New to Blueberries and raspberries

nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)June 12, 2014

I'm being given one of each plant. I hear you need 2 BBs, different types. And that BBs like acidic soil. DH works in a woodshop with mostly redwood. Would adding some of that help with the soil?
Can either be grown in pots? At least for this year?
I know NOTHING about RBs!
Any help out there? Nancy

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I think it would be more accurate to say bb's need acidic soil. Yes, they can be grown in containers, and providing the right pH potting mix can be easier than amending soil (which is a lot more technical and hard work than adding some wood shavings - and uncomposted redwood shavings can inhibit plant growth)

I've only grown a few raspberries. Not difficult, and should do very well in NorCal with minimal help.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:25PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Thank you Charina. What would be the right PH potting mix? Can I get it at a Big box store, or should I go to the fancy nursery to get specialized stuff?
If I add redwood sawdust to a compost pile, would it help for planting in-ground next year? I'm asking this, cause I have a huge amount available. Nancy

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 8:39PM
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You might be able to find potting mix that is made for azaleas and rhododendrons. That should work well with blueberries. Blueberries have to be kept watered, and your irrigation water might contain dissolved limestone, or, it might not. It helps to know the pH of your water supply, when growing blueberries.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 9:23PM
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As mentioned by Eric, your water pH will be very important. If you will be using city water, you may be able to call your city water works and get the pH and dissolved mineral content of the water. This will be very helpful info for growing blues.

Raspberries are tough plants and are easy to grow.. Be sure to plant them where you can control all of the suckers (new plants) that spread everywhere underground.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:12PM
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I seem to recall that you are in Sonoma County as I am (sebastopol). You can get rhododendron mix from Wheeler Zamaroni in Santa Rosa (the best) or from Grab n' Grow outside of Sebastopol. Either would be great for blueberries in pots or to amend your native soil with.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:16PM
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"If I add redwood sawdust to a compost pile, would it help for planting in-ground next year?"I would have to google if redwood sawdust would do anything for pH adjustment. My expectation is that it would do little or nothing for pH. Depending on your native pH, you would be better off adding elemental sulfur now to prepare the soil for planing this coming fall/spring. Ideally, you need to figure out the pH of your soil, and as mentioned above, your water source. Then you can plan to amend as necessary.

While peat moss won't be as inexpensive as your redwood source, I think it would be better than redwood for amending. I myself would be a bit cautious about using more than a small portion of redwood sawdust even after fully composting it.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 10:52AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

OK, I'll give up on the redwood sawdust. I'll get some rhodie mix and plant in pots for now.
Not sure about my water. I have a well that is quite sulphery smelling in the summer.
I'll ask my neighbor if I can use one of his test strips for his hot tub to test the water.
Thanks all. Nancy

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 11:48AM
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Blueberry shrubs thrive when they are grown in acidic soil, with high level of organic matter, which could be leaf litter, sawdust, wood chips, or even shredded paper. The vegetable fiber supports the growth of mycorrhizal fungi that live around the roots, and these filaments feed the roots nutrient from the soil, and they are thought to increase the growth of the shrub. However, some plant materials are toxic to blueberry shrubs, including black walnut, beech, and red maple. I don't know if redwood sawdust is an appropriate amendment for blueberry shrubs.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 2:23PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

OK, is there a way to make my well water more acidic than alkaline?
I'll keep them in pots with rhodie mix for this year, until I learn how to amend the soil. Get a soil test etc. It can't be too hard. There's an organic blueberry farm about 5 miles away! Maybe I should go talk to them! Nancy

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 8:47PM
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The local organic blueberry farm might be helpful, or they might not. Some people regard the knowledge and expertise that they have gained over the years as trade secrets, and others are willing to share. Well water can be made more acidic by adding vinegar, citric acid, or sulfuric acid. Since both vinegar and citric acid are sold as food for people, they are readily available. However, both of these acids break down in the soil, most likely because they are consumed by bacteria living in the soil. So you have to make repeated applications when using these two acids for lowering soil pH. Sulfuric acid has a more long lasting effect on soil pH. It is necessary to measure the pH of your irrigation water, before adding any acid, and after the addition is made. I don't think it is very practical to send out samples for testing, it makes more sense to be doing this yourself. I am currently using a dye indicator, bromocresol green, but I used to use a pH meter that was manufactured by Hanna Instruments. Both methods work OK, and they gave the same results when I compared them. If you have naturally acidic soil, and pH neutral irrigation water, you might not have to do any pH testing. The people with the organic blueberry farm might be willing to give you a clue on the local conditions.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 10:10PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Thanks me quite confused, but lookin into some stuff!
Living in Sonoma Co, I think the organic farm will be willing to share some of their secrets! We're talking about a couple of plants, not a whole field like they have!
Sonoma Co is a pretty Ag type area and full of old Hippies and the like! LOL Nancy

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 12:37AM
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From everything I have read, ericwi is right on. You'll want to purchase some way to measure pH (meter, strips) to figure out how much change is necessary. Then you'll want to get yourself either sulfur (the slow/safe method) or sulfuric acid (the fast/aggressive method). I'm also new to blueberries, and I'm doing a combination of the two in order to get mine down to the appropriate range.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 5:16PM
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The best way to make soil acid and kept it steady is composting oak leaf. California's got a lot of that. In general most leaf litter when composted will be acidic.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 7:13PM
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AgroCoders, you're right that compost and other organic material will generally help the soil be slightly acidic. But it takes a HUGE amount of organic matter to make a significant change.

I highly recommend the Purdue Extension's guide to lowering soil pH. It's a good read.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 2:18PM
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One more thought for you: my city tap water here in Ames, Iowa has a pH of 8. With 4 drops of 98% pure sulfuric acid into a gallon of water, the pH drops to 5. Sulfuric acid is by far the cheapest and most effective way to permanently lower the pH of your tap water. However, it's an extremely corrosive chemical, so you have to take the proper safety precautions when working with it.

This post was edited by powerofpi on Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 14:25

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 2:23PM
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I think that for many people, having to use sulfuric acid to lower the pH of water used to irrigate blueberry shrubs is a deal breaker. Consider the issues: First, you have to buy it. This will take some effort. Transport is risky, please drive carefully! It is true that if you remember to add the acid to the water, then there will be no steam and no splattering and no geyser created. But you only have to forget once, and you can end up with acid all over yourself, and all over the room you are working in. Once the acid is mixed with the water, the worst is over, but there remains the question of what to do with the leftover acid, still in the jug. It has to be stored somewhere, and it has to be secured so that curious children do not have access. A commercial blueberry grower can get set up for dealing with concentrated sulfuric acid, but I'm not sure that this is a good idea for homeowners and backyard gardeners. I prefer to work with agricultural sulfur, even though the process is slower.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 6:44PM
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Sawdust is a poor mulch and even poorer soil amendment. I know of a dozen apples that were planted in sawdust and it was 10 years until the trees started to thrive.

There must be a lot of oak leave litter available in northern California see if you can get that to compost and to mulch.

If you're planting more than a 12 bushes buying soil will be expensive. Also I've noted that this soil seems to be peat moss mixed in with just enough composted materials to make it black, some chemical agents, and building sand, rarely clay.

I know Bayer, of 'Bayer Aspirin' manufactured top soil for a while and I foil very small strips of aluminum foil in the bag and it stunk. Yuck! Top soil is compost, sand, clay, and peat moss. Real top soil you won't find for sale it's far too valuable for the price that people would pay.

Usually though, if buying berries and such to plant they will be potted in a good artificial soil sufficient for sustaining while the plant establishes new roots. The soil in your yard doesn't have to look like flood plain bottom soil like you see in Chicago. Ever see red Georgia clay? Georgia peaches and pecans grow in it no problem and there are many tree nurseries in Georgia.

As your plants start establishing roots in your yard, you can begin composting your own soil and mulch. Know though that compost is actually serving as fertilizer and mulch and will save lots of money for you and lots of chemical run-off. The plants would lively thrive simply being planted.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 7:35PM
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Thank you ericwi for pointing out the absurdity of someone recommending a residential person use sulfuric acid to acidify soil.

First of all, once the soil was acidified heavy rains would wash the acidity away so all you are really doing is setting yourself up to use a very dangerous chemical long term continually re-acidity soil.

Second of all what you actually need to do is compost leaf litter and plant material, some do a better job at allowing acidity to be leached out of their decomposition process than others (e.g. oak).

So you see using composting methods isn't 'slower' it's sustainably safe and cheap.

Yes, it's really that simple of a difference between the two methods.

The reasons nurseries are loath to use composting is fear of introducing plant diseases but the truth of the matter is they are depriving their nursery plants of needed nutrients and microorganisms needed to help their nursery plants acquire immunity and vigor.

Honestly if I knew any of my neighbors had sulfuric acid I would look in seeing if it could be reported to the police. Really, even commercially it's being used in situations that don't call for it.

I have spilled battery acid on my jeans and watch them actually crumble and fall off my body within 30 minutes. All I can say is I'm thankful those jeans were very absorbent.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 7:54PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah I use sulfuric acid, it's cheap, and the most effective.
I don't have a problem mixing or anything. i don't use pure, i use about a 50% solution. it's sold at any auto parts place as battery acid. I actually need it for batteries too! Long story but I have an electric golf cart. Yes, it is pure as snow, no worries there. It has to be to work in batteries, required by law to be pure too. Compost in general is not aciidic, Compost can be very basic, like mushroom compost. Yes, oak leaves can be acidic, but not enough for blueberries, we want 5.0 PH, if your soil is 7.0 than 5.0 is 100 times more acidic, you're going to need a lot of compost to make the soil 100 times more acidic.
I do not use sulfuric acid to acidify my soil, I use it to acidify my water. Even the rainwater is pure these days and needs acid too. My rainwater tests out at 7.0. I add sulfur too, and use ammonium sulfate also. Your blueberries can grow some at a higher PH, but get the PH right and they grow and fruit like weeds. Awesome plants! Easy to grow once PH is right.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Nov 23, 14 at 12:53

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 7:56PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Well, my neighbor has enough oak leaves for all of us! I got quite a few leaves from my young ones also this year.
Could I chop them up, dump them in a bucket and use that for watering??? I'll start collecting and start a pile just of the oak leaves.
I'll go nab some of the neighbor's compost in the mean time to mix in with the soil. Nancy

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 8:44PM
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AgroCoders, thank you for the absurd overreaction to the use of sulfuric acid. I got a good laugh out of your response. I imagine the cops would get a great laugh out of it too if you called.

Compost is certainly beneficial- I love compost! It's just not an effective tool for lowering pH in a meaningful way, particularly when the soil and tap water have significant bicarbonates and calcium floating around.

I will agree that the "safe" recommendation for most folks would be elemental sulfur, not sulfuric acid. However, with (very simple) precautions, sulfuric acid can be a very valuable tool for semi-permanently neutralizing bicarbonates and correcting alkaline soil. And sulfur is one of the most abundant elements on the planet, per your "sustainability" concern...

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 8:54PM
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Nancy, for the most part it would be advisable to ignore AgroCoders. I suspect the individual is well intentioned, but the advice and info is typically a bit of truth taken to the extreme and mixed with two parts of absurd. Blueberries don't thrive well in such heavy "manure" of advice.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 10:39PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I believe the battery acid is 33% sulfuric. That's a lot safer than 98%. The effect of sulfuric acid on soil pH isn't entirely permanent. But if carbonates in the soil are changed to gypsum that is permanent. And gypsum is pH neutral.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 10:40PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Thanks for the clarification, explains why I need so much!
Yeah i use it for water, but I'm sure some does drop soil PH.
The dispenser also makes it easy to use, I could easily buy the pure stuff on Amazon, but I like the convienent dsipenser the battery acid comes in, and as I said, need it for my golf cart.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 11:25PM
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A practical answer for Nancy the OP: Mix your blueberries up some soil with plenty of organic matter. Oak leaves, compost, pine needles, etc. would all be excellent choices. Then get an inexpensive pH test. You'd like your pH to be around 5. If it's higher, buy some elemental sulfur (quite cheap) and add it according to the Purdue Extension instructions. This will bring the soil down slowly over time and keep it low for years. Your blueberries will be happy campers in their new homes, and you won't have to be nervous around acid.

A defense of sulfuric acid for others: Sulfuric acid can be easily and cheaply purchased in varying purities from places like Amazon. The effects are long-lasting, because carbonates get permanently converted to gypsum. Of course, if your soil includes lime, then more of this may dissolve over time, re-raising your pH. Also if you water with alkaline city water, this will also re-raise your pH. Using it is simple. It takes no time at all to throw on gloves and goggles and measure a couple drops into a watering bucket. Obviously you store it in a cool dry place out of the reach of children, just like you would antifreeze, paint thinner, bleach, and many other substances in your home. It's easy, carries minimal risks, and has instant benefits! In a very short time my blueberries have greened up and are looking much healthier.

This post was edited by powerofpi on Mon, Jun 16, 14 at 9:33

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 12:24AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Nancyjane - do you have a rain collection system? A few rainwater butts would give you a supply of water for your blueberries. How many plants is your friend giving you? I was imagining just one or two. If that is the case there seems to be a certain amount of sledgehammering of nuts going on here. A bag of Ericaceous compost and a rain water butt could sort out all these problems.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blueberries in containers

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 4:56AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Thank you Floral, for the link. Just what I needed!
I'm going to put them in pots for this year, then decide if I want to continue. Nancy

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 11:30AM
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BahamaDan ZTropic

Curious to hear an update Nancy?

As to the sulphuric acid, does it work in soils that sit upon heavy deposits of limestone? We have sandy soil that is extremely well draining but I suspect the in ground limestone raises soil pH. Also I know for a fact the city water is alkaline as it is pumped from aquafiers in the limestone.

So again could sulphuric acid be used for in ground plants in alkaline soil that has limestone and still lower pH? I was a bit preemptive and bought some 33% sulphuric acid as battery acid from an auto parts store (ridiculously cheap and easy) and diluted it to 3.3% and used 100ml in increments of 5 gallons and watered most of my in ground plants with that. How soon can I expect to see a change from chlorosis etc caused by high pH? It's not a nutrient deficiency as all the plants are fed fertilizer with micros.

Would also like to point out that the naysayers are overdoing it a bit. Using precautions the acid is fine to handle; I have even gotten some of the 33% on my skin at times and experienced no problems, just washed it off. Just keep very far away from eyes.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 4:44AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I just planted Blueberry Bushes last fall and had to figure out how to lower my Ph. I did end up mixing half peat moss into the backfill when I planted. I have clay/loam soil with a PH around 6. I ended up ordering sulfur from FEDCO. And sprinkling that around the base of the plant after planting and then adding a layer of chopped leaves and pine needles and a little saw dust mixed in. We have Maple leaves, not Oak.

I just looked for a link to the product I used, and I saw another product that looked good too. Specifically for Blueberries, it lists sulfur as an ingredient. If you just want the sulfur, you can find it on the FEDCO website. It's only $6. for a 5 lb bag.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blueberry Booster Planting Mix

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 5:27AM
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@BahamaDan, if your soil has quite a bit of lime, then you're going to want to counteract it slowly over time. For that purpose, sulfur is probably a better choice than sulfuric acid, since the sulfur slowly converts to acid over a number of months. If you use liquid sulfuric acid, then you'll have to remember to reapply it over time to counteract the lime. Letting the sulfur do this for you may be easier.

I think sulfur is a better choice than sulfuric acid for most gardeners, unless you want to make a sudden, dramatic change. This latter case applied to me.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2014 at 12:46PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I use both. I don't want to put basic or neutral water on my plants.
I do add sulfur to the soil, but I make sure the water is acidic too. And as you say often plants are in ground and need the ph lowered quickly. To me their is little difference. the end result is sulfuric acid. It's so easy to handle, that is far from a problem. Bleach will burn you just as bad. If you use the 30% sulfuric solution. So I guess if you don't use bleach to wash clothes as you worry about a spill, don't use sulfuric acid either.
Again I use sulfuric acid for water, and I use rainwater. I use sulfur to acidify soil. The rainwater is 100 times more basic than my soil. the rainwater is 7.0 and my soil is 5.0. So that is 100 times more basic. Although probably no carbonates there, which is good. If the ph becomes too low, I start using tap water. But I have yet for that to happen in 3 years.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2014 at 1:07PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a


Well if your soil has lot's of limestone, it's like adding salt to Lake Michigan, it quickly dilutes back to fresh water. You will always need to add acid. I would go with raised beds where you can control soil better. I did that here and my native soil ph is 6.5. I could not keep it low enough and pulled my plants and put them in rasied beds. It worked really well.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2014 at 1:11PM
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chilehead58(z6b OK)

I'm not new to blueberries, just new to blueberries in Oklahoma. I put out 10 plants yesterday in a plot of sandy-loam atop sandstone, well-drained and a slight slope. Ph tested to 6.0 or slightly higher before planting, so I scraped up a couple of bushels of leaf mold from the forest of oak, hickory and ash which surrounds my property, filled the holes with that and mixed in the excavated soil. Next step is to lug carts full of abundant fallen leaves to mulch the area, after putting down some sulphur. Also going to test the goat bedding for ph - I suspect it may be more acidic than chicken litter, which I will not allow anywhere near my berry patch.
edited to add: Just looked up effects of goat manure on ph - won't be using that on the blueberries either! Even composted, it's over 7.5. Bummer, I have so much...

This post was edited by chilehead58 on Mon, Nov 24, 14 at 21:52

    Bookmark   November 24, 2014 at 9:45PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

You're going to have to grow other plants that like it! Sandy Loam is easier to control. And 6.0 is a low starting point. As stated 6.5 for me and I have a clay loam. A lot harder to acidify than sand. I would probably go in ground with your soil.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2014 at 10:52PM
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