How to Care for Blueberries
Give newly planted bushes a few weeks to get over transplant shock, then give them some fertilizer
Welcome to Homegrown/Homemade, a video series from FineGardening.com. We’ll be following a gardener (Fine Gardening executive editor Danielle Sherry) and a cook (Sarah Breckenridge) as they plant, maintain, harvest, store, and prepare garden vegetables and fruits. If you’re new to growing your own food, you’ll find these videos very helpful. In this video, the topic is blueberries.
Episode 2: How to Care for Blueberries
Give newly planted blueberry bushes a few weeks to get over transplant shock, then offer them a side dressing of fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Spread the fertilizer in a shallow trench 18 inches away from the crown, cover, and water well. As the berries form, watch for the first sign of ripening: a blue tinge. That’s the time to set out netting to protect your crop from birds.
Unlike typical garden crops, blueberries are perennial shrubs, and once they mature, they will grow and produce fruit each season. They are valuable landscape plants as well: In spring, they are covered with white blooms, berries ripen in summer, and the leaves turn red in the fall.
Plant blueberries at least 4 feet apart, to allow them space to grow. Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper than the container the shrub is in. After setting the shrub in the hole, backfill with a mix of peat moss and topsoil. Blueberries thrive in acidic soil, and the peat moss (or a sprinkling of sulfur) will keep the pH at the proper level. Then mulch, and water frequently until the plants establish themselves.
The trickiest part of harvesting blueberries is knowing when they are at peak ripeness. Look closely at each berry; if it still looks reddish, it isn’t quite ready. Ripe berries are uniformly blue and plump. Shrunken or shriveled fruit is a sign of mummyberry, a fungal disease. Remove and dispose of affected berries, then mulch in the fall to cover any diseased fruit that has fallen to the ground. Blueberry bushes younger than three years don’t need pruning. For older plants, cut one to three of the oldest canes back to the ground. Fruit is produced on younger shoots.