Blueberry leaves turning red in the summer

roflwtime(7a)July 9, 2013


I planted 7 Blueberry plants last fall here in the Memphis TN area --4 O'Neal's and 3 Misty's, both of which are southern highbush. I got them from Stark Bros. in the small containers.

I used 100% sphagnum peat moss as the soil and put a couple of inches of pine bark mulch on top. I have done 2 applications of fertilizer using "Berry Spikes" (Link: once in the fall and once in the spring.

I didn't water much at all in the fall and winter and water 2-3 times a week now that it is summer depending on the rain we get. I try to do it every other day.

As far as growth goes, they maybe have grown 2-4 inches this year so far. (Not sure if this on par or not, since one of the O'Neals has grown 8 inches)

Nevertheless, I noticed that some of the leaves are starting to turn red on 4 out of the 7 plants. Overall, the plants don't look very healthy to me.

Here are some pictures:


Close-up O'Neal:


Close-up Misty:

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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


If your water is hard the buffering ability of the peat is far outweighed by the liming action of your water. The plants are not happy with the soil PH. If you have a meter you could confirm that is the issue. A mix of peat and pine fines would have been a better soil but that ship has sailed. The best bet is to start using just rainwater on them if you can. Iron sulfate will help them some especially in the short term.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 7:07PM
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They need an acid specific fertilizer. they cant absorb the nutrients in the berry spikes. They also can be damaged by that fertilizer spike. dig up if possible and use an acid loving fertilizer for Azalaes and Rhodendrons. makes a huge difference. Plenty of previous articles about appropriate PH and fertilizers in previous posts. Basicall how i learned about the appropraite methods of Blueberry cultivation. Just ate some Polaris Blueberries not 10 minutes ago, Very nice to be able to just pick some when they are ripening on the bush. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 11:43PM
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Misty and O'Neal are good choices, and I can vouch for how hardy, easy and tasty they are.

Rather than deep dive into guesswork solutions, maybe you can explain what directions you are following regarding soil preparation, fertilizer, etc? With BB you can't always just "wing it" or carry-over methods that work on other plants. That said, I am unaware of 100% peat moss and fertilizer spikes being recommended for BB. I'm much less concerned about your irrigation water than other folks are.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 12:49AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

Since they're organic, the berry spikes shouldn't be causing any problem in terms of the type of N provided -- that's really only an issue with synthetic fertilizers that have N in the nitrate form.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 8:13AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Many sources recommend planting in 100% peat though it is sort of an old recommendation. You may not find the irrigation water important but the universities that specialize in BB care sure do. You only have 3 BB bushes and those for just a couple of years. Perhaps when you get more experience you will figure it out.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 8:48AM
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bamboo_rabbit and ABz5b,

I ordered a pH meter, should be on its way. With that said, I checked the Memphis water stats and the pH averages around 7.2, probably a little too high.

I can't really use rain water because of limited storage. (It would be nice since the rain around here is fairly acidic) Any recommendations on what I can do to treat the water I give to my plants that comes straight from the tap? I've seen on here battery acid and white vinegar, but I have no idea how much water to dilute that stuff with in a 2.5 gallon bucket I have. I guess I could use a pH meter and slowly add the stuff.

With that said, I did go buy some acidifier stuff from Home Depot since I had a gift card there. (Link: I put 1.5 cups around one of my O'Neal's (the one pictured above) since it was looking the worst and watered it well. If it starts looking better after a few weeks, I will use the rest of the stuff on my other plants.

The stuff is pretty expensive, so clearly I am looking for a cheaper way to acidify my soil.


How do I apply the iron sulfate? How much do I add?


I grabbed the 100% peat moss/pine bark idea somewhere on the web. Not really sure what site.

Thanks for the help everyone. It means a lot to me.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 10:58AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Not to complicate things but PH 7.2 could be horrible or not so bad, it all depends on the bicarbonate load in the water.

To use acid you would take a set amount of water say 5 gallons and add acid to it a drop or two at a time, stir and check the PH with litmus paper. When you get to PH 5 how ever many drops you have added is your number. Then each watering you just add that many drops, give a stir and water. Not sure I would trust the meter.....the litmus paper is cheap. The acid is a very cheap way to go. A quart from the auto parts store will last you quite some time. Just be careful with the stuff, it does sting a bit if you get it on your skin. If it gets in your eyes you are in trouble so be smart about it. Remember acid to water not water to acid. Adults only.....keep away from children and anyone not able to be sensible.

1.5 cups sounds like a lot, is that what the instructions called for? I am not familiar with that product but it is probably just sulfur with additives. You never know with those goofy organic folks. (no offense intended toward the goofy organic folks).

You can use iron sulfate or chelated iron, lot of times comes in a bottle and just says liquid iron. Add whatever it says to a spray bottle (it is like 2 T to a gallon or something) and spray the leaves top and undersides like an hour or two before sunset when it is cooler and the leaf stomates (pores) are more open. It will give the plants the iron they need while you get the soil PH issues sorted out.

What meter did you buy?

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 2:21PM
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I thought it was a lot too. It does appear to be just sulfur (

I will pick up some chelated iron today and put it in a spray bottle and spray it on one of the plant's leaves and see if that fixes the red leaf issue. I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket when it comes to giving my plants fertilizers and chemicals.

Also, I ordered 25lbs. of ammonium sulfate, since I hear on these forums that it works well at acidifying and promoting growth.

I bought a cheap 3 in 1 pH meter from Amazon. (

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 3:10PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The ammonium sulfate is a great fertilizer but it won't help much with the PH issues.

Using the acid will help a ton, it truly is a game changer. Your meter will not give you a reading on the acid water, make sure you get some litmus paper or test strips for that purpose.

Far supply stores sell sulfur cheap..when I was using it a 50 pound bag was just $12. So not sure why your organic sulfur was so pricey.well it is organic perhaps they had Nancy Pelosi bless it:)

Here is a link to the paper I use...I actually use two types but this will do.

Here is a link that might be useful: test paper

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 3:42PM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Take a look see at this link CHILLI THRIPS DAMAGE TO BLUEBERRIES they same as yours to me. Looks like you have up to 28 days of damage.

Here is a link that might be useful: Chilli Thrips

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 3:45PM
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I ordered those test strips from the link you posted. I will see about picking up a small bottle of sulfuric acid from autozone or something. Thanks.


I don't think it is chilli trips. The only bugs I've seen around my blueberries are June bugs. They come out around the soil at dusk.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 4:40PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Good deal. Let us know what happens.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 5:09PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

The ammonium sulfate can be used, and will lower PH, the sulfur takes a few months, so the battery acid, and the AS will really help. Use your meter to monitor soil.
I think the dose to use in 2.5 gallons is 1 teaspoon. A safe low amount, so 25lbs is going to last you a long time! We better get these plants to health so you can use it! You can use it every time you water but I would stop around August 1st to allow plant to harden for winter. I guess that depends on your zone. here in 6a it's a good time to stop all fertilizers for any plant. Except maybe grass and June bearing strawberries.
OK, I see you're in TN. So maybe September 1st stop fertilizing till spring.

You may also want to apply more sulfur in the spring, it takes 2 to 6 months to work. See where your soil is at in the spring add every 2 months till it is where you need it.
Since you have a bag might as well use it. And even with the acid and A sulfate, the normal soil of your area will slowly absorb it. So you need to always keep track of PH.
The acid could leach out to the surrounding soil and be absorbed and buffered by it.
Good luck, keep us up to date!
I myself have raised beds so the PH is more constant and not leached into the ground as fast. I use rainwater, sulfur, and A sulfate. I don't need to use battery acid, but once in awhile I do use city water, so i keep track of PH also.
I just tasted my first BB of the season. A HB variety, cultivar is Toro, yum!! Huge berries, delish!

This post was edited by Drew51 on Wed, Jul 10, 13 at 19:06

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 6:54PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Btw you have to store the ammonium sulfate tightly closed as it loves water and will get hard as a rock if exposed to the air.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 7:41PM
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I will keep you posted with what happens. Thanks for the tip about the ammonium sulfate.


So you would pour a teaspoon of ammonium sulfate into 2.5 gallons of water and use that much water per plant?

I'm wondering if it is safe to drop the pH of my water down to 5 via battery acid and then add a teaspoon of ammonium sulfate in the same bucket and give one to each of my blueberry bushes. Would I get any crazy chemical reaction?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 1:55PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Yes you can acidify to pH 5 and add a teaspoon of 21-0-0. You need to acidify the water every application but don't apply 21-0-0 more than twice a week.

Your plants are severely nitrogen deficient. The 21-0-0 will fix that in about a month with strong new growth.

Also your plants may not need 2.5 gallons every application. They are small and probably have a small root zone. The 2.5 gallons is just an amount for mixing not necessarily what needs to be applied.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Fri, Jul 12, 13 at 14:16

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 2:11PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Nope that would be fine. Just make sure the plants are not dry when you water. The AS won't lower the PH of the water just the soil over time, some.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 2:12PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I think what's nice about AS is it probably allows the plant to uptake nitrogen in a high ph environment. As the ph is lowered while present. It's a good way to feed the plant.
So ROFL, use this ASAP! Most good soils have the other elements. I also though use an organic fertilizer. Once plants are established, I probably will only use AS in the spring if at all. Currently I have a blueberry organic fertilizer, but once gone will use an off the shelf acid organic fertilizer. Inorganic or organic they work! I like using kelp to add trace elements. Tom Spellman mentions in an interview that he observed trees doing better with just 2 applications a year. I trust his word on that.
I would like to grow more blueberries as they are a touch of a challange and I like growing plants that are not easy to grow. Actually these are if conditions are right. I probably should be growing orchids, but the flower payoff isn't enough anymore. Been there done that, got the t-shirt with cacti.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 2:53PM
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I added a teaspoon of AS to one misty and one O'Neal (in case it is the wrong stuff) I will wait and see what happens in the next couple of weeks. That bag will last me 50 years.

fruitnut and bamboo_rabbit,

Thanks. I will do the acid water/1tsp AS 1-2 times a week, plus more acid water depending on the rain we get.

What I will probably end up doing is give one plant one application of AS per week while another 2 applications of AS per week. I like to experiment and see what works best.

Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 5:01PM
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It's been a few weeks and now all my plants are looking much better and are growing like crazy. (at least the ones that I put ammonium sulfate/diluted battery acid on)

Here is a before and after of the O'Neal:

(The sunlight doesn't quite do it justice, but it looks a lot better)

Here is an overhead shot of the O'Neal:

As you can see, the red leaves have pretty much turned green/yellow green. I imagine they will continue to get greener as time goes on.

I did a science experiment on two Misty's. The right one had a treatment of 1 teaspoon of ammonium sulfate mixed in 2.5 gallons of water twice per week whereas the other one just had water. Here is the side by side comparison photo:

As you can see, there is a big difference in the health of the two plants. Hopefully, I can bring my red/yellow looking Misty back to life.

Thanks for the help everyone!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 2:31PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Glad it helped:) Blueberries are a lot like women...they are easy as long as you give them everything they want. Your plants look very good.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 8:47AM
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