Berries in containers, need help with the soil mix...

mej79(zone 7)March 17, 2013

I am new to container gardening, and though I have done lots of research I am at a crossroads on what kind of soil mix I should create for the blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries I am planting in conjunction with my friends and family. My plan is to use 20 gallon smart pots and to keep this project organic. There will be 8 hours of sunlight for each plant, sometimes a bit more. My research seems to indicate that the blueberries need the lowest PH, maybe around 5 and the other berries would be happy at 5.5-6.0. Here's what I am considering:
Blueberries (Misty, O'Neal, Jubilee, Ochlocknee, Brightwell, Sunshine & Northblue)

- 2/3 Peat Moss (Fafard brand from Lowes) (PH = 4)
- 1/3 equal combination of bagged compost & bagged cow manure (PH = 7)
- 1/2 tablespoon Garden Saver thoroughly mixed in (this absorbs water and releases it slowly over a 2 week period)

This gives PH of 5 and I was considering adding some vermiculite to this as well, or possibly pine bark (everything will be coming from Lowes) not sure which is better to add.

I have also been told to add some of the soil from our yard to this mix by the horticulturalist at the place where I am buying the berries, but so many recommend against that....I am lost. I do know to carefully fertilize after a few weeks so I'll use HappyFrog for acid loving plants.

Blackberries/Raspberries/Strawberries - (caroline raspberry, ouachita & apache blackberry, seascape strawberries)
These seem to have similar ph requirements, so I want to use the same mix for all 3 plant types if possible.

- 1/3 Peat Moss (Fafard brand from Lowes) (PH = 4)
- 1/3 bagged cow manure (PH = 7)
- 1/3 bagged compost (PH = 7)
- 1/2 tablespoon Garden Saver thoroughly mixed in
This should give a PH of around 6.0.

Again possibly some pine bark or vermiculite, which I would trade out for some of he cow manure (note it is not fresh, but bagged manure). Again I have been told to use soil from my own yard for as much as 1/3 of this mixture, but I am not sure if that is a good idea. My only guess as to why is that they want me to get some good microbe action going in the pots...

I would appreciate your help. I have ordered plants for my family, my brother's family, and three friends who all wanted to get involved in gardening with me when I told them what I was planning (no pressure right :-)

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Hi mej,
For a good all purpose mix ,I'd use Pine or Fir bark mulch,peat moss and perlite,in a 60/20/20 ratio in the order that I printed.
The pH can be fairly easily adjusted in containers to accommodate each plant's needs.
The microbes from your dirt may not last too long after being separated from the earth and the soil will make for poor drainage and could stifle needed porosity.The mix can be fed with various fertilizers and nutrients. Brady

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:43AM
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I usually add some sand to the mix to help with drainage and if you want to lower your PH Iusually add a teaspoon of vinegar to every gallon of water.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 1:42AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Don't use Cow mature on Acid loving plants use Black Hen at Lowes. you can use cow mature on other plants but to simplify just use Black hen the bag have outline of Hen not cows head.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 6:22AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

The fact that you're using Smart Pots means that you have to worry a little less about drainage and compaction than you would otherwise -- as you might already know, if you place them directly on the soil they're going to wick water very nicely. That gives you more room to work with organics, which, unfortunately, can cause significant problems in container media in plastic or terra cotta pots. Nonetheless, to minimize compaction and potential drainage issues, I'd recommend a mix that's heavier on bark fines (as Brady suggests) -- I really like the 5-1-1 mix advocated by tapla (who posts a lot in the Container forum). It's 5 parts pine bark fines, 1 part peat, and 1 part perlite. For plants that prefer a pH closer to 7, you would add 1 tablespoon of lime per gallon of mix (it both raises the pH and adds calcium and magnesium). For blueberries, though, you'd replace the lime with gypsum and then add some epsom salts to your fertilizing regimen for supplemental magnesium.

As you noted, the recommendation to add garden soil to the mix is debatable. I'm experimenting this year with using about 1/3 garden soil in Smart Pots for annuals (primarily for cost savings), but I'm not ready to include it in my mix for potted fruits. I'm not so sure about the bagged cow manure or compost, either. I don't see a compelling reason for adding them, especially since I don't trust commercial bagged compost or manures to be free of herbicides/pesticides/antibiotics/hormones -- you just have no way of knowing what you're getting.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 11:09AM
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You might want to try the mix suggested by Dave Wilson Nursery. It has worked well for me.

Here is a link that might be useful: Grow Blueberries in Containers

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 11:18AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

One more note about fertilizer -- you might to consider incorporating the Happy Frog fertilizer that you mentioned into your potting mix before planting. Based on recommendations that I've seen for seed and alfalfa meals, something like 1 cup per 10 gallons of mix would probably be appropriate. I wouldn't count on this for your plant's sole source of nutrition, though. Organic fertilizers are dependent on microbes for realizing nutrients, and microbe populations in container media are less reliable than in the ground. If you want to stick with organics, I'd suggest supplementing the Happy Frog fertilizer with a water soluble fertilizer like hydrolyzed fish/liquid fish, which is predigested and so offers your plants a more easily accessible nutrient source.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:08PM
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