Berkley blueberry - Knowledgebase Question

Abington, MA
Question by mimimas4
May 6, 2007
I want to learn how to grow blueberries. I purchased 2 berkley blueberrys. how do I protect them from insects and desease. Do I have to have a male and female if so how do I tell them apart.
Thank you

Answer from NGA
May 6, 2007


For good fruit set, it's better to have both a male and a female blueberry plant, but it isn't necessary for you to be able to tell them apart. Both will flower, but only the female will set fruit. Here are a few pointers for growing blueberries:

Soil pH - 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 for rabbiteye blueberries or 5.0 for highbush blueberries. 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. Apply sulfur at least 3 to 4 months before planting, and take another soil test before planting. If pH is still above the acceptable range, additional sulfur can be applied. 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.

Organic Additions - If the soil contains less than 2% organic matter (OM on soil test report), incorporating peat moss or well-decayed pine sawdust or bark will improve plant survival and growth. Apply 3 to 4 inches of the organic material over the row in a band 18 to 24 inches wide and incorporate thoroughly using a roto-tiller or spade to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Preparing the beds in the fall will allow planting earlier in the season (late February to late March depending on the location). If the organic material is incorporated in the fall, any sulfur required to lower the pH can be added at the same time. Avoid opening a furrow, adding the organic material and planting directly in the pure organic material. Water and nutrient management is likely to be difficult in the pure organic material and plants are more likely to become weak and die.

Drainage - 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.

Irrigation - 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. In larger plantings, systems using micro-sprinklers have been more successful than point-source drippers. Even 2 drippers per plant often do not wet enough of the soil in the root zone. At least 50% of the area under the drip line should be wetted. The irrigation system must be designed for the higher output of micro-sprinklers (about 10 gal per hr) compared with 1 or 2 gal per hr for drippers. Align the micro-sprinklers to avoid saturated soil around the crown of the bushes. The use of automatic timers on drip or microsprinkler irrigation systems can result in shallow root systems and root rotting if systems apply water daily. Apply irrigation no more than once every two days to reduce the chances of root rot infection.

Sun Versus Shade - Full sun is desirable but up to 50% shade is usually acceptable. However, yield is reduced with increasing shade, so plant in a sunny location to achieve maximum yield.

Blueberry plants begin to produce fruit in the third season; however, they do not become fully productive for about six years. Once in production, it is necessary to protect the fruit from loss to birds.

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