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Blueberries – What they Need

We use to have a lot more access to pine needles where we use to live.  I could use tons of them if I could still get them. Fortunately, for the last couple of years Bill has been able to find a place where he can get a small truck load of them. And that amount will probably be just enough for my blueberries inside the garden .

Replenish Organic Matter each Fall

It always amazes me how much organic material I pile around my blueberries every fall.  A least a foot deep if not more. By late July or August — all but a thin 1/4 inch is gone.  Oxidized — decayed — kaput —!

I’ve already put leaves around them this week and with this nice layer of pine straw to go over that —- my bushes will be well fed and happy.  And as you know — I don’t water —- so I also need all this nice mulch and organic matter to help maintain the moisture level around the berries all year.

Example of Results

We had drought in April last year — which is rare. Then we had another 6 weeks of drought in mid-summer — which is usual.  In  spite of that, the berries still gave me a bumper crop — although at one point towards the end of the season — I thought they were going to quit on me about two weeks ahead of time.  Fortunately, we had just enough rain to keep them going.  (I pick blueberries for 7 to 8 weeks each year.)

Root Competition

As I have mentioned in previous posts, blueberries don’t like any competition —- even from the most simple of things —- like Arugula that has a strong tap root, a flower with roots like Rudbeckia, or invasive tree roots.

The roots of blueberries stay pretty close to the top of the soil.   If you’re the kind who does a lot of cultivation around your plants (I don’t find this necessary at all) — be careful not to disturb the roots of your blueberry plants.

Worth Another Mention

I’ve mentioned this several times in the past, but it’s worth repeating.

You’ll read a lot online about how blueberries prefer acid soil and won’t grow in any other.  I am sure that somewhere in the world that might be true, but fortunately no one ever told my blueberry bushes about it.

My soil ph is about 6.7 to 6.9 and has been since it was improved years ago.   That is FAR from acid.  Closer to neutral.

I’ve lost bushes to root competition  — but never to improper soil ph.  And I’ve grown blueberries for 14 years.

And NO — pine needles do not make the soil acid.  Organic material that decays into organic matter raises the soil ph.

Pruning

My Sunshine blueberries in the garden don’t need a lot of pruning but they do need some.  Right after the berries finished at the end of July  I cut out the dead wood and trimmed a few branches that needed it.

Backup

My old bushes are still doing great but I planted more backup bushes this spring. I’ll be anxious to see the growth this coming spring brings.

Final Thoughts

Blueberries are so easy and rewarding.  Having blueberries in my freezer to get me through the dead of winter is big living in my book.

If you like blueberries and you don’t have a bush or two —- what are you waiting for?!
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Related Posts:

Blueberry Bushes – Growing Blueberries

Blueberries – Notes

Blueberry Tip

Pruning Blueberry Bushes

Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and its a lot healthier.

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All content including photos are copyright by TendingMyGarden.com. All rights reserved.

18 comments to Blueberries – What they Need

  • Alicia

    Hello! Im so glad to read this. I purchased a blueberry plant this last year and put it in a big container and wondered about the acidic soil since it didnt do much outside of one longer shoot. I read somewhere that you need more than one plant for them to produce. Have you ever heard that? Thanks for the great articles!

    Alicia

  • Bonnie C.

    Do you net your blueberry bushes once the fruit starts coming in?

    The biggest problem I have with small fruits is bird predation. The one year I netted my dwarf sour cherry tree, I was having to free birds entangled in it several times a day. After finding a beautiful but very dead male Scarlet Tanager entangled in the netting, I was completely heartbroken, & gave up covering small fruits for good. Have never been able to harvest any cherries for myself since. Birds always get them first since they’re willing to eat them before they’re fully ripe.

    Can’t see how I’d get to harvest any blueberries either without some sort of cover.

  • Theresa

    Hi Alicia,
    A lot depends on the variety of blueberries you have. Sunshine blue — my oldest variety — does not need another variety to pollinate and produce blueberries. The other varieties usually do need another variety to pollinate and produce berries.

    Sunshine blue is advertised by some suppliers as suitable for containers. There are a few new varieties that are also advertised this way.
    Here’s my opinion about growing blueberries in containers:
    Sunshine blue would be perfect for container growing especially if you want it to stay relatively small. I don’t feel that anything can reach it’s full potential in a container because there’s no “room to grow”. So you wouldn’t expect a Sunshine blue in a container to reach the size that say one in my garden has reached.

    Another thing — you said it was one long shoot. The first years growth on some varieties might be only one long shoot.

    So glad you find the articles helpful. I’m always glad to hear from you.
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Bonnie,
    Yes, we do cover our blueberries. I’ll take pictures this year so you can see what we do. Bill has some ideas for an even better way to do it — so it might help you to see.

    When I first had blueberries I only had 3 bushes. Oddly enough — I never had to cover those bushes. And when the current 8 bushes were planted I did not have to cover for several years. I think what happened is — we made a haven for birds — so now we have lots. I try to control the aggressive and pushy birds — like mockingbirds and thrashers and robins —- so they won’t take over. Most of the problems I have are with “teenage” mockingbirds and robins. (Read this post on birds post

    It’s usually just a few aggressive birds that do all the damage. And I want my blueberries so we cover the bushes. We do it so that the netting is off the bushes and I can get into the area and stand under the netting. This wouldn’t be necessary for just a single bush. The netting could be set up a bit differently.

    I totally relate to what you are going through with the cherries.
    Bill and I planted a cherry tree some years back and we never got the first cherry because of the birds! I felt I could grow more productive things so we took the tree out.
    On the other hand — the property bordering ours had a WONDERFUL old cherry tree (it’s no longer there) and it produced the best cherries. The tree hung over our property so we benefited and got lots of cherries.
    When we were first married — one of our neighbors had a huge cherry tree and always let us pick. BUT — we had to pick before the birds ate them all.
    Maybe if I were younger I would think about allowing a cherry tree to mature so that there would be enough to get a few pies and some fresh eating.
    You also have to think about the tending of the tree and the mess it makes in the process of growth. To me — there is not enough Return on Investment to grow one — at least at this point in my life.

    We have some new blueberry bushes this year and Bill has a plan for covering them that will be simple and easy to work with. I’ll be sure to give all the details and pictures when we do it. Blueberries are worth a little effort and you really can protect them from the birds overall.

    Don’t give up on blueberries yet. 🙂
    Theresa

  • Sandra

    I am glad to hear that your blueberries thrive in neutral soil, Theresa. In the past, I’ve always planted mine with a lot of peat moss because that is the convential method. Now, I know that this can have its downside. This year, I put in four new bushes, and I just planted them in a properly prepared hole just like anything else. It’s too early to tell yet, but they look fine and healthy so far.
    Also, I made a copy of your fantastic post on pruning and a note on my calendar for February/March. It really is excellent. I’m hoping to have blueberry pie next winter, too!

  • Carol

    HI Theresa.

    Is pine straw good for raspberries too, it is it just the blueberries that like them?

    Carol

  • Theresa

    Carol, pine straw is good for just about everything. I just put some on my raspberries today and my strawberries — as well as my blueberries.
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Good for you Sandra!
    You might find that in the their first year they give you just enough for fresh eating.
    It took mine a couple of years to get big enough to really give a lot of fruit.
    I forgot to mention it previously, but coffee grounds can tilt the soil a little back toward acidic. You might want to try them around your blueberry bushes. I don’t know what variety you have — but the coffee grounds could make a difference. (Keep a moderate hand though — until you can see what’s happening.)

    If I can ever get some — I’m going to try them around my new varieties. The Sunshine blues definitely do not need them.
    Theresa

    P.S. As you have already found — conventional methods are not always the best methods and I’d go so far as to say that sometimes they are the worst methods.

  • Tom V.

    Interesting about blueberries not really needing acid soil, Theresa. I’m generally organic, but my blueberry bushes seemed kind of sickly so I started applying some of the soil acidifier you can buy years ago, and it seemed to help. Maybe if I’m brave I’ll try skipping it this year.

    What do you think about using old leaves (regular ones; not pine) as mulch for other things, like raspberries? I can get them from a local lawn service. I know that fresh ones can mat and apparently prevent water and/or air from getting through? I have some that are now a year old, so I’d like to use them this way–

    Thanks for any insights–

  • Alyona

    Thank you so much for the article. I have young blueberries and I know they need special care on the beginning. I checked my soil, and ph is about 4,5-5. Is it good enough? Hopefully ph meter is correct.
    I will follow your advice and will put leaves around bushes.

  • Theresa

    Welcome to TendingMyGarden Tom! Glad to have you reading.

    Most blueberries do thrive in acid soil. What I am saying is — that I have been growing blueberries for 15 years — and very successfully — in almost neutral soil. I feel confident that can be attributed to good soil with good organic matter content in it. If my soil were deplete — I probably would not have had this success.

    Also my oldest variety — Sunshine blue — just does not require acid soil to produce well.

    When plants seem sickly — it’s usually because they don’t have a good soil to give them what they need. “Quick fixes” usually don’t work because they don’t correct the real problem. Chemicals added usually do more damage than good.

    Sometimes blueberries plants can look healthy and still not give a lot of fruit. Sometimes that is attributed to lack of a pollinator. And if the variety especially loves an acid soil — it may look healthy but not produce fruit prolifically.

    You could try using used coffee grounds this year instead of your chemical soil acidifier. If nothing else it will add organic matter to your soil.

    Leaves are gold. Use them on any and everything. I talk about them a LOT on TMG. You might want to start by reading the simple post Collect gold for your garden. You can use them on anything.

    Your local lawn service would be a wonderful source IF the leaves have not been sprayed. If they have been you may have adverse effects from residual herbicides.

    You don’t have to wait for the leaves to age. I use my newly fallen leaves every year as soon as they fall.

    Sometimes if leaves are left in piles for long periods and have been rained on —- the get matted and clumped together. A big clump like that is the kind that can prevent water and air from getting through. I’ve had those in the past and I just put them along the edge of my garden fence or in a path rather than on a bed.(They’ll eventually break down.) The loose leaves I put right on my garden bed and then I cover them with straw. They are just about totally decayed by spring.

    In years that we have the time — we’ll chop the leaves with the lawn mower. Or — if your lawnmower has a catch bag you can use that and they’ll be chopped and collected as you cut your grass.

    Let me know how you do. And again – Welcome!
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Alyona,
    You are starting out with what is considered by the “experts” to be the perfect ph for blueberries! So you’re off to a good start.
    Since you are starting at a brand new home and yard with brand new bushes —- it will be most interesting to see how your blueberries do as the years go by.

    As you continue to add leaves, pine, straw or the like to mulch and feed your bushes the soil ph will eventually be raised. That’s just what happens when organic matter is added to the soil. My guess is that your blueberries will just love it and grow beautifully with the changes you bring about since it is your goal to give them properly (deeply) prepared spots and lots of organic matter and mulch.

    Very exciting, Alyona and I will look forward to numerous progress reports!
    Theresa

  • Cate

    Hi,

    I read that using organic mulch attracts slugs. Do you ever use landscaping material? And can you please provide me with a link to your new berry netting setup.

    Thank you!

  • Theresa

    No I never use landscaping material Cate.

    I don’t have pictures of the set up by itself in any post. You can see some of netting in two pictures in this post: http://tendingmygarden.com/the-garden-and-borders-knee-deep-in-june/
    This year we want to adjust the set-up a bit. I’ll take a picture of the new setup and send to you when we get it up.
    Theresa

  • Cate

    Thanks!

    So you’ve no problems with slugs on the organic mulch?

  • Theresa

    Cate, there are always slugs in a garden. But no — I don’t often have “problems” with slugs.
    To get more details about what I think on that subject read the post http://tendingmygarden.com/slugs-you-can-control-them/
    Then if you have more questions I’ll try to answer them for you.
    Theresa

  • Cate

    Excellent info in that post, thanks so much!

  • Theresa

    Glad you found it helpful Cate.
    Theresa

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