How to Grow Blueberries in Ohio
Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are very demanding in terms of the soil conditions they require for good growth and fruit production, and those conditions don't often occur naturally in Ohio. With careful site selection and soil preparation, however, most Ohio gardeners can produce blueberry crops in their backyards.
In general, northern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum), the type best suited for Ohio growers, are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 7. Most of Ohio falls into USDA zone 6, with a few pockets of USDA zone 5b, most notably northeast of Columbus in central Ohio and in western Ohio west of Dayton. Most northern highbush varieties, therefore, can survive the winter throughout the state.
Cultivars that are well suited to Ohio include "Bluecrop" and "BlueJay," which are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7, "Patriot," which is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7, and "Draper," which is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7.
Blueberries require plenty of exposure to sunlight, and they do best in locations that get at least six to eight hours of full sun per day.
Blueberry bushes have shallow root systems that are easily damaged when the soil around them is waterlogged, so well-drained soil in the planting bed is a necessity. In areas with heavy clay soils or even loam that doesn't drain quickly, planting in a 9-inch-high raised bed can help protect the plants' roots from standing water.
Blueberries require acidic soil, with a pH level between 4.5 and 5. Native soil acidity varies from locale to locale across the state, but acidic soils are more common in eastern Ohio than they are in the western part of the state.
Elemental sulfur mixed into the top 4 inches of soil can lower the soil's pH and make it more suitable for growing blueberries. The amount of sulfur you'll need to add will depend on the composition of the soil; adding 1.2 pounds of sulfur to 100 square feet of sandy soil, for example, will lower the pH from 6 to 4.5, but the same area of clay soil will require 3.7 pounds of sulfur for the same change in pH. The acidification process is slow, and sulfur should be added to the soil three months before planting.
Planting and Spacing
Plant bushes in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Before planting bare-rooted plants, soak the entire root system in a bucket of water for approximately one hour. If planting container grown blueberries, gently pull the root system apart before planting. Add a gallon of sphagnum moss or peat to the planting hole and set the plant deep enough that the root crown is even with the soil level. Space bushes 3 to 4 feet apart within each row, and space rows 10 feet apart.
Fertilization and Watering
Blueberries produce best when given supplemental nitrogen; the nitrogen should be in the form of ammonium sulfate because nitrate-based sources are harmful to blueberries. Apply an ounce -- an 1/8 cup -- of 7-7-7 fertilizer per plant three or four weeks after planting, scratching the fertilizer gently into the soil in a circle 18 inches from the base of each plant. Apply another 1-ounce application in four to six weeks. Water well after each application.
Increase the amount of fertilizer to 2 ounces in the second year, applying once in mid spring and again at the same rate in early summer. In subsequent years, fertilize only once in spring at bud break, increasing the application rate by 2 ounces each year to a maximum of 12 ounces.
Blueberries also require consistent moisture, especially while the berries are developing and in late summer, when the following season's flower buds are developing. Irrigate plants so that they receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week.