Organic Blueberry Planting Guide
Blueberries are an easy way to create an edible landscape with highly desirable ornamental values. Once established blueberries require little upkeep. Just a little pruning in late winter and you will have no less than 30 years of fruit. Some plants can live for over 100 years.
Site Selection and Preparation
Select a sunny location with well-drained soil that is free of weeds and is well-worked. It is best to prepare the site several months in advance to allow your amendments to integrate into the soil. Where the soil is not ideal or marginally-drained, raised beds are an excellent option. Blueberries can also grow well in containers
Blueberries need acidic soils. Incorporating peat moss into the planting medium is our recommendation. For planting into the ground, dig an area about 3 feet around and 18 inches deep for each plant. Remove a third of the soil. Add an equal amount of pre-moistened peat moss and mix well. One bag of compressed bale will be enough for 4 plants. For raised beds or containers mix equal volumes peat moss, pine bark, compost or a planting mix with a high content of organic matter. Do not use manure in your mix.
Blueberries can be planted as close as 2 feet to form solid hedgerows or spaced up to 6 feet apart. If planted in rows, allow 10 feet between the rows to allow for mowing equipment etc.
In most areas, it’s ideal to plant in the fall or spring. We prefer and encourage folks to plant in fall as it is less stressful to young plants to avoid heat in spring that can quickly dry out soil. If you purchased potted blueberry plants, remove from pot and lightly roughen up the outside surface of the root ball. Mound the plant’s top soil about 1/2 inch higher than the existing ground and firm around root ball. Then mound soil up along sides of exposed root mass and water in well. If you purchased bear root plants follow the same methods, just skip the roughening the root ball. Be careful to avoid exposure to direct sunlight on exposed roots. It only takes a few seconds for the sun to destroy micro-roots that we can’t even see. It is important that you water in the soil before you plant to remove as many air pockets as possible and to allow the soil to compact to its normal state before planting. This is why we encourage prepping the soil in advance of planting. Mounding up the soil is important as it allows for better drainage. In commercial plantings a 2 foot dip between the base of the plant and the middle of the row is standard practice, so don’t be afraid to mound high.
Planting On a Hill
If you are planting on a hill the hill is too steep if soil cannot be held in place and erodes away quickly. Its not a good idea to plant there unless you have a way to stop erosion (i.e. building small retaining walls). Signs of erosion are easily visible to the eye. You do not need to mound up as high on a hill as drainage will take place naturally with gravity.
Watering Young Plants
We suggest you water every day for the first 5-7 days and then every-other day for the next 5-7 days and then every 3-4 days for the next 5-7 days and then once a week for the first 2 years. Each plant needs a gallon of water per week, so if it doesn’t rain you will need to water until your plant has an established root system (3 years). We are not fans of irrigation systems, as they are expensive, but you can set up drip tape as a solution to conserve water during the first few establishment years.
The First 3 Years
Pick flowers blooms as they appear for at least the first two years. We recommend three years. This allows the plant to focus on root production and minimizes the risk of disease in in the plants infancy. The idea is limit the stress of a plant. Make sure the plants gets a least 1 gallon of water per week during these years. One quarter of an inch of rainfall will do the trick. Use your judgment. For example if it has been 10 days since rain and you know its going to rain on the 11th day, you don’t need to water!
Blueberries do best with 2-4 inches of mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and add organic matter. Bark mulch, acid compost, sawdust and grass clippings all work well. Repeat every other year. Do not use bark or sawdust from cedar or redwood trees. Do not place mulch directly on the stem(s) of the plant.
Blueberry plants should be heavily pruned each year (after the first 3 or 4 years) to avoid over-fruiting which results in small fruit or poor growth.
One of the biggest mistakes folks make with their blueberries is lack of pruning. We assure you that aggressive, annual pruning will result in healthier, more vigorous plants and more prolific fruit production. Here are some simple tips:
1. Remove low growth around the base.
2. Remove the dead wood, leaving bright colored lateral branches. Cut out any short, discolored branches.
3. Continue pruning until you have removed 1/3 to ½ of the wood out your plants each year. Remember, this will promote growth and berry production so prune away!
Once established, blueberries like acid fertilizers such as rhododendron or azalea formulations. (Ask your local garden center for recommendations.) Take care when fertilizing, since blueberries are very sensitive to over-fertilization. Follow label instructions.
It’s ideal to fertilize once in early spring and again in late spring. Be sure to always water thoroughly after fertilizing. For organic fertilizers, blood meal and cottonseed meal work well. Avoid using manures as they can damage the plants.