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Grow Your Own Blueberries

Posted: December 12, 2013

We have all heard about the wonderful health benefits of blueberries and know how delicious they are. Did you know that blueberries thrive in only a few places in the entire world?

Guess what, we are fortunate to live in one of those places. Blueberries need a combination of acidic soils, high organic matter, and a moderate climate. The blueberry bush is also an attractive ornamental. In spring the bush looks like a snow ball because of the abundant white, bell shaped flowers. The flowers are attractive to pollinators, especially bumble bees. The leaves are dark green and shiny in summer, which beautifully contrasts the light green fruit that turns red then blue as it matures. They turn an attractive red and yellow in fall.

It is a little late but you still have time to prepare for planting blueberry bushes in the spring. Blueberry plants need soils that have a pH of 4.2 to 4.8. If your soil has a higher pH and most of our local soils have a pH of 5.2 or higher, you will need to apply a soil amendment that lowers the pH. Powdered sulfur does the best job of lowering pH. It takes time for an ammendment to lower the pH. If you plan to plant in the spring, you need to apply it now. The only way to know exactly how much you need to apply is to have your soil tested. The soil test recommendations will tell you how much to apply.

There are several varieties that are excellent for our area. You will get fruit if you plant only one bush but you will get slightly larger berries if you have more than one variety. The varieties that do well in our area, starting with the earliest maturing, include Duke, Patriot, Blue Ray, Blue Crop, Elizabeth, Legacy, Aurora (my favorite from our blueberry trial), and Chandler (very large berries but a little less winter hardy than other recommended varieties).

Prune back off about 1/3 of the branches just after planting. Remove any crossing or broken branches.  Remove any flowers formed the first year so the bush can put energy into growing.

Once you have the pH lowered, you need to be prepared to mulch the bush after planting. Also, you will need to water the plants as they begin to develop a root system. A small amount of a soluble fertilizer designed for acid loving plants, like Miracid, should be applied once about a month after planting. This will help the bush get off to a good start. Blueberries like the nutrients released as manure decomposes. Blueberries actually grow best under low soil fertility, so do not over apply manure, compost, or purchased fertilizer.

For more information contact your local extension office. In Lackawanna County call 963-6842 or email LackawannaMG@psu.edu

John Esslinger, Horticulture Extension Educator
Penn State Extension