Blueberries - Knowledgebase Question

Bowlus, Mi
Question by pmbenusa
April 10, 2010
I live in Zone 3 (Central Minnesota. Will blueberries survive the winter and what kind to plant. What kind of fertilizer?

Answer from NGA
April 10, 2010


Blueberry growing presents a challenge for most gardeners because the plants need special growing conditions. They require acidic, well-drained soils, which are not common in most Minnesota landscape situations. When the initial pH is less than 7.0, most soils can be amended to make them suitable. In western Minnesota, where the native pH of the soil is greater than 7.0, amending the soil to a suitable range is not possible. Winter hardiness is also a consideration so choose from the varieties developed by the University of Minnesota: Northblue, Northcountry, Northsky, St. Cloud, Polaris and Chippewa. You'll need two different varieties in order for your plants to produce large crops so choose two from the above list.

Blueberry plants are long-lived so considerable time and effort in preparing the soil is a wise investment. Soils not within the range of pH acceptability for blueberry plant growth must be prepared BEFORE planting. If the pH is too high, the growth of the plant is slowed and the foliage turns yellow. If the pH is too high for an extended period of time, the plants will die. When several plants are to be grown together, more satisfactory results will be obtained if an entire bed is prepared rather than digging holes for individual plants.

If the pH of the soil is between 5.5 and 7.0 and the texture is sandy to sandy loam, the following method can be used. Mix 4 to 6 inches of acid peat into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. In addition to acidifying the soil, the peat increases the soil organic matter content.

Different sulfur compounds can be used as well. For 50 cubic feet of sandy soil, use one to two pounds of elemental sulfur to reduce the pH one point. You will need to use three to six pounds to get the same effect in loam soils. Fifty cubic feet is the amount of soil in a space 10 feet by 10 feet by 6 inches. Elemental sulfur takes at least one year to adjust the pH.

Iron sulfate can also be used to acidify soils. This material reacts much faster than elemental sulfur (less than 1 month); however, the cost is greater. Multiply the rate of elemental sulfur needed by six to determine the required amount of iron sulfate. Aluminum sulfate is not recommended as high rates of this compound can be toxic to roots.

Soils with a pH greater than 7.0 will require higher rates of acidifying amendments and are not recommended for blueberries.

In addition to an acid soil, blueberry plants require a soil that is well aerated and has a high water-holding capacity. Most garden soil is not good blueberry soil, so modification of the soil is frequently necessary. Prepare the soil to accommodate one plant by removing soil from a space 15 inches deep by 24 inches wide by 24 inches long. Replace this soil with one prepared from 2 bushels well-rotted sawdust, leaf mold, or peat; 1 bushel loam soil; and 1 cup wettable sulfur. Mix well and refill the hole with this mixture.

Hope this information is helpful.

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