The blueberry is a small fruit that is very popular, but can be
challenging and frustrating for some home gardeners.
Blueberries require acidic soils with high organic matter content. They
can be injured by late-spring and early fall frosts and also midwinter
temperatures below negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Blueberry plants are
also expensive -- 2- or 3-year-old plants can cost over $7
Blossom removal is recommended for the first 2 years after planting in
order for the plants to channel energy into shoot and root development.
Hence, there is no crop for the first two years.
The yield tends to be low during the third year after planting,
averaging about one-half pound per plant and reaching a peak of 5
pounds per plant in bushes that are more than 6 years old after
gardeners need to
select the correct varieties, the best location,
amend the soil to the proper pH level, plant at the right spacing and
depth, and care for blueberries until the berries are ready for
varieties that are adapted to your region and intended for use there.
Blueberries are self-fruitful (pollen from the same cultivar can
pollinate flowers of same cultivar to form fruits), but planting two or
more varieties that ripen at different times can extend the harvest
a site where they can get full sun; that is, at least 6 hours of direct
sunlight in a day. Plant blueberries away from tall trees and shrubs.
well-drained soil with acidic pH and do well in sandy soils with high
organic matter content. Test the soil and adjust pH to the 4.5-5.2
range. If the pH is below 4.0, incorporate finely ground dolomitic
limestone based on soil test results (about 5 to 10 pounds per 100
square feet). If the soil pH is above 5.2, add elemental sulfur to
lower the pH, and about 1 to 2 pounds of elemental sulfur is needed to
lower the pH by 1 unit (such as from pH of 5.5 to 4.5). If the pH of
established planting is slightly over 5.2, continued use of ammonium
sulfate will eventually reduce it. Plant cover crops or add organic
matter by incorporating peat, bark mulch or straw in the soil before
Purchase 2- or
3-year-old seedlings that are healthy and disease free. Plant in early
spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Plant 4 to 6 feet apart
within the row and plant closer on less fertile soils. The rows should
be spaced 10 to 12 feet apart. Plant 1 to 2 inches deeper than they
were grown in the nursery. Pat the soil firmly around the base of the
plant and water immediately after planting.
fibrous root systems, and they are shallow rooted. Irrigate during dry
weather using overhead or drip irrigation. Soak the soil to
ensure that the roots within the 12- to 16-inch depth are watered.
such as sawdust, bark, wood chips, straw or leaves. Spread the mulch 6
to 8 inches thick around the base of the bushes to control weeds and
conserve moisture. The nitrogen fertilizer requirements in mulched
plantings may be two to three times higher so the amounts applied need
to be adjusted.
planting, apply 1 ounce of a magnesium-containing fertilizer such as
20-0-10+5 (N-P-K-Mg) in a band within 12 to 18 inches from the base of
the plant. In established plantings, apply ammonium sulfate every year
before growth resumes in early spring to supply nitrogen based on the
age of the planting. The ammonium sulfate requirements will be met as
follows: 3 ounces for 2-year-old planting, 8 ounces for 4-year-old
planting, and 12 ounces for a planting
8 or more years old.
weeds before planting. Control weeds that emerge during the first year
after planting by cultivation. Avoid root injury by
cultivating no deeper than 1 to 2 inches as blueberries are shallow
rooted. Put mulch around the base of the plants to control weeds.
Herbicides can be used for weed control, but remember to read
directions on the label before purchasing or applying any pesticide.
best pruned when dormant in early spring. Young bushes require less
pruning during the first 3 years. Prune young bushes by removing
damaged branches and spindly growth around the base of the plants.
Mature bushes are
blueberries are self-fruitful, higher production has been reported
where two or more different varieties are planted in the same patch.
Blueberries require bees for pollination. Cold weather or rainy or
windy conditions can slow bee activity and may lead to poor fruit set.
Do not spray insecticides when plants are in full bloom.
fruits from birds by covering with nets. Blueberries may require two to
four pickings as the fruits ripen over several weeks. Pick only fully
ripe berries. Hand pick by gently rolling the berries between your
thumb and forefinger. Place fruit gently into pint containers, cover
the containers and refrigerate at 55 degrees F.
Maurice Ogutu, 708-352-0109, University of
Illinois Extension horticulture educator
from the Grower
and Garden Center
and Garden Magazines
and Garden Books