Blueberry Soil Prep / Spacing

goodground(z6 NJ)August 19, 2005

I mixed a couple of inches of Peat and finished compost onto my 2 beds, and then stirred it up. I barely mixed the soil from below into it. Do I need to add some soil to the peat? Or can I just keep raising the beds with more peat?

The two beds I'm preparing are approx. 3x5 each, how many plants can I grow in them? I'm hoping to be able to grow more than 1 in each :)


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Is your soil acidic or alkaline before you mix in the peat?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 12:33AM
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For a free PDF file from Rutgers...

Here is a link that might be useful: Fruit and Nut Gardening Publications: Establishing Blueberries in the Home Garden

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 12:37AM
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goodground(z6 NJ)

Thanks Ron

I think my soil was a little bit over 7 before I started.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 12:21AM
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To get the maximum growth and production from each blueberry shrub, they should be around 4 feet apart, at a minimum. Blueberry shrubs grow slowly, and it might take an 18 inch transplant 10 years to get large enough to require that much room. I plant them much closer, about 18 inches apart. This is the same spacing that I have seen between wild blueberry shrubs. These plants can grow in thin soils, in unlikely places. They do best in full sun, all day.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 1:57PM
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You are off to a bad start with a soil pH that high but you should do what I was doing last night in preparing to add a row of blueberries and that involves adding water soluble sulfur to the soil. The combination of maximum sulfur allowable and peat may get you in the pH ballpark for planting blueberries. Fortunately you have only smaller areas to work with so purchasing extra peat to amend the soil is an option.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 4:48PM
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goodground(z6 NJ)

I only used about half of the peat that I purchased. I want to know if the blueberries will grow in 100% peat or do I need to mix soil to the peat?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 5:44PM
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lwood321(MD - PGCo.)

I transplanted a large highbush blueberry this spring that is setting fruit now. My soil is acidic, so I didn't add any sulphur, just compost. I did add fertilizer for acidic loving plants.

If you want the roots to expand beyond the peat area, then adding soil (and sulphur) is probably beneficial. Expect the roots to grow as wide as the canopy. Also, I think peat can leach potassium, so peat alone may not be ideal.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 1:01PM
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Pure peat may hold too much water, although in a raised bed that may not be as much of a problem. I have grown them in a 50/50 mix of peat and sand, and they seemed very happy. I used to live where the soil was heavy clay, with a pH of 6.5 that would not budge. I dug holes 2-3 feet in diameter and a foot deep, filled them with peat/sand, and the bushes grew happily for years with nothing more than an occasional feeding with some soluble iron and mulch.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 5:47PM
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markwebb(zone 7)

If your soils PH level is innadequate for blueberries, the only real effective way to grow them is in pots or raised beds filled with peat moss ONLY. Especially if you want them to grow long term. Don't incorporate the soils. For example; lets say you build a 12 inch high raised bed filled 50/50 peat moss and soil. first of all you've created what is called "nitrogen lockout". The soils nitrogen that is needed for growth is unavailable to your plants because it is being tied up and consumed by your soils micro-organisms in order to break-down the organic matter (peat moss). It's the same process that goes on in your lawn when a tree dies. The nitrogen is tied up in order to decompose the trees roots. This is why you see toad-stools and mushrooms sprouting across your lawn after the tree is dead. Mushrooms can't photosynthesize light so they have to consume nitrogen from the soil. Back to your 12 inch raised bed. When the soil finally does break down that peat moss, and the nitrogen is now available in full to your blueberries, your soil profile is now reduced by 50%. That 12inch high bed is now only 6inches high because peat moss made up half of your soil profile. It's not so bad if your only planting annuals but your in a dilemma if you were trying to grow a permanent planting in that bed. If you continue to apply a 50/50 mix to the receeding soil profile then you are eventually going to end up with a bed full of soil anyway. Then there won't be any room for peat moss and your soils ph in that bed will gradually rise. Here's what I did. I built a raised bed 30ft long, 4ft wide, and 16inches deep. I filled it with straight peat moss. I lined the bottom of it with a porous weed-guard fabric to keep the peat from making soil contact. This procedure greatly slows down the decomposition of that peat moss and I don't have to add more peat as often as I would if that fabric wasn't there. I then planted my blueberry plants 5 feet apart. I went with early, midseason, and lateseason varieties with overlapping blooming cycles. This maximizes my fruit size, quality, quantity, and gives me fresh fruit over an extended period. I have picked so many blueberries that I have turned into one. After you read this you will probably think so too.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2005 at 12:31AM
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icugrow2(z7 AL)

how long can you keep blueberries sprouts alive before planting or do you need to plant them the same day.
can i hold them a fews days in damp peat moss with sulfar for a few days
with a little
I was given 8 canes today

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 5:35PM
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zhangqj(Z9b CA)


It's interesting to read your recommendation of "Peat Only" soil. My nursery recommends planting blueberries in acidic pot soil like Azalea soil they carry. I was planning to dig an extra large hole and fill them with 50/50 peat/soil, before reading your post, because that's what I read from others. Now I am not sure.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 5:08PM
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markwebb(zone 7)

Sorry it took so long to get back to you. Potting soil is not soil at all. It is a combination of various organic matter. Most contain a combination of peat, vermiculite, perlite, pine bark etc. As with all organic material, it has an acidic base and it decomposes. 100%peat is superior to the blend that I mentioned above. The vermiculite, perlite, and pine bark are what I refer to as filler. It's kind of like a restaurant adding bread to their meatloaf. It saves them money but because it is a "blend" they are able to charge the consumer more for it. They taught us in horticulture school that the peat moss is better and cheaper than the azalea blends. Blueberries want an acidic environement between 4.5-5.5. Peat moss is actually too acidic for them. Peat is around 3.8 But if your like most people, your municipal water supply is alkaline and it brings the ph level up to where it needs to be. It you do buy the blends, you will notice that peat makes up a good percent of it. Be careful of some of the cheap blends. Some of them add sand to them to stretch them out more and provide some weight. Hope this helps.
Mark Webb

    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 1:37AM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)

I planted six blueberry bushes in sphagnum peat moss with added nutrients. After four years, half are turning yellow even though the soil tests indicate proper nutrients and pH. Yes, there is proper iron and magnesium indicated in the soil test.

I dug them out of the peat and all three have pitifully poor root systems. No healthy white roots at all. No fine roots branching out. Just dark stubs. The peat over time has become compacted and soggy. Because of lack of air space in the growing media, the peat rotted the roots.

So I soaked the roots in a bucket with diluted hydrogen peroxide to help kill any fungus that might be on the roots and put them in a pot with fast draining pine bark mini-nuggets to see if I can get some roots to grow back before they die completely. I'll try to remember to update the progress.

In climates that have a rainy season at any time during the year, the peat will not drain quickly enough to prevent root problems. One would have to be in an arid climate with little rain in order to restrict the saturation of the peat moss to an acceptable level for any plants other than bog-loving plants.

Roots of most plant varieties need air to remain healthy. Most sphagnum peat moss is not coarse enough to provide adequate air space between its particles. That is why soil-less potting media does not consist of pure peat moss. The reason for something like perlite or milled pine bark is to add air space for the roots in the growing media. These are not added to the mix as a cheaper filler. Consider that peat moss is about as cheap a product as one can buy. I can buy a dry 3.8 cu. ft. bale of sphagnum peat moss for less than $10. When removed from the bale it expands. When wet it will expand again to more than 10 cu. ft. total. I cannot buy perlite or milled pine bark for anything near a dollar per cu. ft.

Growing in soilless potting mixtures requires added fertilizer because nothing in it has measurable nutritive value, including the peat moss. Otherwise the bag would indicate the available nutrients (such as 2-1-1). Peat moss is added these mixes for the single purpose of increasing moisture retention. But too much moisture retention will rot the roots. Just ask your county extension agent.

Here's a link to an interesting article from the extension service here:

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing blueberries in pine bark beds

    Bookmark   August 5, 2006 at 6:00AM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)


It's been a year since your initial question regarding soil prep for blueberries. What did you decide to plant your blueberries in and how are they doing?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2006 at 6:04AM
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goodground(z6 NJ)

I just went out to take this pic.

Overall, it seems to being doing pretty good right now. I had been concerned about some red and yellow to brown coloring but it turned out to be the natural growth habit of the bush, cause now it's mostly green. You can see a new shoot (left side) which looks pretty healthy. I had some darkening and dying tips and one plant is showing some more of this, so I'm concerned of what you said about root aeriation. I had mixed peat, compost, sulphur, and hollytone fertilizer. I was thinking that the dark dying areas are due to over fertilizing. I feel the soil was over prepd. I believe I also added some pebbles for better drainage. Then finally, I added some of that colored mulch from the box store. I have watered only, and don't plan to do any feeding next season either.

If I add some sand from the top without mixing the soil, will it eventually work it's way down and help bring air to the roots? Thanks

    Bookmark   August 5, 2006 at 6:44PM
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Sorry to go slightly off topic, but is that a concrete planter or retaining wall that I see in the picture containing the bed?

I'm trying to figure out what to put on the side of my house to make a large bed, or several and my brother in law works with concrete.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 1:36AM
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goodground(z6 NJ)

Murky, I don't understand your question, but maybe this pic will help clarify? When I was digging in the center I never found concrete. They seem to drain well cause they didn't show any signs of stress during the heavy rain period this season. I'm not sure if they were built with the house which was prior to 1950.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 10:52AM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)

It looks healthy in the photo.

I have learned that the pebbles will not help on drainage. Can you get pine bark mini-nuggets? I get them and "organic soil conditioner" with brand name of "Garden Plus" at Lowes which is similar to Home Depot. The Home Depot here also sells pine bark mini-nuggets and a soil conditioner called "Nature's Helper". The soil conditioner is made from milled pine bark. Those two products will improve drainage and give air space for healthier roots. Perlite or baked mineral soil amendments such as the Holytone "Soil Perfector", "Turface MVP" by Profile Products, "Haydite", heat expanded shale, or small lava rock pebbles would also be good.

The warmer the climate, the faster the sphagnum peat moss will break down. Someone in CA zone 9 told me their raised bed of all spag. peat moss lost 1/2 of its volume in one year. The pine bark soil conditioner only looses 1/6 of its volume per year in zone 9. The pine bark nuggets will last a little longer than that.

Those low limbs (canes) close to the ground on your plants could be "layered" into the soil and they would grow roots so you can make another bush. They will need to be pruned from the plant eventually, so you may want to root them. There may be a better way to do this, but this method works for me. Pull back the mulch, make a furrow in the soil three or four inches deep. Put part of the cane into the furrow and curve it up so the six inches at the end are above the soil. In six months to one year it should have enough roots to dig up and move. Dig under and lift it up with a shovel to loosen the soil. If you see roots, put it back in the soil and water it. After a week, cut the cane that leads back to the main plant. Let the roots develop and harden off for a few weeks and you can move it to a new location.

This booklet is in PDF format which makes it easy to print. It has information on both rabbiteye and highbush blueberry bushes and how to care for and prune them:

The following may not be your problem, but if the red/yellow leaf shows up again, consider the following:
"Several growers have experienced manganese levels in the blueberry plants as high as 2000 ppm. When very high levels of manganese accumulate in the plant, the leaves may turn red and yellow and defoliate. Manganese is more available at low pH. Another source of manganese is premium grade fertilizers and some fungicides. Monitor manganese levels by tissue analysis. Do not apply manganese containing fertilizers and fungicides if manganese levels are excessive."

Regarding milled pine bark soil conditioner beds, the following article states: "Air space equal to 20 to 30 percent of the volume provides adequate aeration and the drainage needed for an extended rainy period."

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing blueberries in pine bark beds

    Bookmark   August 9, 2006 at 9:51AM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)

At one time you were wondering where you could find sulfur. I found it at Lowes and at Ace Hardware. Ace also has iron sulfate, ammonium sulfate, and other specialty fertilizers that the garden centers and nurseries I checked with did not have. If your local Ace store doesn't have it, ask and they can order it in on the next truck.

Have your soil tested first to make sure you need too add such things.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2006 at 10:03AM
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Also look in the yellow pages and check local professional Ag supply companies for bags of sulfur and/or iron sulfate. We've battled chlorosis for years here, and we have found 20-25 pound bags of these materials for very little money at the ag supply. About $10 to $15 for each if memory serves.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2006 at 11:54PM
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I'm a little confused after reading all of the above threads. The terms 'peat' & 'peat moss' are interchanged. I have used peat moss to help lighten organic peat in other applications but have not had luck in using straight peat moss for growing, it packs down too tight after about 8 weeks and doesn't have any nutrients or the ability to hold any nutrients for the plant. I am planning to start blueberries in the spring 2007 and am trying to build up my arsenal of info before I buy the plants. So could I get a little clarification from markwebb & railroadrabbit as to which form of "peat" you are referring to. Also has anyone tried pelletized sulphur in your prep? I have heard of it some time ago, but never tried it. All advice is welcomed. Aunt Mille

    Bookmark   August 10, 2006 at 5:18PM
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I just dumped the pots I had planted blueberries in this spring and I'm going to start over next spring. 3 of the 4 plants were completely dead (though it's at least partially my fault for screwing up planting).

First thing I learned when I dumped the pots is that I can't use 100% peat moss. I used a lot of peat moss, and the pots were basically mud. They didn't drain well at all. I've read several places on the web how blueberries can be grown easily and well in 100% peat moss, but how in heck does that drain?

I'm considering several different soil mixes including:

50% peat moss
50% sand
50% peat moss
50% of some azalea potting mix if I can find it
33% peat moss
33% composted manure
33% sand or pine bark nuggets

I lean toward the last one because now I'm paranoid about drainage.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 5:15PM
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A large number of southern highbush (not rabbiteye) blueberries are being grown commercially in southern Georgia in pure ground pinebark in slightly raised beds. (Rabbiteyes are more tolerant of varied soil type and don't need this treatment) Obviously some care needs to be taken in fertilizing and watering and additions as mulch every few years, but it shows that this would be a generally suitable amendment to other soils or mulch for blueberries.

BTW: don't overacidify red-clay soils in the Piedmont (e.g., Atlanta). It can lead to manganese toxicity in blueberries. Keep such soils at pH 5 or slightly above.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 7:30PM
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I like to use something close to 33% peat, 33% coarse sand, and 33% pine bark. By including coarse, sharp sand, you will improve the drainage and aeration. I would not put composted manure in there, or at least not anywhere near 33%. It would be better to add small amounts of compost to the surface after the plants are growing. The wild blueberries that I come across are usually growing in almost pure sand, so more is probably better.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 12:19PM
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Hmm, yeah. That should certainly make for great drainage. I'm always afraid that much pine bark would make for some rough soil, but I see it recommended a lot here.

I'll have to hunt around to find sand that isn't play sand, but I can solve that. The things I've found this year at Home Depot etc. are pine bark nuggets and pine bark mulch. I used pine bark mulch, though it seems a lot of people have used the nuggets.

I was including the composted manure as a soil substitute; I read often that blueberries like lots of natural decaying stuff.

That mix would certainly be acidic and drain well.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 8:51PM
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Biinaboo, Zone 10, Naples, Gulf Coast

Was anyone going to comment on the spacing? I am giong to plant blueberries this year as well. My conditions are: 30 feet along a southern exposure wall, fill grade dirt with patchy grass, slope that drops 3 feet over an 11 foot span. I'm not sure of ph. I have not done a soil test...yet. I will add sulfer, ferts, organic matter, etc. I'd prefer not to use peat because of environmental impact but will make certain that ph comes down to optimum levels. How closely should I plant? How big will the bush be in circumfrence? (I'm a firm believer that if plant matter is kept off of house structures, it greatly reduces amount of bugs in the home.) I've tried to space all plantings off of the house by 1.5-2 feet (just enough to walk through without having to turn your shoulders). I would like to take 'my rules' into consideration when planting these blues as well but need to know an average sprall. I think I'm going to go with Gulfcoast but am also considering Misty.


P.S. I'm not hyjacking the thread...this one question seemed to be missed amist all of the soil prep discussion.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 3:22PM
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Pine bark nuggets, mulch, etc.

I'd not use any of the real course stuff mixed into the ground, though the finer mulch might be OK. I use what Home Depot and Lowes sell as "soil conditioner," ground much finer. I always check both stores before buying (they are practically side by side here). They change brands frequently and one store's current brand is often significanly better than the other.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 3:44PM
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Everything I've read says the plants should be 4 feet apart. So at least 2 feet from anything like a house.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 5:58PM
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Have any of you planted your blueberry plants yet? What soil mixture did you use- peat, sand, perlite, compost, soil conditioner, azalea soil? Did any of you use the granulated sulfur? I am trying to prepare a site for 2-3 blueberry bushes. VERY confused about what to use as a growing medium. I have clay soil and my extension agent says the soil around here tends to be a little acidic anyway. Wondering what to do....

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 4:32PM
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