Put pine needles around blueberries in Jan/Feb?

RelaxinJanuary 30, 2012

Hi - I am a big blueberry fan and have gotten a Elizabeth, Earliblue, BlueGold, and Rubel plant over the last few years. They have never done very well sad to say despite me getting a Ph meter and testing them. Last year I read on here about putting pine needles around their roots. I bought a bale and had saved them to work into the ground during winter dormancy. Lately I have been reading about people saying that the needles don't do much. Is it worth it to dig up the plants to put needles around them, or is there something else I should do with them? I am on a quixotic quest to see these guys really get going - thanks! Zone is 7a.

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

No experience with in-ground blueberries but I won't dig them up to work anything into the soil. Just use the needles to mulch around the plants. It might not help much but won't hurt.

Regular nitrogen fertilizer and water is how I make mine grow. Ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) is good if your pH might be on the high side. Slow release Osmocote for acid loving plants also works well.

Of course the first requirement of growing blueberries is a pH around 4.5. Do you know your current pH? Where do you live?

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 8:31PM
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If they havent been growing, chances are its due to soil ph. They just cant get what they need from the soil. Do you know what the ph of the water you are using? When I first planted mine I had to use tap water. My ph reads about 8.5 from the tap. I filled a 55 gallon barrel with tap water and added sulfuric acid to it alittle at a time untill it showed 4.5ph. I used that for 4 months untill I got my rain barrels set up and have been using rain water every since. I know it sounds alittle extreme but it works.

Instead of pine needles try finding some pine bark mulch that isnt ph stabilized. Soil conditioner works as well. Both have 3.5 to 4 ph and will help.

We really need some more info on your situation to help. These plants are pretty picky about how and where they grow and everyones areas has its own obsticles to over come.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 12:13AM
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alan haigh

If the problem is pH the leaves would probably not look green and healthy. Blueberries often get runted out in soils with the proper pH IME if the soil is too heavy. Blueberries thrive in a light, highly organic soil. Some kind of light compost would serve you well but pine needles will pull nutrients (mostly N) out of the soil if you incorporate them and it will take years to amend the soil this way. It will also produce excessive carbon dioxide in the soil as they break down.

The last time I installed blueberry plants I thought I could solve the problem of a moderately clay soil just by doing 50-50 soil to peat moss mix. It didn't work because the soil was still too heavy, even though a vegetable garden was extremely productive nearby in the same soil unamended.

I ended up amending the soil with forest compost, which is extremely light and airy and it solved the problem. The plants roots were mostly in potting soil so it was easy to amend the soil without disturbing them, however.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 5:47AM
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Using a mulch that will slowly turn the soil more acidic does work, but it takes time and multiple applications. I have commented before that, after many years in-ground, my Nikko blue hydrangeas have finally turned back to producing true blue flowers, after years of being pink, because I have been applying deep layers of oak leaves each year, often spring and fall, for a number of years now, and it has apparently been done long enough to affect the soil chemistry and lower the pH to the point that they will bloom blue.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 6:00AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


How much sun do they get? The problem is if the plants have not grown well there first season or two they could be stunted and you will fight a long uphill battle. You may want to consider redoing the bed in peat and pine fines and getting new plants.

Make sure you only use acid type fertilizer and never use any fertilizer on them that contains muriate of pot ash.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 7:16AM
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Thanks everyone for all the great replies! My dad told me I should give up on the blueberries but I'm in for at least another season :)

Fruitnut, I live in Delaware and the soil here is sandy. I got the soil tested by the extension when I started trying blueberries a few years ago. The report says the Ph is 6.0, P is 44, K is 81, Mg is 50, and Ca is 33. I took a reading just now with a Kelway soil meter and it says Ph is 6.4. I have been putting some HollyTone on them now and again to help with the acidity but I have not been very scientific about it. I read about ammonium sulfate here on this forum last year but I can't seem to find it in the local garden stores. Do you think I should hold out for the ammonium sulfate or just keep at it with the HollyTone?

Blueboy1977, thanks - I have not tested the water. I read about adding vinegar here last year and I tried adding some to the watering can. I didn't think I added that much vinegar but shortly after that experiment two plants burned up completely and some of the others dropped a few leaves. I think I need to get a water Ph meter. The good news is that it is well water and it has a lot of iron. I read here about someone using Bromcresol Green as a water ph tester - maybe I can find that in a pool store or something.

Harvestman, yes some of the leaves have had chlorosis in the past years. Two of the plants are new last year from Backyard Berry Plants and they came in a lot of bark. They have not had a chlorosis problem yet and sent up a lot of canes/stems.

Denninmi, I guess what I can do is put the pine needles down and cover with some soil instead of digging it up. Might be safer.

Bamboo Rabbit, on the sun, they have a southern exposure and are getting mostly a full day. But you may be right that some of the older ones may have had a bad start.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:19PM
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alan haigh

Den assumes mulching lowered the pH but hasn't mentioned whether the soil was actually tested. My experience is that most mulches, including leaves, don't actually lower the pH of the overall soil but the composting releases humic acids that free up iron right at the surface so it has the same affect. Roots reach right up to the surface when there's mulch.

You can order pelletized sulfur from Seven Springs organics. Follow directions carefully or you may make your soil excessively acid. Meanwhile I recommend you only use the needles for mulch. If you work some sulfur into the soil and then mulch the roots should be able to pull the iron your plants need. You can also find chelated iron that's made for foliar application for a quick fix.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 9:01PM
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My experience has been that pine needles are better than no mulch, but blueberries really love a heavy, aged sawdust mulch, (I've also read that this is true) particularly in areas with hot summers. I made 3 raised beds using logs around about 20 slightly elevated blueberries, put down 5-6" of somewhat aged stable waste, and then put cardboard and 1-2" of woods chips on top of that to keep down weeds. My plants were doing ok before this, but they've really taken off since then. I'm in the process of converting my other blueberry plantings to this mulching system and highly recommend it (assuming you don't have overly wet soil to begin with).

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 12:55PM
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Our native soils here in Eastern Washington have a pH of about 7. To make things more challening, the water has a pH of about 7-8 depending on the source.

Annually, however, the couple of growers I communicate with are doing well by treating 2-3 times per year with ammonium sulfate and that's it! The maintains a soil pH in the 6 range but the plants are thriving!

For my plants, I dug a 2' hole and filled it with a mix of mostly fir bark but also some peat and a bit of native soil. I continue to fertilize with mostly ammonium sulf for the pH but also throw in a more general purpose water soluble fertilizer just to make sure my plants are getting the necessary nutrients.

At least near my home, a combination of acid producing fertilizers and addition of mulch seems to be working. This summer I intend to keep up with the ammonium sulf but also try some cottonseed meal on some of my plants as an experiment.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 2:10PM
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RM, No sulfer???

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 3:25PM
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