Blueberry Shrubs...mine are pathetic.

taftMay 8, 2006

What am I doing wrong? I've had four blueberry bushes for 4 years now (this being the fifth growing season for them) and they just do not flourish. They each have a few more branches than they did when newly planted but they are not 'shrubs' by an stretch of the imagination.

I do not remember what varieties they are, they are two of two kinds. They do put out a couple handfuls of berries each year but geez...shouldn't they be large and bountiful by now?

What do you gardeners do for yours who have nice blueberry shrubs?

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I planted blueberry bushes for the first time last spring and they were coming along nicely. Rabbits pruned them back to the ground last winter, so I can't be of much help regarding your problem with them not becoming shrubby, since ours have had to start practically from scratch this year.

What did you use to ammend the soil when you planted them? Are they getting good sun? Enough water? Do you top dress them with compost or anything each spring?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 11:47AM
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The soil was ammended at planting. They get plenty of sun, they are in a raised planting bed so drainage isn't an issue either. I put composted horse manure on them every spring.

Go figure. I do remember two of the plants being Northland or Northblue.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 12:00PM
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I would do a search on the U's site. I amended at planting with half peat moss,. I used sulphur on the bed before planting (maybe 6-8 weeks before) then for the first year I sulphured again and am now using an acidic fertilizer. Other people I know use aluminum sulphate every spring. The soil has to remain acidic enough. I need also to check the ph again and recheck the literature, because I'm not sure if I should be adding sulphur each year. Most of your success with blueberries depends on having an acidic soil. Good luck

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 2:11PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

My guess also has to do with pH. I doubt you could ever be too acidic, since blueberries grow in very low pH's. I also started my patch in half sphagnum (not sedge) peat, and amend almost yearly with ammonium sulfate or sulphur. The base soil is clay. Try to stay away from aluminum sulfate as the aluminum can build up become toxic in the soil. Iron sulphate should be fine, although I see no advantage of it over plain ground sulphur.

Northblue is one of the halfhigh cultivars from our U of M. It's a cross of the non-native highbush blueberry and our native lowbush. Northland is highbush. I have three halfhigh cultivars: Northblue, Northcountry, and Northsky. I also grow Northland.

Over the 25 years, I have found all of the halfhighs to be more cold hardy than Northland. But more interestingly, in the few years that crops have been relatively meager on the halfhighs, Northland usually shined. Still, overall I find Northland less productive.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 5:18PM
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I also mixed peat into the soil when I planted mine to lower the ph. Blueberries need a ph of between 3 - 5 in order to thrive. Never use aluminum around blueberries - it can kill them. If you use sulpher, do so sparingly, 1 tbls around each plant at most. It can also damage the fine root hairs. The best thing to do is mulch with pine needles, 4 to 6 inches annually. They acidify the soil and act as a weed barrier. Oak leaves are also a good acid mulch. People who grow blueberry plants in pots add pine bark mulch, another option if you don't have access to needles or oak leaves. Blueberry roots are close to the surface, so only hand weed, never cultivate or you can destroy the roots.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 6:56AM
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Ahhhh, perhaps cultivating is my problem? Every year when I add fresh compost I spade it in. Not deep but I am mixing the compost into the top few inches of soil.

My blueberry shrubs were planted in 100% peat dirt. That's why they were put in a raised bed...the peat was brought in just for them. I do have oak leaves aplenty in my the fall. I will try pine bark mulch or needles if I can find them.

Thanks for all the advice/suggestion's so far. :)

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 8:55AM
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The planting guide I got with my latest order tells of a customer of the nursery who was having bad luck with blueberries. The customer showed how he meticulously cultivated around each bush in the the sping with a shovel - killing all of the shallow roots in the process! That must be why yours aren't thriving too.

Blueberries aren't heavy feeders, so you could skip the composted horse manure or just top dress with that or non-nitrogen rich compost. I top dress with my regular compost in the spring. Pine bark mulch is available in garden centers.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 7:14AM
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carmellia(z 4 Minn)

Well, you guys are scaring me now. I have just purchased two bare root blueberries. It sounds to me like I am going to have to fertilize more heavily than I had intended. I am planning to use the blueberry patch as my coffee grounds dumping spot. Does that sound okay? I think they are acid.

Many of your comments to hgtvme have been helpful to me. I would have made that cutivation mistake. How many berries do you expect to get once your bushes are established? When did you get a first crop and how much did you get? Thanks. Carmellia

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 12:58PM
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Well thank goodness I haven't applied the compost yet this year! From now on I will just stand back and throw it at the plants!! is recommended that the first year you remove any blossoms so your blueberry shrubs do not bear fruit. After that, you should get a couple of handfuls next year. Of course for mine that I have been unknowingly mutilating...a couple handfuls is ALL I've ever gotten!

Also beware of birds when you berries are ripening because they'll get to them before you can. I do put netting on my teeny plants because my harvest is so sparse I can't afford to share it with the wildlife.

Actually, I'll start calling mine bonsai vaccinium. That could start a new trend in the industry. ;)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 9:10PM
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LOL hgtvme! If you can get a rabbit to shape the branches while you take care of the roots, you'll be all set!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 9:14PM
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