Blueberry Leaves Turning Black

dthrooopAugust 5, 2012


I have two O'Neal blueberry plants in the ground, planted over a year ago, and one has leaves turning black and some of the branches are turning brown\yellow. I believe the branch discoloration is likely due to sunburn due to lack of leaves, but I'm not sure about the leaves turning black. Is there a chance this is due to a lack of water?

The plants get a little morning shade but full afternoon sun - in Ventura county, inland.

I'm hoping the pictures post ok - even though they are slightly out of focus.

Just in case it doesn't work, here are the URL's

Here is a link that might be useful: Blueberry

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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Blueberries are strange, but if you get a couple of things right they are simple to grow. I grow mine in containers, but probably one of the first things you'll be asked is what type of soil are they growing in, and what is the pH? My mix is pine bark mulch and peat, which has a low pH.....I'm guessing less than 5. They definitely need water, but don't like to sit in water. Do you have good drainage? My containers get pounded by full sun. Too much sun is not the issue. As long as they have water to drink they do fine. I'm sure someone with more experience growing them in the ground will chime in.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 8:59PM
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Looks like some sunburn on the leafs plus a lack of N2. I noticed the mulch has a lot of wood in it. When that wood startes to break down it will rob the N2. Try to find pine bark mulch, not just pine mulch. The bark breaks down much slower and wont rob the N2 like wood will. I used a mulch with alot of wood in it and had to add more fert to keep things nice and green.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 9:11PM
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Blueboy & ed, thank you for the follow ups. It is much appreciated. The soil was clay, but I enhanced it with peat and some acid soil mix when I initially planted it. The last ph reading was around 6.5, but that was after I watered it and the water here is very alkaline. I'll pick up some pine mulch and give it a shot of nitrogen and see what happens.

blueboy - What did you see that indicates lack of N2? Just curious so I can spot it the next time around (should that occur).

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 10:39PM
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This time of year you should have lots of lush green growth if there is enough N2 (if the ph is okay). Also the color of the leafs are very light green which is normal for tender new growth but the mature leafs should be much darker green. With southern high bush, summer reddening leafs is a sign of low N2 also. If your ph is 6.5 that explains alot though. You need to be in the 4-5ph. If you planted in clay, regardless of soil amendments, you will run into trouble with blues.

If it were my plant, I would build a raised bed with 2X12 boards thats 4ft by 4ft. Fill the raised bed with 2/3 pinebark mulch and the other 1/3 spag. peat moss and sand or perilite. Add a 1/4 cup of sulfer, some organic fert(so you dont fry your plants) and if you can find mycorrhizal fungi, use it. The fungi helps the roots of blues in up take of water and nutrients. Really good stuff!

Even with all that, you will still run into ph problems if your water is high on the ph scale. With only a couple plants you really need to get a drum under a gutter and collect some rain water and only use it on the blues. You will be rewarded with berries for years to come if you do.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 11:43PM
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Great information, thank you! I'll see what I can do to get a raised bed going to sort out these issues. I have a rain barrel already on a downspout, but this is Southern California and it only lasts so long ;-)

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 1:28AM
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Definately pH is the issue.

My blueberry plants in my sandy garden soil looked exactly like that before I moved them to a properly prepared bed. I was never able to get the pH down in that first location no matter how much acid I threw at it. I finally gave up and created a raised bed made out of sand, peat moss, pine bark and compost with sulfur about six months before planting, then planted at pH 4.8 with some ammonium sulfate and they've grown and bore fruit like crazy since.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 3:01PM
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Wow, looking at those pictures reminds me of the frustration I had before finally building a proper bed for them. I wanted the blueberries to thrive so much at the time... still do.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 3:03PM
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Unfortunately, it's been in the high 90's here recently and I'm not about to transplant them now! I've been pampering them and trying to lower the PH as much as possible, but I believe part of the issue was they were under watered which means they don't have the foliage to protect the branches from the sunlight. I increased the watering and am seeing some newer growth with nice light green foliage, so things are looking up.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 1:20PM
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Here in Houston tx the summer temps get into the 100s all the time. My plants are in full sun and I have to water them every morning or they start wilting by mid day. If it is soil ph you can acidify your water with sulfuric acid or vinigar for every watering for a couple weeks and you should see some improvement. I would suggest getting some litmus paper or a good liquid ph meter and bring the ph down to at least 5ph or lower until you see improvement.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 9:19PM
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You may not want to transplant them now, but it is a good time to start preparing a bed for transplant in the spring. You won't regret doing it, as trying to fix a bed that's not right is just an exercise in frustration.

Prepare a new bed, and then continue to water and add possibly aluminum sulfate to lower pH quickly in the short term. Then transplant and watch them take off!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 4:26PM
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Thanks, again. All this talk on blueberries is making my mouth water! Too bad I have to wait 8 months (or so) for the next crop. Unless there's a summer producing one that loves southern Cal heat ;-)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 1:29AM
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You may have to wait longer then that. If your plants are small, and are recovering from a pH issue and/or transplant, it's best to remove flowers the first year in order to allow the plants to concentrate on growth. It's amazing how much they can grow without fruit.

I had to do this with mine, and went to a U-pick while they grew like crazy. The next year was worth it.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 2:02PM
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