The Q&A Archives: Blueberry Care

Question: How do I treat 1 year old blue berries? I need to know about fertilizer, manure, and whether I skip fruit this year.

Answer: Here's some general information on growing blueberries:

Blueberries require a lower pH than many other small fruit crops. Before planting, take a soil test. Apply wettable sulfur (90% S) if pH is above 5.3. Use 1.0 pound (2.5 cups) per 100 square ft on sandy soils to lower pH by 1 unit (for instance, from 6.0 to 5.0). Apply 2.0 pounds per 100 square ft for the same amount of pH lowering on heavier soils containing silt, clay or more than 2% organic matter. Try to achieve a pH of around 4.8; too much reduction can be detrimental to bush growth. If you must plant without an initial soil test, mix 1 cubic ft of peat moss with an equal amount of sand. On a heavy clay soil or a soil that sometimes remains wet, put the peat-sand mixture on the soil surface. If you are certain the soil has good internal drainage, part of the peat-sand mixture can go in a hole or furrow several inches below the soil surface. However, leave enough of the peat-sand mixture to form a mound (single plant) or ridge (row of plants) at least 6 inches above the surrounding soil surface. The mound or ridge will insure against damage from excess water, however, with this planting method, water thoroughly 2 to 3 times per week during dry periods, because the raised peat-sand mix will dry out quickly.

Blueberry plants require excellent soil drainage, so provisions for drainage must precede planting. Soil maps or observing the soil profile may be helpful in predicting internal drainage. Alternatively, digging a "dry well" can be a very effective means of determining soil drainage. Dig a hole(s) 6 to 8 inches deep and observe the water level following heavy rains. Water should not remain in the hole for more than 24 hrs, otherwise select another site or plant on ridges high enough for the water level to reach 6 to 8 inches deep within 24 hrs.

In most seasons and on most soils, irrigation is absolutely essential the year of planting. Hand watering with a hose is possible for several bushes, however, a soaker hose will usually give more uniform wetting. Apply irrigation no more than once every two days to reduce the chances of root rot infection.

First Year - Do not fertilize immediately after planting. Wait until the first leaves have reached full size, then apply 1 Tbs of a special azalea fertilizer, 12-12-12 or 10-10-10 within a circle 1 foot from the plants. Repeat application of fertilizer at 6 week intervals depending upon rainfall or irrigation until mid-August. Use 1/2 Tbs of ammonium nitrate instead of the complete fertilizer for the second and subsequent applications if phosphorus was above 60 on the soil test.

Second Year - Double the first year's rates, but increase the circle around plants to 1 1/2 ft . Apply the first application when new growth begins in spring.

Bearing Plants - When growth begins in the spring, apply 1 cup of complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 within a circle 3 ft from the plant. If more vigorous growth is desired, sidedress with 1/4 cup of ammonium nitrate at 6 week intervals. On mature bushes 6 to 12 inches of new growth is adequate for optimal balance of plant size and yield. Additional growth must be pruned away. This may result in a loss in production, but it is necessary to keep the plants from becoming excessively large. Determine sidedressing requirement based on the amount of shoot growth.

Strip the blossoms off the first year so the plant can redirect its energy into growing a healthy root system.

Hope this helps you grow terrific blueberries!

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