Blueberry Bush Care
Blueberry bushes are highly desirable plants. Not only is the fruit of the plant delicious and nutritious, but the bush itself is very attractive, featuring fragrant white blossoms in the spring, large, sky-blue fruit in the summer, and orange and red foliage in the fall. While these are not hands-off plants, blueberry bushes can be grown in most areas of the United States as long as you take care to meet the somewhat specialized growing needs of these plants.
All types of blueberry bushes need full sun exposure for optimum fruit production. These plants should receive no less than 6 hours of sunlight per day, and preferably between 8 and 12 hours. Some cultivars prefer warm growing zones, such as the southern highbush types, while northern highbush cultivars, such as “Northblue” or “Northcountry,” can tolerate below-freezing temperatures. To maximize blooming and sun exposure, make sure there is plenty of space around your blueberry bush. Three to 4 feet of space around each bush is best. Allowing for air to flow around your plant will also reduce the chances of freeze damage or fungal growth.
Blueberry bushes will not grow well if the soil is alkaline. These plants need acidic soil, regardless of species or cultivar. A pH level of between 4.0 and 5.0 is ideal, according to Emily Hoover, a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. The soil should also be well-draining, loose and rich in organic material. Hard, alkaline or waterlogged soil can be improved by amending it with acid peat. Ms. Hoover recommends mixing around 5 inches of acid peat into the top 7 or 8 inches of soil to improve growth conditions.
Blueberry bushes need to be fertilized only once or twice a year. The most important application should be done in early spring before blooming occurs, or right when the plants begin to bloom. Use an acidic fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package label as per the age and size of your blueberry bush. In general, 1 cup of balanced (10-10-10), acidifying fertilizer should be sufficient. You can also fertilize your blueberry bush with another cup of fertilizer in early fall.
Keep the soil around your blueberry bush moist. To help the soil retain moisture, apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the plant. Straw, tree bark or other organic materials are best. Watering once a week during the growing season should be sufficient, but you may have to water more often during hot, extended periods of drought. Reduce watering in the fall and winter, especially if you live in a rainy climate.
Pinch the blooms off young blueberry bushes (those in the first two years of establishment) to encourage vegetative growth. Doing this will help the plant develop a strong canopy, which is necessary to support the heavy bunches of blueberries, according to Ms. Hoover. Prune the bush each winter to remove dead or broken branches. Birds love blueberries, so if you want to protect your berries from ravenous birds, you may have to cover your bush with bird netting.