blueberry questions

mjzzyzoff(6oh)October 27, 2013

I have two plants purchased about two years ago, they were planted together in one container for cross pollination purposes so we left them that way. One is Jersey, the other Bluejay.

In my research, I've found that Jersey is a midseason and bluejay late-mid season, and it doesn't appear their fruiting times overlap by much, if any. Wouldn't this defeat the purpose of cross-pollination to increase yields since they wouldn't be flowering at the same time?

Also, we planted them in what we thought was a good spot, but they aren't doing so well. I'm thinking it may be too shady as they get late morning and late afternoon sun but in midday are blocked by a fir tree.

I have not fertilized them at all other than some coffee grounds occasionally. We planted according to the instructions on the tag that came with them but the ground under them seems to have sunk and they now sit in a small depression. That area is also successfully growing a large boxwood (more to the shady side) and a dwarf alberta spruce (gets a little more sun).

Both of the plants have one main cane, if I'm correctly understanding what a cane is (main branch?) The other on each has died.

They produced a handful of berries this year but it was so paltry I let the birds have them.

My question is: what do I do first? Should I move to a sunnier location? Mulch? Fertilize (in the spring, right?) Work on soil ph? I haven't checked the ph but I do have a meter so I can do that tomorrow.

Please help me save my blueberries :)

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

The important characteristic is thate bloom at the same time.

Yor paltry production may be due to several things, among them crowding in the container and too little fertilizer. I suggest you start over this spring with healthy plants and put them either in the ground or each in its own container.

This pub provides basic guidelines for Oregon:

Details may vary for your region. Contact your County's Extension Service to ask. Locate your office with this interactive map:

Here is a link that might be useful: blueberries

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 8:29PM
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What state are you located in? Does your irrigation water, used on the blueberry shrubs, contain dissolved limestone?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 8:58PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"In my research, I've found that Jersey is a midseason and bluejay late-mid season, and it doesn't appear their fruiting times overlap by much, if any. Wouldn't this defeat the purpose of cross-pollination"

No, fruting times have nothing to do with blossom times. Many late fruting types actually bloom early.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 10:01PM
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eric - I'm in Ohio. I haven't done much supplemental watering as they seemed to not need it this summer. I also don't think the spot they are in gets much runoff so it's been mostly rainwater.

Jean - they are in the ground now. They are rather large plants, and we paid quite a bit for them (probably more than we should have) and I really don't have it in my budget to purchase new plants. It's either try to save these two or forget blueberries altogether.

That's why my question is what do I do first? Which of the many problems should I tackle to try and get them healthier?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:41AM
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Some parts of Ohio have heavy clay soil, with alkaline pH. The best method for growing blueberries in these conditions involves amending the soil with peat moss and/or pine bark fines. If you visit the web-site "Backyard Berry Plants," there is a good description of blueberry growing methods for this soil condition. If you decide to replant your blueberry shrubs, this is a good time of year for that to be accomplished. I am guessing that your location is pretty good with regard to sunlight. Full sun, all day, is best. But I have several shrubs that are getting sun in the morning, and shade in the afternoon. They are growing OK, but they do not get quite as large as shrubs in the best locations with full sun.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:35AM
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Yes, we have heavy clay. It would have made sense to amend the soil to begin with, but when I got them (as a mother's day present) I wasn't that into gardening and more or less just let them do their thing.

I did just pick up pine bark fines and peat moss for other gardening projects.

We've had our first few frosts, do I need to wait any longer or are they probably dormant and ready to move now?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 10:15AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yes, wait till dormant. I moved mine last year in late fall while fully dormant, and they did fine. I gave up on amending the ground and moved them to raised beds. But if you amend a large area, it should work well. Blueberries are easy to grow if conditions are good, but it's extremely difficult to have these good conditions.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 10:25AM
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Keith Uridel at Backyard Berry Plants, located near Bloomington, Indiana, has published a web-site with detailed instructions on growing blueberries in heavy alkaline clay soil. He is focused on organic cultivation methods, so he uses no conventional chemical fertilizers. Here in Madison, Wisconsin, I use small amounts of commercial fertilizers on our blueberry shrubs, such as Schultz Plant Food(acidic formula), dissolved in tap water, in the spring and early summer. However, I only apply fertilizer to well established plants, and only in the spring. I never apply fertilizer when transplanting, and never apply fertilizer to a shrub that has been in the ground less than 6 months. So he and I have somewhat differing methods, however, he and I agree on how to amend the soil, and the importance of sunlight and moisture for success with these plants. The fact that your two blueberry shrubs are still alive is a clear indication that you are doing something right. My experience has been that it is quite possible to dig up and move blueberry shrubs this time of year, with good success. Just be sure to minimize the time that the roots are exposed to the air, so that they don't have a chance to dry out. The shrub should be watered well before it is removed from the ground, and the new hole should be dug out and ready to go. Avoid transplanting in sunny and windy weather, because these conditions will stress the plant. If possible, transplant in the afternoon or early evening. It is possible to get the shrub dug out, and replanted immediately, if the new hole has been prepped ahead of time. Keep the root ball damp, and your shrub will thrive in the new location.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 11:14AM
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alan haigh

I planted 8 plants a few years ago in a heavy clay loam amending it with peat moss and compost and created raised beds. Although this has worked for me previously in other clay soils 5 of these plants never really grew. The soil was just too heavy here, apparently.

I came back to the site a couple weeks ago with a yard of sand and a few large bails of peat and changed the soil to a much lighter texture using only a third, by volume, of the native soil. The labor was in getting the ingredients well blended which took more time than you'd expect- even with the right tools- the clay needed to be broken up thoroughly. I lifted the stunted plants and placed them in their new home.

The soil now feels perfect for blueberries, but we shall see. The pH was 5, the plants received adequate irrigation after the original installation so the texture of the soil must have been the problem.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:23PM
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Ok, another idea. My mother suggested root pruning the bushes now and transplanting them in early spring while still dormant. My husband says this isn't necessary. Thoughts?

Also, I've decided I'm going to give her the bushes. She has a lot of land. I have a postage stamp. I'm going to try a couple of the dwarf container type varieties I think. Any recommendations?

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 8:00AM
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I'm not sure what is meant by "root pruning." I have seen potted shrubs that were "root bound." When a shrub is kept in the same pot for a long time, the roots fill the available space, and begin to circle around the perimeter of the pot. If the shrub is transplanted into the soil, the roots will never spread out as expected, and the shrub will not grow very much. It is possible to cut the root ball immediately before transplanting, with four vertical cuts, about one inch deep, on opposite sides. We have several St Cloud variety blueberry shrubs that grow to about 24 inches high. They grow well here in Madison, in soil amended with peat moss.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 9:30AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

If you're moving the bushes, then it's best to do so while they're dormant -- so your mother is right in that regard. Like Eric, though, I'm not sure why she advised root pruning. In this scenario, I'd think you'd want to keep as much of the original root volume as possible, especially since it sounds like they're not in prime health.

As for your question about dwarf container types, don't feel that you have to restrict yourself to a dwarf cultivar. You can grow any and all types of blueberries successfully in containers, and, if you care for them properly, the container doesn't have to be all that big. Nonetheless, if you'd prefer a very compact plant, Top Hat is the most commonly available dwarfing variety, but you might also want to look into Monrovia's new Jelly Bean blueberry. If you want something a little bigger, Sunshine Blue or one of the half high varieties (North Country, for example) might suit you.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 9:47AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I would transplant now. I myself moved a blueberry plant, and I did it this time of year, last year. It's doing great! Well I would wait till it is dormant, maybe another week. I would leave roots alone, unless damaged.
I guess if putting in a pot, you may trim roots, but root trimming is only done to keep plants at a certain size. Done with potted specimens, otherwise I can't think of any good reason to trim roots? Trimming now and planting later is about the worst thing you could do, disturbing it twice is a very bad idea.
Top Hat and Sunshine Blue are nice dwarf plants, but any blueberry can be grown in a pot. I would grow more compact plants, often given in the description.
Pots need some protection in the winter. Buried, or in an unheated garage. Normal blueberries need big pots too.
Use 60% pine barks fines, 20% peat moss, and 20% perlite. If you can't find pine bark fines, use Fafard potting soil. Go on line to fafard dot com, and search for stores near you that carry it. They have a store finder. 52 mix is great, but any fafard potting soil will do. Fertilize with cottonseed meal, or Plant Tone. You can also supplement with ammonium sulfate (be extremely careful 1 tsp/2.5 gallons, once a month for 3 months, don't use till plant get's used to new home). Fafard mix has just about no nutrients except the time release product in one of their potting soil products (still use organics mentioned- you can't OD with organics, and the two mentioned keep acidity correct, very important). Adding a dose of kelp will introduce trace minerals. Full sun is needed for sure.
PH should be good if you follow suggestions. Do not use regular potting soil. One alternative potting soil is Happy Frog if Fafard can't be found. Most private non box store nurseries carry these products.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Wed, Nov 13, 13 at 9:54

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 9:52AM
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She described root pruning as making four vertical incisions around the base of the plant to cut the horizontal growth of the current root. Not right up against the base, but out enough to allow for some root to be contained within the cut area. The idea is for the old root to start new growth during the dormant season directly down and filling the area inside the cut. I think the idea was to necessitate less root disruption in the spring with the thinking that it will be a more compact root ball and it will have recovered from the initial shock.

My mom has been a gardener for decades and had blueberries as long as I can remember, so I thought her idea might have merit, but if everyone else says no I'll probably not do it.

As to containers, I was looking at the BrazelBerries, I think one of those is Jelly Bean, but wasn't sure if they've been around long. I want something proven.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 10:45AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

On a visit to Timberline Gardens this year I spoke with Kelly Grummons and he gave me a tip on how to grow blueberries here in Colorado, which has alkaline clay soil. He said to dig a hole large enough to fit a bag of peat moss and then punch holes in the bottom of the bag, bury it, then plant the blueberry in it. I have done this and my blueberry bushes never looked this good. I also reserve rainwater for them. My previous attempts at growing blueberries here were utter failures.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 10:53AM
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You can grow just about any fruit in a pot. If you want to grow potted blueberries, you can choose a full size plant if you like. I use 14 gallon rubber maid rough neck totes with holes drilled in the bottom. A quality, well draining potting soil is a must. Most bagged potting soils aren't so good. Making your own soil is simple, better, and cheaper. If you choose to make your own potting soil, either search here or post a separate question.

I've learned a lot about potted fruits on this forum from fruitnut. Among many other fruits, he grows blueberries in pots. I think he grows everything in 5 gallon pots. The search function on gardenweb stinks. You can use google to do a better search and you can tell google to direct it's search towards a specific web site. You might want to type the following into google's search field: fruitnut blueberries

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 11:02AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

What your mom says is is OK to do. You explained it better though it took me a bit to understand. Good luck! Have fun! Blueberries rock! Fall is for planting!! I just put in a Weeping Santa Rosa Plum tree.
milehighgirl, yes that would work, but the peat is just a form of compost and will completely breakdown at some point.
You may want to mulch with fine pine bark mixed with more peat.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Wed, Nov 13, 13 at 11:56

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 11:22AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Even if you're in the acidic soil part of Ohio (generally East of I-71, more or less), you probably still have clay or clayish soil. If you're west of I-71, then you are neutral to mildly alkaline (pH 7 - 7.8 or so).

Highly recommend a pH test, but even the "acidic" soils in Ohio tend towards being only mildly acidic & possibly still not ideal for blueberries.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 11:26AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

"She described root pruning as making four vertical incisions around the base of the plant ...The idea is for the old root to start new growth during the dormant season directly down and filling the area inside the cut."

Thanks for elaborating -- that makes a lot more sense. I can see the potential merit in that approach, especially if you make the cuts in the vicinity of where you'll be digging when you transplant (the roots beyond that point will be severed anyway). If I'm not mistaken, harvestman has described using a similar technique when moving larger fruit trees. I'm not sure that he spaced the root cut and move as far apart, but the general idea is the same I'd think.

This post was edited by shazaam on Wed, Nov 13, 13 at 11:35

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 11:31AM
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