Blueberry bushes are ideal plants to use alone, in clusters or even as a hedge in home gardening. Their delicate spring flowers in white or pale pink create a lovely display. The leaves also put on a show in hues of yellow and red. Of course, the fruit is the major reason most people plant blueberry bushes. Growing blueberries can be tricky, as they have critical soil requirements.
Blueberries require an acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 or lower. Soil should be tested prior to planting blueberry bushes. Through the use of organic materials and fertilizer, the pH level of the soil can be manipulated and controlled. The optimal pH for growing blueberry bushes is between 4.5 and 5.0.
Fertilizing New Bushes
Soil pH adjustments should be done the year before planting new bushes to allow sulfur to react adequately in the soil. Plant the new bushes and wait four weeks before adding fertilizer. The blend of fertilizer should be 20-0-10+5 (N-P-K-Mg). Use 1 oz. per plant, and distribute it 12 to 18 inches from the plant. Do not apply directly to stems or crown.
Fertilizing Older Bushes
It is recommended that the soil be tested before adding any fertilizer, as blueberry bushes are very sensitive. Usually nitrogen (N) is the only thing required for older bushes. It should be applied in wide strips on both sides of the bush the spring before bud break. Use urea if the pH is below 5.0, and ammonium sulfate if the pH is above 5.0.
Other Fertilizer Additives
If soil tests indicate a need, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium may be administered. Potassium can be applied as 2-1-1 complete fertilizer that also provides the proper amount of nitrogen. The remaining minerals are generally never low. If a soil test indicates low levels, follow the recommended guidelines that accompany the soil test results.
Organic Matter as Fertilizer
Soil tests will reveal the organic matter content. If it is less than 2 percent, the addition of peat moss or well-decayed pine sawdust or bark worked into the soil will help improve plant growth. Spread a band 18 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches deep over the row and work into the soil with a rototiller or shovel. It is best to apply this in the fall so the row is ready for planting in the spring. Use a layer of mulch or peat moss around plants to keep moisture in and weeds out.