Blueberries are popular for home gardens as several bushes will provide enough berries for a family of four. The plants grow well in Illinois gardens with a little extra care and soil preparation and maintenance. Blueberry bushes will thrive once the soil is amended to have an acidic pH along with being well-draining and nutrient rich. The plants will produce large amounts of berries in the third year of growth when properly cared for.
Select a blueberry bush planting location that has a well-draining acidic soil with a pH of 4.8 to 5.2. Work ground rock sulfur into the soil two or more weeks before planting to lower the pH number. The location should provide at least six hours a day of full sunlight, preferably in the morning.
Plant the blueberry bush in a hole that is twice as wide and the same depth as the blueberry root structure. Mix organic compost into the removed soil prior to packing it around the roots. This will increase the nutrient value and water draining properties.
Water the blueberry bushes immediately after planting to stimulate root growth. Continue to supply 1 to 2 inches of supplemental water each week to keep the soil moist during the growing season as the roots are shallow. Do not over saturate the soil or allow standing water, as this will cause root rot.
Fertilize blueberry bushes each year in spring with a 5-10-10 fertilizer after the first year of growth. Apply ammonium sulfate in May to keep the soil pH acidic. Water the bushes well after fertilizer applications to assist with absorption.
Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch around the plants to assist with moisture retention and limit weed growth. Refresh the mulch each year to keep a 2-inch layer.
Place a cage around the bushes to prevent damage to the plants from rabbits and other rodents. Drape a net over the plants during berry production to prevent birds from taking the berries.
Harvest berries when they are uniform in color and pull easily from the plant. Pick ripe berries easily by gently rolling them between your thumb and palm. Cool the berries to 35 degrees F immediately after harvest.
Remove berries from plants under 3 years of age to force plant energy toward growth instead of fruit production.