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Blueberry Bush Care
Blueberry bushes are hardy plants. With the right climate, care, and watering, they will produce a tasty harvest for years to come. I highlighted some basics below as a primer for you to get started. Make sure to check back here as you get growing. The following section has a list of the links to our series “Growing Blueberry Bushes” sponsored by a plant donation byMonrovia®. In this series, you can watch video and read about these topics in more detail.
Buying Blueberry Plants
As with any bush, you want to purchase healthy plants. I highly suggest going to a local garden center and letting them help you pick out the right variety for your climate. There are dozens, if not hundreds of varieties of blueberries and you need to make sure the plants you get are appropriate for your zone, have companions for pollinating, and will work at your garden site. A local garden center will be able to answer all of these questions for you and help you with anything questions you may have about the care of your blueberry bushes. Things to consider are: size of plants, time of harvest, flavor of berry, chill hours, and USDA zone. All of the major growers are great but, I mention Monrovia® because I have personally had great experience with them and they sponsored my series “Growing Blueberry Bushes” (The rest of the blueberry section is not sponsored though. I mention them because I like them). If you want to go to more information on buying blueberry bushes, read my post on buying blueberry plants here.
Site Selection and Prepping the Soil
Blueberries need acidic, well draining, consistently moist, organic-rich soil. They also need full sun. Regardless of the variety of blueberry you plant, you will need to meet these requirements. I recommend finding a site that is well draining, near your utilities so you can set up an irrigation hose or sprinkler if needed, and has full-sun first. Then you can till and add to the soil to meet the acidic, and organic needs of your bushes. I wrote a post about how I selected my site and demonstrated how to prep the soil here.
tip: Peat moss is probably one of the best medium you can mix into your soil for blueberries.
Spacing Your Blueberry Bushes
Space your blueberries so that mature plants will not crowd each other out. There’s no point in having your plants compete for sun or to prevent good airflow through your blueberry bushes. It is possible to use larger varieties such as the Northland to grow a hedge. In this case, plant your bushes 2-3 feet apart leaving several feet of space on either side of the hedge. Otherwise, plant your blueberries so that you can easily walk around them to pick the berries when they are mature. Your garden center can help you with the mature size.
For example, if you are growing a variety that gets four feet in diameter, you could plant the individual plants 4-5 feet apart in each row leaving enough space between rows for lawn care equipment to easily take care of the grass.
Planting Your New Blueberries
Your should consider how and when to plant blueberry bushes. The best times to plant are usually spring and fall. This is generally true for most plants. For blueberries, spring and fall are typically wetter and not as hot so they will get plenty of natural rain and you can probably avoid stressing the plants with heat. Also, it isn’t a great idea to transplant a plant when it is flowering or when it is producing fruit. So avoid this if possible. In a perfect world, I would plant in the early fall. This lets the roots take into the new soil before frost and they won’t be disturbed in the spring so they will be in the best position to produce blueberries that summer.
When you do decide to plant your bushes, you should dig a hole larger than the pot the blueberry bush came in. Let the soil in the pot stick up about one inch above the grade of your garden and pack dirt around the plant so that it forms a small mound.
Blueberries Love Mulch!
After planting your blueberries, it is a good idea to mulch them. Mulch will add three things for blueberry bush care. First, it will help keep the soil, and thus the blueberry bush roots, moist. Second, as the mulch decomposes it will continually add fresh organic material to the soil. Third, using a mulch that is slightly acidic will help maintain the acidity of the soil. I have read from several sources that sawdust, grass clippings, and other wood chips work great. But don’t use cedar or redwood. I live in Minnesota and I will be using pine needles, pine bark, and some wood chips from our local compost site.
How much mulch for a blueberry plant? Opinions vary, but I believe anything between 1 and 4 inches would be just fine.
Pruning – A Plant’s Best Friend
Most fruit trees and bushes over-produce. That means that they start to make more fruit than they can actually grow to maturity so the fruit will get less sugar and energy than it would need to be fully ripe and full sized. To fix this, gardeners will prune plants so that all of the energy and sugars from the plant can be put into a smaller number of fruit that are larger and sweeter.
There are two things to note with blueberries: First, when to prune the bushes, and second, how to trim them. The best time for pruning a blueberry bush is late fall or early spring before new growth starts. This way, as the blueberry bush “wakes up” in the spring, it will force the plant to grow new branches and not waste energy on woody or damaged parts of the plant.
When trimming, or pruning, your blueberry bush, you should cut back one third to one half of the plant. This will not hurt it. It is exactly what the plant needs to produce good fruit for you, which is exactly what your blueberry muffins deserve. Cut out branches that are low to the ground and any that are dead, discolored, or woody.
Blueberry bush care requires some fertilizing. However, if you are just staring out, strictly follow fertilizing instructions on your fertilizer bag. Blueberries are sensitive to over fertilization. If your garden center does not carry a fertilizer specifically for blueberries, you can use another acidic-loving plant’s fertilizer such as an Azalea.
Ok, so you successfully grew your own blueberry bush. Now what?! Well, in time your bush will produce a lot of fruit for you to enjoy. Blueberries are best hand picked. There just isn’t a machine or tool that works that well to pick blueberries. The only one that I have ever seen is an antique that looks like a cup with a pitchfork-like rim of spikes. The idea is that full sized blueberries are caught in the spikes and you can gently pull them off of the plant where the fall into the cup.
Blueberry Plant Care Series
Monrovia® sponsored a series on growing blueberry bushes. You can see the series page here. I also have a YouTube playlist embedded below.
If you want links directly to the articles, you can get there here:
- Series page with all of the articles
- Introduction to blueberry bush care
- Blueberry garden planning
- Where to buy a blueberry bush
- Site Selection and Soil Preparation
- We are adding more as we write them through the 2016 season.