Shown below are instructions for how to grow blueberries including preferred conditions, step by step planting instructions and yearly care. Blueberries are, like grapes, a reliable source of homegrown fruit for our region (central
Pennsylvania - zone 5). We usually have mild frosts in the spring while they are blooming but the blooms are tough and set fruit anyway.
Chandler (above) gets huge quarter sized berries in rainy years.
Life Cycle: Blueberry bushes are deciduous shrubs. In spring, the flowers come out just a bit ahead of the leaves. In late spring new shoots start to grow from branches and from the base of the bush. Berries ripen from June through August depending upon your latitude and the variety. In fall the leaves turn lovely shades of red and then fall off.
Soil: Sandy loam or silt loam. Well draining.
pH: 5.0 (highbush)
Light: Full or part sun.
Spacing: 4 feet apart or more.
Mulch: Blueberries like the soil to stay moist. If your area gets long hot dry summers, then mulch is a must. Blueberries that are grown in blueberry habitat such as the high rolling wooded hills of Pennsylvania can manage without it but they still perform better if mulched. Since blueberries prefer acid soil its OK to use oak leaves and brown pine needles as well as the usual bark mulch.Return to Page Index.
Water: Blueberry plants love
water, lots and lots of water. But they don't like standing water so the soil needs to drain well. Our best year by far was 2013. It rained
so much here in the spring that the drainage ditches overflowed, and
the lane washed out. The blueberries were the biggest and sweetest
we've ever had. Even in our cool highland location, we get bigger and better berries in a rainier than normal years. Deep
watering is not necessary since the roots are close to the surface.
Blueberries prefer a small amount of water all the time.
Blueberry bushes can be purchased and planted as bare root/dormant, potted/dormant or potted/leafed out plants. If your blueberry plant has leafed out, don't plant it outside until all danger of frost is past.
You can adjust the pH before or after you plant. In either case the sulfur is sprinkled on the surface of the ground and watered in. Sulfur containing acidifiers have different strengths so the amount to add depends on which product you use. Most products will state the amount to use per 100 sq ft. to get a 1 point reduction in pH.
10/100 x 7 = 0.7lbs = 1.4 cups
If your pH is 7.0 you'll need to use 2.8 cups per bush.
We do not recommend reducing the pH by 2 points in one application. It will take some time for the sulfur to diffuse into the soil. The pH at the surface (where many of the roots are located) may be reduced too much since the sulfur is concentrated there. A more prudent approach is to apply enough to lower the pH by 1 point. Water it in over 2 weeks. Then do a second application.
For new blueberry plantings the sulfur treatment zone should extend beyond the root ball to enable nutrient uptake for new roots and encourage root growth (~3ft circle). For mature bushes the zone should include the ground within the drip line plus at least a foot beyond that.
Health Note: Do not use aluminum sulfide containing
acidifiers around plants intended for food. Aluminum has negative
health consequences which is why it isn't recommended for cookware.
We've found the biggest challenges facing blueberry growers is the care after planting. Below we discuss how to grow blueberries when your soil pH isn't quite right or your location is a bit dry or your soil isn't the peaty loam of a highland forest.
Diagnosis: The plant above is a nice deep green. Young leaves (see lower left corner of picture on the right) are naturally lighter in color. These will darken. If the whole plant is this light green than a pH adjustment is probably needed.
keep their roots very close to the surface. Weeds must be kept under control but pulling some weed species does too much damage. The blueberries will grow very slowly, not grow at all or worse yet, die. For the same reason, you should not use a hoe, trowel or other cutivating tool around the bushes.
Weeds not to pull: Crab grass, timothy, goldenrod, plantain and other rhizomatous or large complex rooted weeds.
Weeds you can pull by hand: Dandelion and wild carrot may not come out at all but if they do the straight tap roots do minimal damage. Usually, red clover roots don't come out so you can pull them. Weeds such as Glechoma, pictured below, run along the surface and separate from their roots easily so pulling them doesn't do any damage.
Fig. The herb Glechoma hederacea is a common weed found under the bushes in our area.
Herbicides: Some growers use sprays such as Roundup
to control weeds. If you want to try this, be very careful to keep
the spray off the blueberries since Roundup will kill them too. Its very easy for overspray to get your desirable plants. We also don't like the residue left in the soil around plants that are producing food for our family.
Painting Weeds Dead: Sometimes a plant or weed grows next to your bush that is damaging the bush but you can't pull it without doing a lot of damage to the blueberry, You can do the following:
Maintaining Proper pH
Often people will have to plant blueberries were the natural soil pH is too high .
What to do: Apply acidifiers such as elemental sulfur or Calcium Sulfate (Gypsum).
Don't use acidifiers that contain aluminum
Frequency: Yearly or whenever the plants start to yellow.
How much: This varies with the product you use. For details click the link below:
Healthy growing blueberries are less challenging to prune than grapes
or apple trees. Remove dead or discolored branches, and discolored or misshapen leaves during spring, summer and fall. Be very judicious about this. This is crucial to growing
Top Dressing Blueberries to Improve Poor Soil
Heavy Clay soils: Mix 1/3 sand and/or potting soil mixed with
2/3 materials high in humus such as rotted leaf litter, manure or peat moss.
Remove mulch and apply mixture about 1 - 1.5 inches thick. Replace mulch.