The highbush blueberry plant is a variety that grows upright to a height of 6 to 12 feet. The bush forms from a root crown and produces a large amount of seedy berries. In South Dakota, the flowering period begins in early spring, with fruit production occurring throughout the summer, beginning approximately 62 days after the flowers appear. The highbush blueberry requires an acidic soil that is also well-draining. Areas in South Dakota that have fertile and water holding soil should be amended for best results.
Select a planting area for the highbush blueberry that has an acidic, well-draining soil with full sunlight. The plant should receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day.
Prepare the planting area by working 3 to 4 inches of organic compost into the soil with a tiller. Areas that have a high loam or clay content should plant the highbush blueberries in a raised bed that is at least 9 inches deep and filled with a sandy loam soil.
Test the soil pH to verify it is 4.5 to 5.5, as blueberries require an acidic soil for best production. Add ground rock sulfur to the soil at least two weeks before planting.
Plant the highbush plants in a hole that is twice as wide and the same depth as the container it came in. Amend the removed soil by mixing in equal parts compost to increase the water draining properties.
Water highbush blueberry plants regularly during the growing season so the soil stays evenly moist throughout the hot summer months. Blueberries require a moist but not wet soil. Do not let the soil dry out completely or become over-saturated and create standing water.
Apply a 4-inch layer of wood-chip bark or sawdust mulch around the plants in a 4-foot diameter. Refresh the mulch each year to maintain a 4-inch layer. This will assist with moisture retention and limit weed growth.
Test the soil each year to verify the pH and nutrient levels. Apply an acid-producing fertilizer in spring if the soil pH is higher than 5.5 or a balanced fertilizer if the soil test shows a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 and the nutrient levels are adequate. Do not fertilize the plant after blooms appear, as this can damage fruit production.
Prune 3-year-old or older highbush blueberry plants while they are still dormant in early spring. Remove dead and damaged branches and remove unproductive branches so there are six to eight fruiting branches left on each plant. Prune to remove crossing branches in the interior of the plant to allow for light and air circulation.
Place netting over the plants during the fruiting period to prevent berry loss to birds.
Things You Will Need
- Organic compost
- Soil pH test kit
- Ground rock sulfur
- Acid-producing fertilizer
- Balanced fertilizer
- Pruning clipper
- Bird netting
- Contact your local University Extension office for information on having a complete soil test conducted. This test will verify the soil pH, nitrogen/phosphorous/potassium levels and organic content.