These are my blueberry bushes. They are two years old and if there is a list somewhere of all the things that you can do wrong to a blueberry bush and not kill them, we have probably checked off most items.
Two summers ago, I went to the hardware store after some tomato cages and spied blueberry bushes on an end of season markdown. In my experience, end of season plant markdowns are only a deal if a) the plant is a perennial and b) it’s not so late in the year that the plants can’t establish themselves. And since I am seldom watching that closely, my success rate is about 50/50. I figured there’s a guy down the road growing them commercially, so we’re probably good to go. Pretty scientific, no?
Yup. You’ve got me pegged. Either meticulously planning or totally flying by the seat of my pants. And alarmingly similar outcomes. Better to be lucky than good, I always say. So I brought home my five blueberry bushes. And they sat. For two months. In the pots in front of the garage. I know. It’s shameful.
Two of them got some type of blighted looking appearance on the foliage. Sort of a rusty mottling against the green. So I talked it over with Fixer Guy and we decided to go ahead and plant them. Blueberries like acidic soil, so we thought we would plant them in the vegetable garden along the windbreak, since the organic material falling from the arbor vitae would make the soil a little more acidic. We also planted the ailing bushes on the end so they would be easier to pull out and replace if they didn’t make it. Aren’t we smart? Fixer guy ran drip lines to them for the remainder of the fall and we waited.
This spring all five bushes had pretty good foliage and the sick plants looked pretty good. Blueberries will bear more fruit if you remove the blossoms the first year. Naturally, I didn’t do that, so our crop was tiny, but the berries were large and tasty. And that was just fine for our three-year-old. Nothing makes a toddler happier than eating out of the garden, except maybe chasing a cat with a stick. To be honest, she wouldn’t care if it was dirt or berries she was eating (I know this because she’s done both) but Mommy prefers berries.
So here’s a synopsis of the right way to grow blueberries, according to the University of Maine Extension service. The full document is here
- Planting sites should have full sun, wind protection and acidic soil. You can typically have your soil tested by the local Extension office or you can pick up a kit at the hardware store, garden center or nursery. We bought ours at Lowe’s. If your soil is more alkaline, you can add amendments to adjust the pH. Both organic and conventional means are available to do this, if that’s your thing.
- You’ll want to ensure good drainage and one to two inches of water each week.
- The University of Maine recommends that blueberry bushes not be allowed to bear fruit for at least two years after planting and only limited crop the third year. This so that the plants will expend their energy getting themselves well established.
- Recommended spacing is 5-7 feet apart with rows 8-10 feet apart. That’s considerably more space than we allowed our bushes, so I guess we’ll see what happens.
- Mulch well for weed control and moisture retention.
- Prune annually for high yield. Pruning should occur during dormancy. I guess that’s kind of a no brainer.
- Harvest berries only when fully ripe and there is no tinge of red on the fruit. The berries will grow in clusters which will ripen in succession.
- You’ll need to net your bushes once the fruit comes on, unless you feel like sharing with the birds. We didn’t net last year, but the birds were far more interested in our grapes.
- Tipnut.com suggests occasionally mixing used coffee grounds into the soil to acidify the soil. An alternative is ground lemon or grapefruit peels. With the way Fixer Guy drinks coffee, I know which one we’ll be doing.
We flouted a number of these guidelines, which suggests that blueberries aren’t a particularly fragile plant. Still, I think we’ll mulch carefully this spring and I’ll go out and give them a good prune when I go out next month to take care of my grapes. Hopefully I’ll be posting a group of lovely recipes we tried out with our bumper crop this summer. Wishful thinking? Probably. Luck loves an optimist.