Help fix my deficiencies in my blueberries and lemon!

naikii(9a / 8b)April 9, 2013

Hi, this is a cross post from the container forum, as I have some sort of nutrient deficiency in two of my blueberries and a dwarf lemon. The full thread is here but here are the cliff notes, sorry about it being so picture heavy but I wanted to include as much information as possible!

* Plants are in Tapla's 5-1-1, the blueberries without lime, and with added slow release osmocote (acid loving for blueberries and citrus and fruit for the lemon)
* Deficiency marked by yellowing between the leaves, with dark veins.
* pH has been tested, results show acid soil for blueberries, about neutral for lemon.
* Watering with tap water, with occasional vinegar added for the blueberries. Tap water has not been pH tested, but the water authority gives a range of 7.2-7.8 .
* I am growing three types of blueberry, deficiencies seem localised to rabbit eyes, with highbush types and southern high bush types less affected, or not at all.
* Weather has recently dropped significantly, going into an Australian highlands Autumn with first frosts predicted by about the 25th of April.
* Last week (3/4) I added about 15g iron sulfate to the soil, and sprayed a dilute mixture of iron sulfate with a few drops detergent directly on leaves.
*Blueberries being fed with acid loving soluble fertiliser, half strength twice weekly. Lemon receiving miracle grow all purpose.
* Blueberries been receiving a small dose of epsom salts weekly.

Accompanying photos;


7 April

9th April


7 April

9 April

Soil tests;

Fertiliser being used;



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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Take that PH tester you have and place the probe in to a cup of strong black coffee and let me know what it reads. Those cheap meters are just garbage. Even if it is accurate PH 6 is still too high. Is your water chlorinated? Do you use a water softener? Start using rainwater if you can.

Just take a step back and let the plants be for awhile, let the iron have a chance to work.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:32AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks bamboo, I know that the ph testers are pretty dodgy which is why I also took a powder test, which shows pH in the 4-5 range, which should be sufficiently acidic. I use the stick pH tester to look at relative differences between my potted media, more than its actual face reading.

I dont have a rainwater tank sadly, and this year we havent really have rain either, however I am lucky to be placed in Canberra, which has one of Australia's cleanest and most unadulterated water supplies with relatively low chlorination, from rain-fed mountain dams.

Perhaps I am being to concerned too soon...

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 8:20AM
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Blueberry shrubs are adapted to live in poor soil with low nutrient level. I am speaking of wild, or native blueberry shrubs. They are survivors. However, they are also adapted to live in soil with low pH. One location where blueberries might be found growing in nature would be downwind of a large volcano. Volcanic ash is generally acidic, and deep layers can accumulate on the landscape, when volcanoes erupt. The photos that you have posted show clear and unambiguous indication of iron chlorosis. This symptom is a sign of high soil pH. So the blueberry shrubs are telling us that the pH is too high. Adding vinegar to the irrigation water will lower pH, but there are bacteria living in the soil that consume the vinegar, and the pH will rise over time. You can get better results by mixing sulfuric acid with your irrigation water, but this has to be done carefully. Too much acid will kill the shrubs. It will be necessary for you to learn how to measure soil pH to fix this problem. The least expensive, reliable, method for measuring soil pH that I have found is by using dye indicator solutions. There are many choices, but bromocresol green indicator solution works over the pH range 5.4 to 3.8, and this is appropriate to the needs of blueberry shrubs. Blueberries grow best when soil pH is around 4.5, but they will survive over the range 4.0 to 6.5. Here in the USA, I am able to secure bromocresol green indicator solution from HMS Beagle, but you will likely have to find a vendor in your corner of the world. It is always possible to check soil pH using a pH meter, but these units are pretty expensive, they require calibration, and they might only last a year or two. Also, when testing soil for pH, you will have to use distilled water, or water that has been purified by means of reverse osmosis, often referred to as "de-ionized water." I realize that I am throwing a lot of information at you. I grow blueberries where I live in Madison, Wisconsin. We have alkaline soil, and our water has pH around 7.6, due to the limestone formations underground, where the well water accumulates. Nonetheless, we are able to grow blueberries successfully, and you can too. The results are worth the effort. The information above is basic chemistry, and you can get a second opinion from anyone in your area who has done pH testing in any setting, including a medical lab, a soil testing lab, or an industrial lab.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:08AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks, that information is extremely helpful, and I too thought it was iron related. I still find it strange that the soil ph kit gives a reading in the 4-5 range, but it could be related to the waters ph.

I can get sulfuric acid easily enough, I think it is sold as battery acid, and I suspect that diluting water down to ph 4.5 won't require much. In fact I would probably have to get a pipette out something to measure accurately.

Can you tell me at what ph leaves will start to suffer acid burn? Because these plants are in quite small pots right now it will be difficult to water using my watering can and avoid contact with leaves.

Also will my foliar application of iron sulfate help, and should I repeat it for another iron dose? Thanks again

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:46AM
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In past years I have had to deal with iron chlorosis in blueberry shrubs, and my recollection is that when I got the pH down it still took a month for the plant to green up and look totally normal. So, if you correct the pH problem by watering the shrub with pH = 5 water, it will show slight improvement in a few days, and take a month or so to turn deep green. Water at pH = 5 will not burn the leaves. You can pour the water right on the plant, from a bucket, with no burned leaves or any other problem. I have seen soil pH readings as low as 4.0, and the blueberry shrub looked healthy & normal. I don't know the lower pH limit for blueberry soil. However, I do know that battery acid will put a hole in cotton clothing. Polyester clothing is resistant to this acid, at least at that concentration.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:37AM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

If your acidified water is enough to burn leaves,it can probably do that also to the roots.
I use a pond water test kit,which uses a liquid color agent,like Eric's and it doesn't get poured on the plants until it's in the pH range I want. Brady

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:48AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Okay, for your lemon (and you'd be better off posting your lemon questions on the Citrus Forum, lots of container citrus folks there), I would switch to Dyna Gro Foliage Pro, and supplement with Osmocote Plus (must be the "Plus" formulation to get a better NPK ratio plus the micros). Use 1/2 strength Foliage Pro with every watering. More sun, but introduce gradually over a two week period, especially if you've got an Improved Meyer Lemon, which tend to be a bit more sensitive to changes in light. If your tap water is higher than 8.0 pH, you may also want to add a tablespoon of vinegar per gallon and then re-check the pH to bring it to between 5 and 7 to help with micro uptake.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:46PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The problem is if the PH gets too low the plants look exactly the same as if the PH is too high:) Your best bet is first find a way to test the water and soils PH accurately. Pool PH kits will work...while the chart on the bottle may not show you say PH 5 the paper will still show the right color which is goldenrod. Test the strips first in black coffee as it is about a perfect PH 5. Just as easy though to order PH test paper in a roll, it is cheap. While you were guessing with the vinegar amount don't do that with the acid.

PH of the water does not mean as much as how much bicarbonates are tied up in that water. If you get the water right the plants will be happy. There is a good discussion on it called "a self taught chemistry lesson" if you want to read through it.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 5:45PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks for that link, I have actually read parts of that thread before, but never until the end! Extremely informative, and in some part quite entertaining as well!

I remember back in highschool, our whole class using sulphuric, at battery acid concentrations, and I’m pretty sure none of us were disfigured or blown up that day ;)

Out of the whole thread I have three questions;

Firstly your comment “The real bad guy in the water is the bicarbonates not the PH”
That is interesting. Considering my soils are acidic and my water is not, I assume then that it is the bicarbonates in the water causing troubles. The analysis from our water authority has bicarbonate ranges for our two dams; Googong with a range of 50-80 mg calcium bicarbonate per Litre and Stromlo at 40-50mg/L. Do you have any idea of what the ideal bicarbonate ranges for blueberries are?

Secondly, as its not the pH that’s important but level of bicarbonates, and that a water with neutral pH but no bicarbonates would work fine, would I be better off diluting down to pH 6 instead of pH 5, to be sure that pH will not go too low? Presumably this would suck up most of the bicarbonates in the water, as well deplete soil bicarbonates as well over time?

Finally, I measured my soil pH with a soil test kit at about pH 4-4.5. Is the soil unable to bind the bicarbonate ions from the water? Why aren't the bicarbonates neutralised upon hitting the soil? Is soil pH irrelevant and water pH the only important factor?


*Edit, I just realised it is calcium carbonate not bicarbonate that is measured, I am assuming carbonates have the same affect as bicarbonates?..

This post was edited by naikii on Tue, Apr 9, 13 at 19:51

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:44PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


I'm not a chemist......I won't even pretend to be. All I know is what I had to learn to make growing BB with my high bicarbonate water work.

If your soil was actually 4-4.5 your plants would not look like that. Had you just used vinegar when you took the sample to test? I just don't believe that test is accurate.

When you have high bicarbonate water it raises your soil PH over time as it counteracts the acidity of the soil.

I acid my water down to PH 5 to 5.5 you are correct that there is no point to try to neutralize all the bicarbonates and drop the PH to say 4 it is just not worth the risk.

Is there a university program like there is here in the states that will do a soil test? There is something just not right in your tests.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:02PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

On the USGS water hardness chart, 50-80 mg/L of calcium carbonate straddles the line between soft (>60) and moderately hard (61-120). For reference purposes, Fall Creek Nursery's soil mix page for blueberries suggests a bicarbonate level of 100 mg/L or less, so, at least according to their guidelines, your water is good fit for blueberries. I'd still add an acid if I were you, but, since you have fewer bicarbonates to neutralize, you shouldn't need nearly as much as those of us with hard or very hard well water. It could very well be that the "splash" that you've been adding is sufficient, but, as others have suggested, more precise measurement would probably be a good idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fall Creek Nursery Soil Mix Guidelines

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:47PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

I hadn't used vinegar in the soil for a number of days, and it had rained about a day before, which is why this is quite perplexing to me. The only confounding thing I can think of is that I added iron sulfate to the soil, which has an acidifying effect.

The soil media itself should be acidic, it is comprised of pine bark fines, peat moss and perlite, with no lime added.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:52PM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Get some liquid iron at garden center mix teaspoon in gallon water spray leafs with good coverage when plant in warmest part day that take care iron in those leafs. if don't yellow get worst and set in leaf and can't correct once get real yellow. All young plants benefit from iron application alot growth and not so much iron as plant get older have more roots in soil to pick up iron needed..

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:53PM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

One other thing I noticed,is the ingredients on the Blueberry fertilizer label,particularly the kind of Nitrogen.
I see it's not the majority,but from what I've read,Nitrogen derived from Nitrates is not the best thing for Blueberries.
I might even try the Miracle-Gro.It looks like it has more micro nutrients also.Just a thought. Brady

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:15PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks for the continued replies, this will be my plan of attack;
1- Obtain sulphuric acid, and liquid pH test and dilute each watering down so that pH=5
2- Switch fertiliser to straight miracle grow.

I am also tossing around the idea of repotting the plants. When I first potted them I ran out of potting mix, and they ended up being in pots only half full of soil. I was originally going to wait until they went dormant in winter for this, but thinking now of doing it this afternoon, and giving them more space to live. I am also thinking of replacing the peat fraction of Tapla’s 5-1-1 with azalea potting mix, or a combination of azalea mix and peat.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:18AM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

If the Blueberries were recently fertilized,maybe hold off until the time release stuff wears down.A little is better than a lot for Blueberries.
If repotting,then it may not be so critical,especially if the roots are washed. Brady

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:28AM
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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)

I tried to warn you about the 5:1:1 mix for blueberries. Do not use dyna gro fertilizer as their Nitrogen is a Nitrate form.

Good luck

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:36AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

I am worried I mixed too much time release through the initial batch as well, so repotting and adding more mixture would dilute that down a bit. I think its possible my feeding frequency is too high as well, as everything I read says what you just did, and it is easy to over fertilise them..

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:39AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

OK, well after a long and arduous afternoon I have some updates.

I first tracked down some sulphuric acid. This was actually kinda hard work, because it seems sulphuric acid is used as a precursor for some drugs, and thus many do not sell to the general public. However, after much hunting I found a cleaning supply store who sold me some 99% pure sulphuric. I was expecting 33% battery acid so this makes more problems for safety etc, because sulphuric can be pretty nasty stuff.

Anyhow, I got home and started to mix up some new 5-1-1 for my blueberries, but decided to add a fraction azalea potting mix, as well as a little extra perlite. So Ive strayed slightly from my original interpretation of 5-1-1.

Things took a turn for the interesting when I went to re-pot the first blueberry. As I emptied out the old soil I noticed a few things.

Firstly the soil was dark and compact, and reminded me of saturated potting mix. There was barely any distinguishable pine bark at all!

Secondly, the mixture was saturated, despite having been watered last over 24 hours ago!

Thirdly, the roots of the plants had barely progressed at all in 2 out of the 4 plants I repotted!

It would appear that I royally screwed up my initial 5-1-1 !!

Seeing this I now think that a) my pine bark are too fine b) I added too much peat and c) the perlite I used was too fine. I think that the lack of growth in two of my blueberries is entirely because of this fact.

In my one plant that has put on a fair bit of growth over the last 2 months since potting, it had a much larger root system, although was still definitely stunted. Roots had by no means penetrated the whole soil.

It was about this stage that I decided to mess with Tapla's 5-1-1 a little, as I think my ingredients, in particular the pine bark are too fine for the job.

I added a large percentage extra perlite, without actually measuring, I would say 40-50%. I added some coarse pine bark to the mix, I would estimate 5-10%. I added some azalea mix, I estimate 5-10%, and I kept peat relatively low.

I really hope the extra perlite and addition of larger park bark pieces will allow a mix with more air pockets, and lightness for roots to penetrate. I hope this will greatly increase drainage as well. I would rather have to water daily than have a saturated mixture.

Next, I purchased a water pH kit and measured the tap water, this was the result (the pH square is second from the right);

So clearly, by this test my water is basic in nature. There is a test on the little strip that measures overall alkalinity (third from the right, and this shows a range of about 80-120. So this is almost certainly impacting my poor plants!

I watered in my re-potted plants with a sulphuric solution, and boy 99% is strong.

I have a 9L watering can, and I thought I would be conservative. I used a syringe to measure out HALF a ml and filled the full 9L with tap water. Such a small amount of acid was barely a few drops yet the pH test came out bright yellow, indicating pH 6.2 or below.

Being cautious, I emptied out the half the can onto a patch of grass I dont particularly enjoy and refilled with another 4.5 L. Tested again, and still came out bright yellow. So a second time I emptied out half the can, and refilled with tap water, and upon re-testing had a small tinge of red-orange in my result and so put this upon my plants.

So, it would seem I need about .1-.2 ml at a time to drop the water to the necessary range! wow.

Anyhow, I now have confidence that this ordeal is over, and my plants will pick up from here. I appreciate everyone's comments and assistance, its been great.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 7:22AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


You have to be careful using that acid. It is so concentrated that just a small mistake will kill those plants. You could have got the 33% acid from a auto parts store, it is simply battery acid.

In any event I would STRONGLY suggest you make a weakened acid stock solution. Perhaps try adding 1/4 cup of the acid to a gallon of water. Remember always add acid to water never water to acid. Once you have the 1/4 cup of acid mixed in the gallon of water do your test again to figure out the amount to use on your water.

Take one of those pool strips and dip it in strong black coffee....then shoot for that PH color for your plants.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 8:01AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Can you expand on adding acid to water and not water to acid? Tonight I put a few drop in the can, then added water.

I was thinking a stock solution was the best way to go too, I will pick up a big bottle of distilled water tomorrow, and add some acid, and then use that to dilute my water.

I tried my best to get 33% battery acid, but the stores told me they would not sell, unless I purchased a dry car battery with it... they are quite tough with such things...

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 8:45AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

I think you're making some progress here, naikii. If your locally available ingredients differ a bit from what's ideal for the 5-1-1 mix, then adapting the recipe to improve drainage makes sense. Addressing the alkalinity in the water will likely help, as well, and, as a precaution, switching to a fertilizer free of nitrates is probably a good idea (although I'm not convinced that nitrates are inherently bad for blueberries unless they're overapplied). I'm still curious about the fact that your highbush plants are free of chlorosis symptoms, though -- did they get exactly the same potting mix as the rabbiteyes, or was it different batch? What about fertilizer? Any differences in amount?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:41AM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

Here's a little information about adding acid to water. Brady

Here is a link that might be useful: Do You Add Sulfuric Acid to Water or Water to Sulfuric Acid?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:14PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Nakaii, could not buy 33% acid but had no problem buying 99% lol:) And I thought only the US had dumb rules.

Brady covered the why, thanks Brady.

No need to use distilled water..your tap water will work fine to make the stock solution.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 2:06PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Interesting about the acid, I'll definitely add to the water last from now on.

As for the rabbiteye mystery, well in my large amount of reading over the last few days I have learnt that rabbiteyes require both lower pH than other types, and also are more affected by bicarbonates. Because of this, I am thinking that my tap water is riding the cusp of what's barely fine for highbush types, but problematic for rabbiteyes. My second theory is that the more sensitive rabbiteyes are predicting the future of things to come should I continue with untreated water.

Having said that, the soil mix was indeed different though, from a batch made 2 weeks later. I'm pretty sure I added less peat to this mix, and also used a much coarser grade of perlite, with each individual particle being at least 3-4x larger on average.

Considering these two things together, I doubt the fertiliser did any harm, and it was entirely a media and water pH problem, although I'll still swap back to the miracle grow, to be sure, to be sure.

This post was edited by naikii on Wed, Apr 10, 13 at 17:11

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 5:09PM
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At pH = 5, your tap water/sulfuric acid solution is ideal for blueberry shrubs. To be successful, this should become the standard and usual irrigation water. The idea is to lower the soil pH to around 5, and keep it there. There is risk involved in keeping concentrated sulfuric acid stored around the house. It would be safer if you could locate a plastic drum, perhaps a 10 gallon size, and make up a 10% sulfuric acid solution. At this concentration, it is possible to quickly rinse spilled acid off of the skin, and avoid a serious burn. As stated above, it's important to add the acid to the water. That will avoid generating steam and sputtering acid solution.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 8:53PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

I am going to show my chemistry weaknesses now, but when diluting the acid is it as simple as adding the same volume of water to acid?

For instance, the acid I have are in 1L containers. If I mixed it with 1L of water, would I now have a 50% concentration of acid? Something tells me probably not…

I found a spreadsheet that does some calculations for me, and by my interpretation, if I got a 16L container of water and added the whole litre of sulphuric, I would end up with about a 10% concentration.

Here is a link that might be useful: Location of sulfuric acid spreadsheet

This post was edited by naikii on Wed, Apr 10, 13 at 21:37

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 9:18PM
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There are several ways of describing the strength of an acid solution. If the label says 50% sulfuric acid(V/V), it can be read as "50% sulfuric acid, by volume." If the label says 50% sulfuric acid(W/W), it can be read as "50% sulfuric acid, by weight." Referring to the periodic table, sodium has an atomic weight of 23, and chlorine has an atomic weight of 35.4. Since we know that the formula for table salt is NaCl, we can add 23 and 35.4 to get 58.4. A 1 Molar solution of sodium chloride has 58.4 grams of NaCl dissolved in one liter of water. If the label says 50% sulfuric acid, and that's all it says, you really don't know if the ingredients were measured by weight or by volume. One liter of concentrated sulfuric acid, added to 10 liters of water, would be labeled "10% sulfuric acid(V/V)." You will notice that there is some heat generated when mixing sulfuric acid with water. This is normal and expected. If you were to add one liter of sulfuric acid to one liter of water, the temperature might get high enough to melt a plastic container. However, when making up 10% sulfuric acid, the rise in temperature would be less than 35 degrees F.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 9:58PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Well, it seems progress was made, and thanks all for your help. Already my leaves are transforming from this;

To this;

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 7:12PM
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Regarding the blues,

I would give it some time, your fertilizer has some sulfur in it so you should start to see the ph drop. In the meantime, buy a bag of peat moss, sprikle a couple inches of it on top and gently mix it in without harming the plant roots. Blueberries will thrive in pure peat so you will only be helping it. You should be able to turn the ph with soil ammendments and the sulfur.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 8:10PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

I thought I would come back with an update on how this went 8 months later and into spring.

The sulphuric acid totally fixed all my issues, and now i have extremely healthy plants putting on some rapid growth in our first month of Summer, with tonnes of berries.

Here is a pic from 2 weeks ago, and they have grown even more since

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 6:54PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Thanks for the follow up! Very cool!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 7:54PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

They look gorgeous:) Glad we could help.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 7:56AM
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BahamaDan ZTropic

How do they look now? :)

    Bookmark   February 11, 2015 at 2:31PM
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