GROWING BLUEBERRIES

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A TRULY AMERICAN FRUIT…

Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America; they are high in vitamins and are easy to harvest (berries held well off the ground and no thorns!). The plants have multi-season interest: glossy green leaves and white flowers in spring, berries in summer, and bright red foliage in fall.

 PLANTING – Blueberries need a very acidic soil (pH between 4.5 and 5.1). It takes 2 to 3 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet to lower the pH one point. Soil pH can be tested by using a meter or a chemical test; there is no way to know it without testing! Before planting your blueberries, the sulfur can be mixed into the soil; in subsequent years it should be added around the base of the bush and watered in.  Ideally, sulfur should be added well before planting.

Blueberries also need a large amount of organic matter in the soil; sphagnum peat moss is an ideal additive. Raised beds are helpful. Plant bushes 4’-6’ apart, so air can circulate between them. Do not fertilize when planting, but sidedress with 1 ½ oz of ammonium sulfate per plant when blooms occur, and again 6 weeks later.

GROWING – Blueberries need regular watering (1” to 2” every 10 days) during the growing season, but must never be allowed to stand in water. They absorb water inefficiently because they do not have the fine root hairs of many plants, so mulching (3” deep and always 3” from the base of the plant) is beneficial. Pine bark mulch or pine straw will aid acidity.

PRUNING – Newly-planted bushes need pruning only to remove damaged wood. Remove the blossoms for the first 2 years (lightly grip the bottom of the cluster’s branch and pull gently toward the top). Older plants produce the best fruit on wood 1” or less in diameter, so bigger branches should be removed in late winter at ground level. A mature plant will have approximately 20 stems of all ages; 2 or 3 of the oldest should be removed each year and 2 or 3 of the newest should be allowed to mature.

HARVEST – Depending on the variety, harvest will take place between late June and August. All varieties benefit from a second, different variety for cross-pollination (even those which claim to be self-pollinating!).

 A ripe blueberry will be uniformly blue, not reddish. Not all berries in a cluster ripen at the same time. After turning blue, fruits will continue to enlarge and get sweeter and may be left on the plant for up to 10 days without losing quality. Berries will not ripen after harvesting.