How to Grow Organic Blueberries

Growing blueberries isn’t as difficult as you might think. Read how to grow blueberries suited to your climate and how to properly prepare your soil’s pH to harvest homegrown, antioxidant-rich berries all summer long.

Long-lived and dependable, blueberries are among the easiest fruits to grow organically. Different species are native to various regions of North America, but you can grow some type of blueberry bush almost anywhere. The limiting factor is soil acidity: Except for saskatoons, blueberries require acidic soil with a pH below 5.0. Blueberries can also be grown in containers filled with an acidic, bark-based planting mix.

Types of Blueberries to Try

Lowbush blueberries are native to colder parts of North America. The compact bushes can be grown as an edible hedge or ground cover, even in partial shade, and they bear delicious berries that hold on the plants for a long time.

Northern highbush blueberries grow wild in the Eastern mountains of the United States. Cultivated strains grow into 6-foot-tall bushes that bear for many years, with bright red or orange fall foliage.

Southern highbush blueberries are low-chill versions of northern highbush blueberries, making them a good choice in Zones 7 to 10.

Rabbiteye blueberries are descended from Southeastern native plants. Tolerant of heat and humidity, rabbiteyes are the best to grow where winters are mild.

Saskatoons are the top choice for cold climates. The hardiest varieties can survive to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Related to roses, the almond-scented fruits easily pass for true blueberries. Saskatoons prefer a near-neutral soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

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When to Plant Blueberries

Late winter or early spring, during the six weeks prior to your last spring frost, is the best time for planting blueberries. Young container-grown plants may be set out later but need time to grow roots before hot weather. Blueberries are only marginally self-fertile, so you’ll need to grow at least three plants of compatible varieties.

How to Grow Blueberries

Choose a sunny, well-drained site that has an acidic pH for growing blueberry bushes. Young blueberry plants need an abundance of organic matter in the soil’s shallowest layers. Most soils should be amended with 4 inches of acidic organic matter, such as rotted sawdust or leaf compost. Preparing the site in fall will help the organic matter settle into the soil, which will enhance transplant survival in spring. If your soil’s natural pH ranges between 5.5 and 6.0, you can further acidify it by top-dressing with soil sulfur twice a year. In areas with soil pH levels above 6.0, grow blueberries in large containers filled with a wood chip- or bark-based planting mixture.

Spacing recommendations for growing blueberries range from 12 inches between plants for lowbush blueberries to 12 feet between saskatoons. Allow 4 feet between highbush blueberry plants and 6 feet between rabbiteyes. Set plants at the same depth they grew in their pots. Water thoroughly, and mulch the soil’s surface with at least 2 inches of acidic mulch, such as wood chips. Cut back to ground level all but the two most vigorous upright shoots.

Growing and Pruning Blueberry Bushes

During the first year, pick all the flower from the bushes. So, the plant can focus on its health and have a strong start. Maintain a two-inch deep mulch with adding new on regular basis, and water the plants during dry days. Once the plants get established, provide an organic fertilizer to the plants during the spring. You can also use an organic fertilizer that is labeled for acid-loving hollies. Remember that you need to fertilize the plants in late summer to get a lot of flower buds.

During the droughts, water the plants on regular intervals. The bushes of blueberry have extensive surface roots, so watch the wetting pattern of your watering equipment to ensure a thorough soaking to 6 inches deep.

For planting the blueberries, you need to learn the exact pruning technique along with how to balance new growth with old. Pruning is seriously required if you want to keep the output high and berry size large. Healthy highbush blueberries should provide a minimum of one cane in one year. During the winter, you need to cut the old canes, but count the new canes first and cut accordingly. For the new canes, cut their tips to encourage branching. Cut the old and dead branches as soon as you see them. In case, you don’t have a new cane, improve the fertilization and adjust the pH of soil.

How to Harvest Blueberries

For the best taste, keep the blueberries on the plant even after they turned blue for about a week. When they become ripe, pick the blueberries at least two times in a week. While planting, chose a variety of early and late maturing blueberries to have fresh blueberries for a whole month.

Pest and Disease Prevention Tips

Although blueberries have very few disease or pest problems, but they are very serious. Most of these problems are linked with the soil and you can solve them by adjusting your soil. Another major issue is that sometimes birds try to take more than their actual share, which is a serious problem. Tulle netting is a good solution to keep the birds away.

Read full article here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/fruits/growing-blueberries-zm0z12amzkon.aspx

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