Growing Blueberries II
Once you have prepared favorable conditions for blueberries, you are ready to plant. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the distance you need to keep between individual plants. For lowbush varieties, set plants two feet apart and six feet apart for the highbush blueberry varieties. Rabbiteyes need to be planted fifteen feet apart. When planting, make sure to plant slightly deeper than the seedling was in the pot or nursery row.
Planting and Watering
Another thing you need to do is to enrich the soil in each planting. Mix a bucketful of composted leaves or pine needles in the hole. This will help preserving acidity of the soil and make a good source of humus for your blueberries. This is important for nutrition, aeration and moisture.
After planting, it’s important to add some mulch over the ground. Make sure the mulch is fully organic and keep the layer about 3 inches thick. The mulch will serve for keeping weeds away while retaining moisture on the roots. Keep in mind that the most of the root system will lie within the inches of the soil surface, so mulching will keep them moist. Good sources of mulch are straw, pine needles and wood chips. Well-aged sawdust is also a good choice, but make sure the wood is not treated with a preservative.
Newly planted blueberries have to settle into their new home. After this, give them some good watering. They will need about one to two inches of water per week. It can come from rain, drip irrigation system or a hose. Blueberries need about 1/2 to one gallon of water per square foot of root zone per week.
Feeding and Pruning
Generally speaking, blueberries don’t enjoy rich soil, but you might want to fertilize if you notice that the annual growth is less than a foot (or four inches for lowbush varieties). It’s best to use organic fertilizers because they are less likely to burn blueberries’ tender roots. Organic fertilizers supply nitrogen to blueberries in the form these plants can use best. You can use organic meals, such as alfalfa meal or soybean and apply about 1/4 to 2 cups per plant (it will depend on the plant size). It’s also a good thing to do a soil test every 2-3 years to see if it’s still acidic enough for blueberries. If you need to make the soil more acidic, add more sulfur. Another thing you should do is to replenish mulch on a yearly basis.
When it comes to pruning, keep in mind that the blueberries don’t need in the first three years. In the first two years after planting you may remove fruit buds to allow the bush to establish itself properly. After three years, you should perform annual later winter pruning. It will help your plant get rid of the old wood and it will stimulate the new growth of the wood. The new branches will give more fruit. Another good thing about pruning is that it removes crowded, misplaced and unproductive stems and removing them will help the plant focus all of the energy into the fruit producing branches. This will make your berries give larger and sweeter fruit.
When it comes to lowbush varieties, they should be pruned by cutting the plants completely to the ground every 2-3 years. Since this will prevent a bush from giving fruit in the following season, make sure to prune a different half or the third of the planting every second or third year so you always have some berries to eat while the rest of the bushes are recovering.
Highbush varieties have stems giving fruit for about six years, so it’s important to remove six year old stems when pruning. Cut them to the ground or to the low side shoots. After this, thin out crowded or weak stems.
For rabbiteye blueberry varieties, do the same as highbush ones, but prune a bit less.
Harvesting and Pests
Birds are the most common pests and the biggest problem because they just love blueberries. They will harvest all of the fruits before they are even ripen and much before you can harvest them. The only effective way to prevent birds from eating your blueberries is to sealing the bushes with bird-proof netting. When the blueberries start to ripen, put a temporary cages or special netting over the bushes. Make sure to put the netting or a cage tightly at the base so the birds can’t sneak in.
When it comes to harvesting, you need to wait for fruits to ripen. Keep in mind that blueberries reach their full flavor and aroma a few days after they turn blue. Only the dead ripe blueberries will fall from the bush, so it’s another thing to keep in mind.
You may use blueberries in different ways. You can eat them raw or use them for jams and pies. Freezing some blueberries is also a good way to go. This way, you will have healthy, tasty fruit throughout the winter.