Taming and maintaining wild blueberries

PaulNS(NS zone 6a)June 9, 2005

We've expanded our garden into what was forest. Around the perimeter of the new garden there is a border of native shrubs in dappled shade and sun, including lots of lowbush blueberries. These have had quite a few berries in the past but now I'd like to get as much production out of them as possible, really focus on them, more as a treat for visitors than for ourselves - we don't eat that many blueberries. Do they need pruning (burning is out of the question)? Fertilizing? More direct sun? Is it possible to spoil them with kindness?

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larry_gene

Yes, it is possible to spoil them. Try experimenting with a quarter of them.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 10:54PM
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althea_gw

Sorry I can't help with your question Paul. I've just started growing blueberries this year. I read about care from a variety of sources and ended up choosing Rodale's advice as being the most sound. I plan to topdress with compost annually and mulch with oak leaves and pine needles.

I have a question you might be able to help me with. I have been wondering what plants grow amongst blueberries in their natural habitat? I would like to interplant some companion natives with mine. The idea is that there might be a synergistic relationship between the plants, but haven't researched the idea to find out if it is likely.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 7:24AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Althea, are yours highbush blueberries? I've checked Rodale and that's what they seem to make suggestions for, though much of the same must apply to the wild/lowbush. Nova Scotia produces a lot of highbush and they're grown in what resemble vineyards.

For ours, for starters, I'm going to cut out competing growth - tree and shrub saplings, ferns, etc. - then mulch with compost, maybe some manure. We don't have access to oak leaves or pine needles in any quantity. It's the idea of pruning - either with shears, or burning - that I find daunting.

It's a nice idea you have, about synergy. What grows under or around our blueberries are mainly bunchberry (cornus), ferns (don't know the exact species), clintonia, and wild sarsaparilla, which could be tricky to grow from seed or transplant, plus serviceberry saplings and viburnum (nannyberry?) shrubs.

Here's a document I found.

Here is a link that might be useful: organic lowbush blueberry production

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 2:06PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Remove any weeds around them, add some Holly Tone acidifying fertilizer around each, twice per year. If you have dead oak leaves or pine needles, these can be used as a mulch to block weeds as well as hold in moisture for the shallow roots. Wild ones are usually very tasty compared to cultivated, and are usually smaller sized berries compared to a cultivated. Could it be that these were actually planted there? Low bush types don't seem to grow wild as much as the high bush types. Now that they have foliage and probably blossoms, you can still fertilize now. Pick or break off any dead branches. No need to prune them beyond removal of dead stuff. I'm sure that once they get the 'royal' treatment, they will be bearing huge amounts of berries for years to come.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 3:15PM
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althea_gw

Paul, I have 2 varieties of cultivated "half high" bushes, mature height 5 or 6 feet and 2 varieties of cultivated lowbush berries. Since I have so few bushes, seven total(for now), pruning won't be difficult. I should double check, but if I remember correctly, the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening said to make sure manure is well rotted or it can be probematic.

The document you linked has lots of good info about organic certification. I haven't looked at the links it cites, but have it bookmarked.

I'll ask about wild blueberry care on another site where I'm registered on as soon as they send me my forgotten password. I'll report back on the query.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 8:53AM
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gardenpaws_VA(z7 NoVA)

ksrogers, until I started gardening and reading about natives, I'd never heard of high-bush blueberries being other than tame. Certain areas of the country have more low, and some have more high, and some have other edible Vaccinium species. Certainly Maine's wild blueberries are primarily the lowbush sort, though I remember seeing an occasional highbush plant near the pond.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2005 at 9:50PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

In NH, for years I was going to woods nearby the high tension wires. All the blues there were waist high or higher. Also found an area that had wild blackberries too, growing right next to the blueberries. That year, we went home with about 10 quarts after spending about 6 hours picking. I can't believe one of my tall bush blues has reach over 10 foot. Got to get out there and chop that bush down some. All the rest of my cultivated ones are high bush as well as a few medium bush types. Every bush is just loaded with berries, and the birds are getting anxious. I can't enjoy blues anymore due to kidney problems. Even for that, I can't enjoy red raspberries either and this year they are also loaded with blossoms right now. It seems that about 90% of what I have growing in my garden, I am not supposed to eat due to high potassium levels and issues with kidneys.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2005 at 3:00AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

That is a shame Ken...

About our lowbush blueberries, we have no idea how old the bushes are, but they are indeed wild - they grow wild here everywhere. I didn't know highbush also grows wild but of course it makes sense.

If we didn't have so many of the wild kind I would grow some highbush as they are a lovely shrub. I once spent a day picking on a commercial highbush blueberry farm and it was a day in heaven.

Here's the response I got from a provincial ag. specialist re pruning:

"As far as blueberry goes, pruning does help to revitalize the plant. It
gets rid of a lot of old wood, promotes new shoots and a vigorous floral
production in the second year after pruning.

Blueberries are generally managed on a two year cycle. Prune by mowing
in the fall after harvest or by fire the spring after harvest. No fruit
will be produced this following year. However fruit buds are set in
mid-summer of this year. The following year you get fruit production
and after harvest the cycle is re-initiated.

Burning is a good pruning option to reduce disease and insect pests if
they are becoming problematic."

Maybe we will try manually pruning a quarter of them, see how it goes.

Sounds like supplying more moisture - through watering, but mainly through mulching - would make a big difference.
Thanks for the tip about using old manure Althea.

Here is an Attra site that is helpful.

Here is a link that might be useful: attra

    Bookmark   June 25, 2005 at 9:15AM
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gardenpaws_VA(z7 NoVA)

Bummer! You have my sympathy, ksrogers - I'd be miserable if I had to drop significant numbers of fruits. I'm getting ready to clear ground for a blueberry "hedgerow" (probably mid-height so as not to seem like I'm establishing a fortress) between my yard and my neighbor. They'll undoubtedly get some, but that's fine with me. Based on what I've seen in cultivated plantations, there will be more than enough for everyone.
Yes, the power line right of way is frequently a happy hunting ground for berries in my experience.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2005 at 10:12AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

My peaches and nectarines, as well as plums are getting bigger by the day. None should be eaten by me, but I plan to cheat a little. I have to drink this awful stuff that has the consistancy of thick wet sand. Its a polystyrene based drug that my nephrologist has advised me to take doses every few days. My real favorite fruit is the pluot. I would sooner die if I couldn't enjoy some of these when they are in season soon.

As to the pruning, even though my high bush blues get very little care as to pruning, I do break off any dead branches I see, and they seem to be at the low ends of the bushes near the ground. Setting outdoor fires here is illegal as I would expect most anyplace else due to the EPA. Chopping the bush down to a short size would not help my bushes to encourage them to grow new greens. My dad had planted all of these many years ago and the two that are closer to the house are now very 'leggy'. I recall him saying they were 'past their prime'. Oddly, I have never seen any other blueberry bushes except these, that have ever reached a point when they are past their prime. These leggy ones have thick, one inch branches from the stump area and only a few small branches/limbs off of these which are out about 4 feet from the ground. He cut off most of these leggy ones years ago, but left two. These bushes have never formed any new shoots below the current green area at the tips, nor have the plants sent up any new shoots from the soil. In any event, the one that is extremely leggy may get removed this year, as it has now started to cover a small pole type apple tree nearby.

Another place for picking wild things is NH. In many areas concord grapes grow wild and seem to like trailing along old stone walls. Watch out for poison ivy!!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2005 at 12:05PM
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tkeenan1(z6 MD)

PaulNS, I've been growing blueberries for years, and have never before heard of burning or mowing for maintenance.
Maybe your source was talking about RASPberries?

Most raspberries are indeed managed on 2-year cyles. Mowing the spent canes would be common practice. But the blueberries I know are not biennials. Highbush varieties take maybe 8 years to mature and you'd never want to mow them down, just prune out old wood now and then.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 10:43AM
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gardenpaws_VA(z7 NoVA)

Burning or mowing is specific for the lowbush blueberries. They prefer not to have much competition, and have a lot of growth underground where the fire can't get to it, so in the wild, they are frequently one of the first plants to come back after a fire.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 11:14PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

Ksrogers, about that pluot, where did you get it? The only source I found was a nursery out in CA and they didn't ship and had no local distributors in PA. I can't decide between a plum and an apricot, and only have room for one tree in my backyard, so a pluot would be fab.

As for burning, here in PA in the Poconos, that's how the locals managed wild blueberry production for decades. Of course burning is not so popular now, with develoments all around, and the wild blueberries are losing ground because of it.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2005 at 5:05PM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

The Ag. guy's email seemed to suggest that burning was a good idea if there was insect or disease problem. Haven't noticed either in our patches; besides which, with these small, scattered patches of blueberries it would be hard to have a controlled fire. So I guess we'll do what we can to keep out the competition....

Speaking of mowing, our neighbour had two highbush blueberries until her husband accidentally mowed one. Wonder if the wild blueberries all around can fertilize the highbush? It has flowers.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2005 at 2:26PM
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spirit

hi...can you help me to get a starter wildblackberry or and
blue berries...your help appreciated as will help as have had difficult time finding and i use to make great blackbery pies....and of course invited to share when i make pies....thank you so much

    Bookmark   March 29, 2006 at 2:16AM
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timwild

Hi,
I posted a message last week and have not received any response. Did you get the message?

TimWild

    Bookmark   July 18, 2007 at 4:45PM
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timwild

Hi,
I built a new home in 2004 in the woods with plenty of wild blueberries around the property. In 2005 there were few blueberries. In 2006 we had blueberries comming out of our ears! 2007, nothing??? I have never heard of any type of wild berry producing on alternate years only. Anyone have an answer?

Thanks,
TimWild

    Bookmark   August 16, 2007 at 11:49AM
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ntt3923

Wild (lowbush) blueberries cannot be 'tamed', they only can be maintained by maintaining their habitat.

You know whether or not you have wild blueberry bushes: their size ranges from 2" to 12", and the flavor of the berries is incomparable. No other 'blueberry' tastes like the low-bush wild blueberry. Wild Maine blueberries are now offered frozen in grocery stores, the only brand that we personally know that offers true wild Maine berries is Wyman.

If you have only a few small blueberry plants and if they haven't increased on their own they may need more acid soil. You can use acidifiers that are labeled for rhododendrons or azaleas but before doing so consult U.Maine Extension to learn what dilution you need. Also ask whether mulching and more sun may be necessary.

My blueberries grow in very thin soil over granite, are in full sun away from trees but they enjoy the 'mulch' provided by weeds and other low berry plants (cranberries). Except for fog, dew, or rain they're never watered, so it appears that they enjoy quite dry conditions. Though commercial growers irrigate the barrens and maintain other cultural practices (spot burning in the spring), we do nothing at all and always have a decent crop.

If your berries aren't dropping to the ground and seeding, it's possible that birds and animals are eating them. In that case you can reserve a few berries for propagating. For propagation advice, consult U.Maine Extension.

http://www.extension.umaine.edu/topics/blueberries.htm

The answers you seek regarding blueberry culture are in the appended text below, copied from: http://www.wildblueberries.com/about_wild_blueberries/

Wild Blueberries of Maine & Canada
One of only three berries native to North America, the Wild Blueberry (vaccinium angustifolium) thrives in the glacial soils and northern climate found in the fields and barrens of Downeast Maine and Canada. Rich in antioxidants, Wild Blueberries have grown naturally for thousands of years.

The Lowbush Blueberries
Unlike highbush cultivated blueberries, Wild Blueberries are not planted. These lowbush blueberries are primarily spread by rhizomes or underground runners, which give rise to new roots and stems. All shoots arising from the same rhizome system have similar characteristics and are referred to as a blueberry clone.

Wild Blueberry fields and barrens actually produce many different lowbush blueberry clones, which account for the variations in color and size that characterize the Wild Blueberry crop.

Growing and Harvesting: Blueberry Growers Combine Tradition and Technology
Naturally suited to acidic, low-fertility soils and challenging winters, Wild Blueberries are a low-input crop requiring minimal management. The berries are grown on a two-year cycle. Each year, half of a growers land is managed to encourage vegetative growth and the other half is prepared for harvest.

In May, growers import a billion commercial bees to aid the native bee population in pollinating the barrens and fields. There are many bee species associated with Wild Blueberries, including bumble bees and honey bees. Native bees are exceptional pollinators and Wild Blueberry growers take care to preserve wild bees through conservation practices.

The Blueberry Grower  Managing the Harvest
After the harvest, which begins in late July and continues through August, the plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning.

Wild Blueberries are harvested commercially only in Maine and Canada. The oldest commercial processing company dates back to 1874 and many of todayÂs independent, family-owned growers have been in the Wild Blueberry business for generations.

Many Wild Blueberry crops are still harvested the traditional way, using hand-held berry rakes that were first invented in 1910. Whether hand raked or machine harvested, Wild Blueberries are sorted, cleaned and processed within hours of being picked, using state-of-the-art technology to reserve their flavor, quality and antioxidant capacity.

From Fresh to Frozen Blueberries  Preserving Taste & Nutrition
Growers use winnowing machines in the fields to remove leaves and twigs before the berries are washed and frozen. Wild Blueberries are individually quick frozen (IQF) using a method that allows for the fast preservation of taste and nutrition for millions of berries. IQF berries can remain frozen for over two years without loosing their flavor or nutritional value. Laser color sorters are also utilized to remove anything but the finest quality Wild Blueberries prior to packing.

Modern Crop Management  Maintaining Healthy Land & Healthy Crops
Wild Blueberry growers are strongly committed to best agricultural practices. They use sustainable management techniques to ensure healthy crops and to protect Wild Blueberry lands for future generations. Because Wild Blueberries are indigenous to Maine and Canada, they are naturally resistant to many native pests. Still, growers are challenged to minimize crop damage caused by environmental stressors such as disease, drought, insect damage and winter injury. Using Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) throughout the crop cycle, growers monitor disease and insect levels to minimize fruit destruction without harming the environment.

Good luck. I hope your berries spread and flourish.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 11:20AM
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lynnwild4blueberries

Hi Paul, sorry I can't help you with your question, but I was wondering if you know where you can buy wild blueberry bushes (low bush blueberries) online that will ship to London, Ontario? I'm trying to start a fruit/vegetable garden next spring and I'd really like to have wild blueberries. Thanks.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2009 at 11:33AM
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jake579

Here in maine, we have high and low bush bluberries just about everywhere! they grow wild almost like weeds around waters edge! the amount in the yard however seems to be dwindleing year by year and they don't yield as many berries as they did ten years ago. the surrounding trees have grown taller and bushed out so there is a lack of sun. iv,e heard that burning them or mowing them down is a good way to keep them growing vigorously. for us burning is not an option, so once in a while we mow them but like I said lack of sun (I'm assuming) is the problem with lack of production.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 7:55AM
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