Growing Blueberries


Though blueberries are not native to Kansas, we can grow them at least in the eastern half of the state. However, just because we can grow them doesn’t mean they are easy. The key is good preparation. Blueberries are related to azaleas and rhododendrons and therefore require an acid pH (between 4.8 to 5.2 is best) and do not have root hairs. The lack of root hairs means we must do a good job of watering, and mulching is very important.

It is best to start a year ahead of time to allow for pH adjustment, weed control and the addition of organic matter. The first step is always a soil test so that you know how much the pH needs to be dropped.
For a pH up to 5.5, the addition of sphagnum peat moss at the rate of 2 cubic feet per 100 square feet will be adequate. For a pH 5.5 to 6.0, add one pound of sulfur per 100 square feet of bed in addition to the peat moss. For a pH 6.0 to 6.5, add 1.5 lbs. sulfur per 100 square feet of bed. For pH levels above 6.5, use 2 lbs. sulfur per 100 square feet of bed and double the amount of sphagnum peat moss suggested earlier. Do not use aluminum sulfate to correct a high pH as excessive levels of aluminum can be toxic to blueberries. For each 0.5 movement up the pH scale from 6.5, add an additional pound of sulfur. Sulfur can be applied as a dust, but the pelletized sulfur is much easier to spread. Only the row should be treated and the row width should be 5 feet. Blueberries are normally spaced about 5 feet within the row. Sulfur takes time to react and so this should be done so that there is as much time as possible between applying sulfur and planting.

Blueberries will bear more if you have more than one variety.
Recommended varieties vary but you may want to try Bluecrop as it is very adaptable. Patriot also seems to do well. You may want to try some other varieties depending on the descriptions you read.

Blueberries should be mulched. Sawdust is the traditional material but I have also used straw and wood chips to good effect. Mulch to a depth of about 3 inches.

Irrigation is also a must. Soils should be kept moist but never waterlogged. Adding peat moss to the planting row will elevate the planting bed enough that standing water should not be an issue. However, an elevated bed will dry out more quickly, so there must be a way to add water. Trickle irrigation works well for blueberries. Try watering twice a week during the summer with enough water to wet the soil 8 inches deep. Watering once a week may be enough during the cooler weather of spring and fall.

As you can guess, there is more to growing blueberries than can be included in a short article. Dr. Art Gaus from the University of Missouri shared with me an instruction sheet on how to grow blueberries more than 20 years ago. It is still excellent information on blueberry culture. You can access it by going to:
http://bit.ly/buAtSM

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