Low bush blueberries (called vaccinium angustifolium, or also called wild blueberries), produce fruit every other year. This means they require a 2-year cultivation plan. The first year is for vegetative growth with flower buds forming in the fall. The following year they produce blooms and berries. The year low bush blueberries produce fruit they will need to be mown to the ground. They re-grow from the roots the following spring, restarting the 2-year fruit production cycle.
Prepare the planting bed for blueberries the fall before planting. Choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, although full sun is best. The soil should be well drained. It's easiest to prepare a planting bed rather than individual holes as low bush blueberries spread by runners.
Cover the planting area with 3 to 4 inches of compost. Using an acidic compost like rotted sawdust or leaves will help keep the pH low. Work the compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
Do a soil pH test. You can buy simple pH meters from most gardening and home stores. If the soil is acidic, between 3.5 and 5.0, skip step 4.
Add aluminum sulfate according to package directions to the planting site to lower the pH. Work it into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
Use a rake to break up soil clods and smooth the planting bed.
Buy dormant bare root blueberry shrubs that are 2 or 3 years old in early spring. Shrubs older than 3 are difficult to transplant and may not survive. Buy multiple blueberry shrubs of the same variety for cross-pollination. Low bush blueberry shrubs are self-pollinating but you will get more berries with cross-pollination.
Soak the shrubs in a 1gallon plastic container for 2 hours before planting. Remove the blueberries from the water just prior to planting.
Dig a hole in the planting bed just wide enough and 2 to 3 inches deeper than the root ball. Place the low bush blueberry shrub in the hole, spreading out the roots and back fill with soil. You want to cover the lower 1/3 of the shrub with soil to encourage the formation of runners. Tamp soil lightly around the shrub. Space bushes 1 to 3 feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
Prune the above ground growth back by 1/2.
Mulch the base with 5 to 6 inches of acidic mulch like sawdust, shredded bark or oak leaves.
Give your low bush blueberries 1 to 2 inches of water a week. Use stored rainwater collected in rain barrels as the water source. Tap water contains minerals that can burn shallow blueberry roots and may raise the pH of the soil.
Remove flowers that form the first spring after planting. Some cultivars may flower for the first time in their second year, go ahead and remove these flowers. This gives your blueberries time to form a solid root system and settle into their planting bed.
Fertilize your low bush blueberries when they start to form blooms. Pull the mulch away from the plant and apply an acidic fertilizer like azalea fertilizers, cottonseed meal or soybean meal. Apply according to package directions. Replace the mulch around the plant.
Cover your low bush blueberries with a berry or bird net when the blueberries start to form. Birds love blueberries and can strip a bush before you have time to harvest. Remove the nets when you have finished picking all the berries.
Mow low bush blueberry shrubs that have produced fruit to the ground in October. They will re-grow from the crown the following spring.
Things You Will Need
- pH test
- Aluminum sulfate
- Low bush blueberry shrubs (at least two)
- 1 gallon plastic bucket
- Pruning shears
- Organic acid mulch (sawdust, shredded oak leaves, shredded bark)
- Rain barrel
- Soybean, cottonseed meal, azalea fertilizer or organic acid loving fertilizer
- Berry net (sometimes called bird net)
- Lawn mower or weed whacker
- Plant 1 1/2 low bush blueberry shrubs per person.
- Low bush blueberries produce fruit every other year so stagger planting (plant a few bushes one year and the rest the following year) so you will have berries every summer.
- Low bush blueberries grow well in containers, just use potting mixes designed for acid loving plants like azaleas.
- If you don't prune low bush blueberries back severely the fall after they produce fruit they will become overgrown and fruit production will drop.
- Low bush blueberries (if planted correctly) can become invasive. Choose a spot where they can form a mass of shrubs without interfering with the rest of your garden.
- Bees are needed to pollinate low bush blueberries. Don't use pesticides on or around the plants during flowering.
- Do not plant blueberries in bogs or soggy soil.
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