Sunshine Blueberries - burnt leaves and browning stems?

jplee3December 9, 2012

Hey all!

I picked up a 15-20" sunshine blueberry plant from Home Depot a couple months ago and am noticing that the main stem has been turning brown and a good number of leaves are starting to brown.

I haven't taken the plant out of its original planter and am wondering if I should. I was planning to keep in in a container and am probably going to move it to a larger planter anyway.

Is it just because it's winter that the plant is slightly browning? Since it's in a smaller container, is it possible that I've been overwatering? I was watering vigorously almost every day the first week or two I got it but backed off. I maybe water it once or twice a week at most. Should I plan to move it into a larger planter soon?

I'm pretty new to blueberries so could use some pointers. I went to a seminar and the suggested mix for transplanting into a larger container is as such:

1/3 1/4" pathway bark
1/3 peat moss
1/3 forest-byproduct-based potting soil (Azalea or Acid plant mix)
1 handful of soil sulfer per plant.

Any tips on keeping this one in good shape?


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shazaam(NC 7B)

There are some very knowledgeable blueberry growers here, so I'm sure that you'll get some good advice. I'm still somewhat of a novice, but the burnt leaves and browning stem sounds like a red flag to me (i.e. your blueberry is dying). It's very possible that you've overwatered it -- blueberries like damp but not waterlogged soil. It's probably a good thing that you've backed off on the waterings, but it sounds like the damage has already been done. In general, you don't want the soil to dry out between waterings, but you don't want to water too often either, especially if the plant is in a potting mix that doesn't drain well. The origin of the water might be an issue, as well. If it's well water, especially hard water with dissolved bicarbonates, it might be driving up the pH of your potting mix, something that blueberries often don't tolerate well. If this applies to you, a search (both in the Fruits forum and the Container forum) will turn up a lot of helpful info on how to acidify your water (vinegar is the simplest method).

As for repotting, that's probably not a bad idea. Ideally, you'll want to remove as much as the old potting mix from the roots as possible (be sure to keep them moist during the process). The potting mix you mentioned is fine (I assume that you went to a Dave Wilson Nursery seminar?), but you might also consider a mix of 5 parts bark, 1 part peat, and 1 part perlite (a recipe provided by tapla, who posts extensively in the Container forum). This mix should drain better (hence, it will be harder to overwater), and it's worked very well for me. Based on my own reading and experience, I'd advise against adding sulfur (for more info, a forum search will turn up some helpful past discussions of the potential pitfalls of applying sulfur). The pH of the 5-1-1 mix should be in the right range for your blueberry, and, as long as you acidify your water if necessary, you shouldn't have too much trouble with pH.

I'll conclude by noting that you'll find a wealth of information in old threads here at Gardenweb (see link below). For more general reading about growing plants in containers, I highly recommend tapla's posts in the Container forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Forum Search

This post was edited by shazaam on Mon, Dec 10, 12 at 13:11

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:37AM
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Shazaam is right on the money! The 5-1-1 mix should be right on for the ph as long as its pine bark and not too big of pieces. With only one plant you should really try to collect rain water for it. It makes all the difference in the world. "one handfull of sulfer" comes out to about 1 tablespoon. I would only recommend sulfer if using tap water or high bicarbonate well water. If you can collect rain water I wouldn't even use sulfer. I've had my ups and downs with sulfer and through trial and error I've learned to use a pinch at a time in pots. I am using rain water though so my ph stays good once i get it where i want it. Planting in the ground is a different story all together.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Thanks for the tips! We actually went through a few days of good rain here so I wonder if leaving it out in the rain did too much to it. As far as the water I'm using, I think it might be harder water, but I usually fill up a watering can and let it sit at least for a day or two and then water with that. If the water is still too hard though, what's the best way to balance it off?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:15PM
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Oh, I also have vermiculite that I picked up recently - will that be OK to use instead of perlite?

Shazaam, when you say the damage has already been done, does that pretty much mean there's no hope for the plant at this point other than a slow death? Hahaha... *crossing fingers that it's not* - if not, how can I recover?

blueboy1977, I've actually considered moving this to the ground. Would this be a better option in the long-run? I'm in SoCal and the soil is pretty clay down here. I'd say the PH is probably balanced (I don't know the exact #s though)

This post was edited by jplee3 on Mon, Dec 10, 12 at 19:24

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:17PM
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The 5-1-1. It is difficult to find fine pine park the best I could fing is the mini. I don't think the roots are happy with it. I added some humus to the mix. But in my case pine park is not a big issue because my plants do not depend only on the pot soil, they are allowed to travel all over the place in the garden soil. I use the pots to provide tem protection from our frigid winter. As for ph I am doing every thing possible to keep the PH UNDER 5.5. Also I add vingarto tap water. Fertilizing with foliage pro. All of us tend to over water I try hard to remind myself not to. Over watering is good only in dry weather, very sunny anf temperature are in the 90s.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:24PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

Letting the water sit won't change the bicarbonate content -- you'll need to add an acid (vinegar, for example). The amount that you need to add will vary, so it's something you'll need to check with a pH test.

Vermiculite isn't a suitable substitute for perlite -- it's much too fine. Ideally, you'll want a coarse grade perlite. If you can't find it, you can always omit it. While it does help to allow aerate your mix, many commercial growers plant in straight pine bark.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:28PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

Foolishpleasure: Don't fertilizer with Foliage Pro -- blueberries prefer their nitrogen in the ammonium form, and FP's nitrogen is in nitrate form. I've had good success with Miracid (Miracle Grow's acid formulation). Nitrate fertilizers have the potential to kill blueberry bushes.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:33PM
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I would keep Sunshine Blue in a pot. The plant and its root system doesnt get very big anyways and growing in pots is much easier to maitain soil ph. You will have to repot every 3 to 5 years though, maybe sooner depending on potting soil mix. I grow my Sunshine in a 15 gallon pot, going on its 3rd year now and thriving. If you do plant in the ground its suggested to plant in a raised bed style when dealing with clay. I built boxes from 2x10 pine 3x3 wide and filled with pinebark and peat moss directly over existing soil. Its been a pain keeping it moist enough in our summers but the plants are doing just fine.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 10:56AM
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Thanks guys! In terms of acidifying with vinegar, is there a specific type of vinegar that works best? I have white vinegar and apple cider vinegar.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 11:11AM
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I've used apple cider vinegar before and it works. One thing to remember about Sunshine is that it will grow fine in a higher ph soil than most all other blueberries. Dont know why or at what ph things can go wrong but I would anywhere from 4.0 to 6.5 ph will do okay for Sunshine. All other varieties that I'm aware of go south with a ph above 5.5-5.7.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 11:19AM
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Thanks guys. I ended up picking up some pathway groundcover bark ( and mixed it in with some compost, peatmoss, and a little Azalea mix. Not sure if that's all the right stuff, but we'll see what happens I guess. I also watered with about a capful or two of apple cider vinegar + water.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 2:44PM
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Hey all,

Just a quick update. It's been a few months and the plant isn't dead but it definitely isn't looking very healthy either. I'm still seeing burnt tips - do I need to add more azalea mix? I was out for two weeks so I let the irrigation take over and obviously wasn't adding vinegar at the time.

Do I need to prune it back at all? Any other recommendations to turn it around faster?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 3:31PM
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If the burnt tips are on new growth and you have had a lot of wind thats probably the problem. In the spring new growth gets kinda long and floppy. Wind will whip it around onto other leafs and branches and kill the top couple leafs. I had a bunch of dead leaf tips after this last cold front. Winds gusting to 35mph does a number on new floppy growth. If you havent had lots of wind lately its probably watering issues. With only one pot, have you concidered storing a little rain water strickly for that plant? A trash can under a gutter would be more than enough water for one potted blueberry. Sure would make you and the plant happy!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 5:58PM
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Thanks blueboy! I don't think it's been too windy where I am. I had the drip irrigation hitting it for 15-20 mins every three days. Too much maybe? The thing is, I think it's definitely warmed up (here in SoCal) cause when I got back all my mustard tendergreens had bolted and I had to pull them out!

I haven't found a good way to collect rainwater reliably, and it also hasn't rained consistently down here. At least enough to consistently water the plant with the collected water.

As far as pruning, should I just leave it alone for the most part? Or is it good to remove any burnt-tipped or dead leaves and dead branches?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 6:48PM
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Dead branches need to removed and cut back to live wood right next to a leaf node or to a main shoot. I like to try and find a leaf node pointing in the direction I want the new branch to go. Should be a node pointing to the out side of the plant, not pointing back to the interior of the bush. After the new growth gets about 7 or 8 leafs on it I like to pinch off the very tip of the branch. It does several things. It slows down the growth of the plant so its not so long and lanky. Strengthens the branch as it has time to harden off alittle before new growth starts again and it usually will branch into at least 2 new branchs sometimes more which equals more fruit buds at the end of the season. I try and do that with all my southern High bushs. I grow mine in pots too so it also keeps them more of a bush shape and not too tall. Im a little prune happy though and cant stop messing with my plants. Really theres no right way to grow them. To each his own. Thats just how I prefer to grow mine.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Hi. I'm new to this site, and gardening. I recently potted sunshine blue blueberries and the stem and many leaves are brown too. I'm in socal. It's pretty hot here. I finally added some organic blueberry/hydrangea specific fertilizer to lower the ph. Haven't seen much of a change to the growth. Did your blueberry plant make it? Take care!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 2:45PM
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MMCgovern, I don't think fertilizer will have much effect on ph. Try iron sulfate for short term and then sulfur for long term. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 1:09AM
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