critical!
Got clay soil? Me too. Bad for many plants but ideal for blueberries! They don't mind a bit, in fact, they prefer it!
Why you ask? Because clay soil actually helps hold the moisture in. Just beware that heavy clay soil may not drain well and blueberries can't sit in standing water.
Blueberries do not like "wet feet." Avoid selecting a low area in your yard or any area that receives excessive runoff during periods of heavy rain.
Dark or sandy soils are acceptable with sufficient watering.
Choose a location that gets a ton of sun with easy access to water. Lugging around buckets of water and tugging long and heavy hoses won't be fun in July and August.
Blueberries make perfect landscaping plants!
I grow blueberry bushes around the perimeter of my home to save garden space in the raised beds.
In the fall, the bushes take on an ornamental flare transforming into a fiery red bronze tone.
So blueberries bushes are both attractive and edible.
Space is vital. Some blueberry plants can grow up to 6 feet high and 3 feet wide so give them enough space to expand both above and below ground.
Ask yourself this question. Are you creating a blueberry hedge allowing the bushes to buttress each other other or do you want the space to walk around each bush?
If you're going the hedge route, you need 3 feet between bushes. But if it's the latter option, 5 feet is more suitable. This will give you that space to access your plants from all angles.
Other blueberry plants, like my dwarf Top Hat blueberry bushes are only expected to grow about 2 feet high and 2 feet wide. They can even be grown in pots!
This made the Top Hat blueberry bush an easy choice for my new landscape bushes.
Native soil is unlikely to be as acidic as the blueberry plants prefer so it needs to be removed altogether.
In fact, even after you've dug your hole, you won't use any of that native soil in the hole or around the plant again for best results.
Dig your hole about 20 inches in diameter and 15 inches deep. (About twice as wide and twice as deep as the roots of the plant).
Be mindful that the blueberry bush is a shallow-rooted plant.
Remove the native soil and discard it to a low spot in your yard.
Space bushes about 5 feet apart in a row, with at least 8 feet between rows.
In lieu of native soil, you'll be using Canadian sphagnum peat moss.
Canadian sphagnum peat moss has the lowest pH which is highly desirable for acid loving blueberry plants.
Usually it's bought in bales from garden centers. If you don't see it out, ask a friendly employee! (or as it usually turns out...not-so-friendly employee!)
Make sure it is the Canadian variety as it's the very best!
Mix your peat moss with 5-7 gallons of water. Use a wheelbarrow or large bucket to create your concoction.
When it looks like brownie batter...you're in business!
But unlike brownie batter, you mix it super well. Peat moss really needs to be stirred up to absorb the water! It will feel like thick mud.
Re-fill your hole with the moistened peat moss first and then add your blueberry plant.
Also add leaf mold, aged sawdust and compost to the hole if you have it. If not, don't fret either.
The top of the blueberry root ball should be level to the native soil line.
Set the bush in the hole with its roots spread out. Don't plant the bush any deeper than it grew in the nursery pot prior coming to you! Pack the hole tightly with the peat moss.
Remember not to put any native soil in or on top of the hole filled with the moist peat moss.
Stake the plant if needed for that first growing season.
The real deal on watering blueberry plants....
Remember that blueberries do not like "wet feet." Blueberry bushes can't sit in standing water. It will rot their roots.
During the growing season, new plants need a minimum of 3-5 gallons of water per plant twice a week when temperatures hit 70 degrees. F. or higher.
In cooler temps, 3 gallons should suffice about twice a week.
Think of it in terms of 2 inches of water per week per plant.
Keep a sharp eye on those blueberry plants. If leaf tips and edges turn brown in a late summer heat wave, try deep watering to a depth of 10 inches for roughly two minutes per plant once a week.
It might surprise you to learn that lack of water in the fall is a major blueberry plant killer!
A good rule of thumb is to water until Thanksgiving or your first major snowfall.
The mulch should go to a depth of 3-5 inches.
Since blueberries are acid-loving plants, pine bark/pine needles are the ideal mulch to use.
Eventually, those pine needles/pine bark will break down and become your acidic topsoil.
We have a few pines trees in our backyard. It was a fun activity for the kids to collect all the pine scraps and needles to put into our beds.
Our family even took a special trip where we know there's a wonderful row of pine trees.
We collected three huge plastic bins of pine needle mulch and the kids had a riot.
Between the pine mulch and Canadian sphagnum peat moss we lowered the pH from a 7 to a 5!
Pollination fast fact!
Fertilizer = more flowers = more fruit in the form of those big, luscious blueberries.
Fish has loads of nitrogen which encourages lots of leaf and branch growth making the plant flourish.
But you don't want too much nitrogen as that could result in large beefy plants with no flowers to form blueberries.
Fish parts strike the perfect nitrogen balance as they also provide lots of minerals and vitamins, too.
The various fish parts like the bones, heads and guts (sorry, this is grossing even me out) contain lots of these beneficial nutrients that decay fast for a quick boost of nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium for your plants.
As the protein of the fish breaks down all these super nutrients are released into the soil directly to your plants supporting root and foliage growth.
Of course you can fertilize with Miracle-Gro (or some generic knock-off) to energize your plants.
Those products are not organic. Chemicals will infiltrate your soil and you can never get the soil back once it's been exposed to harsh chemicals.
So I'm saving the best for last here, folks!
I love Neptune's Harvest fish & seaweed blend for my blueberries as my main all-purpose fertilizer. Safe for me, my kids, my pets.
And many non-organic/chemical fertilizers can easily burn or kill your plants if used incorrectly.
I will still use fish and all their extra parts that don't get eaten for my tomatoes. If you're a longtime reader, you know Tom is big into fishing so we have easy access.
But after I buried the initial fish parts, I like knowing that I am still fertilizing with the fish & seaweed blend to promote big, bad berries!
In general terms, apply fishy, fertilized water in a 6 inch ring around the base of each plant once a week. Start in March and finish up around mid-August.
Fish fertilizer in action...
Use 1 oz. of fish & seaweed blend per gallon of water and feed once a week early in the morning.
Spray the foliage and soil until leaves are dripping and the soil is good and wet. A bigger plant will receive more than a smaller plant.
Results achieved using Neptune's Harvest fish & seaweed blend include:
- Higher yields
- Larger berries
- Increased brix (sugar content) = greater value, flavor, and resistance to insect damage and disease
- Increased nutritional value
- Increased overall health of plants
- Increased shelf life of berries
- Repels deer and rabbits
- Gives draught and frost protection
Fertilizing fast fact!
Other Neptune's Harvest amendments to consider:
1.) Neptune's Harvest crab & lobster shell
2.) Neptune's Harvest kelp meal
Both of these amendments should be used to topdress your bushes. I like to sprinkle on top and use my hands to work into the soil.
Over time, you'll see how these two work in unison to create stronger roots in your blueberry plants. A deeper root zone gives you a stronger plant that is able to handle a higher yield!
The crab & lobster blend works excellent when tilled in with the kelp meal. Gives full NPK and Micro Nutrients, with Cal-Mag plus Chitin.
After all, there's no point in all the time, effort and money you invest in your garden if the animals eat your crops and stomp on your plants.
Time to take action.
Our biggest claim to fame is putting fencing around all the plants the animals eat and destroy.
Netting to keep the birds from pecking at your blueberries and squirrels jumping on your plants may also be a necessity.
It's called fruit netting and it can be purchased at any garden center. Start netting when the first blueberry turns blue.
Drape the netting over the plants and let it drag on the ground.
Take the netting off when the fruit has been picked.
There's also a third option.
Animals like deer and rabbits are herbivores. So their diets consist of plants, not meat. They don't eat meat. And the smell of the crab & lobster shell is unpleasant to them.
Therefore, sprinkling Neptune's Harvest crab & lobster shell around your plants will repel these herbivore animals to your great satisfaction!
To pluck or not to pluck....that is the question!
For days, I was loosing sleep over plucking all the flowers off my blueberries bushes. I just couldn't bring myself to do it!
But of course, the reason you yank the flowers off is to put the energy back into the plant. It's kind of like investing in their blueberry bush future.
Painful now, but the future yields big dividends!
And of course that's what is said all over the Internet. You know you can trust Dr. Google....right?!?
Since my plants from True Vine Ranch were over that 3-year mark I get to experience fruit my first season in summer after a fall planting.
This is because blueberry production takes about 3 years to begin after planting. So it makes sense to pay a tad more for older bushes if your goal is to get fruit as quickly as possible.
First year bushes run about $12 at the local "big box" stores per plant. Seasoned bushes run you about $30 a plant but are 4 to 5 times as big. (Approximately 3-4 feet tall).
True Vine Ranch is special is that there are very few places that you can even purchase larger blueberry plants!
And you don't have to wait 3 years to get results!
Spring or fall planting?
If planting in spring, plant as early as possible. Find plants that are at least 1-3 years old. Select a reputable nursery like True Vine Ranch.
I prefer plants that are 3 years or older because you'll get berries the very first season.
For plants that are only 1-2 years old, you'll wait a year or more before fruit appears and none of us are getting any younger here!
For fall planting be aware that it's common to get wilting plants no matter your plant source. Water the root ball immediately and plant within 48 hours.
Do not fertilize your plants until March/April as this allows them to go dormat without sprouting new growth.
It is also normal for blueberry leaves to gradually show brown spots and red/yellow coloring as fall progresses.
Blueberry leaves should drop off in November and December.