How To Plant Blueberry Bushes

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This article provides helpful tips for planting blueberry bushes in the South
by Brett · Zone 5A · -20° to -15° F to Zone 11 · Above 40° F · Planting · 0 Comments · September 30, 2013 · 16,121 views

About Growing Blueberry Bushes In The South

Blueberries are becoming increasingly popular due to their delicious and healthy fruit, and even their use in edible ornamental landscaping. Among other things, they are high in antioxidants, have anti-aging activity, promote healthy urinary tracts, improve vision and help fight heart disease. With a little effort, these "wonder berries" can be produced by home gardeners throughout the South.

There are basically two types of blueberries that perform best in the South: the Rabbiteyes, and the Southern Highbush, which are popular with blueberry farmers and produce earlier than the Rabbiteyes. In mountainous regions of the South, where temperatures are much cooler, the Northern Highbush blueberries can be grown. This species often blooms later than rabbiteyes, so they may be useful for more freeze-prone sites in the mountains. However, northern highbush blueberries generally do not perform well in the South due to insufficient winter chilling and hot summer temperatures. Make sure and purchase the type of blueberry most suitable to the area you intend to grow them.

Rabbiteye Blueberries
One of the most important things to remember about starting rabbiteye blueberries is to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. This helps to promote adequate fruit set. Also, if you select varieties that ripen at different times this can extend the blueberry harvesting season.

Austin, Alapaha, Climax, Premier, Vernon and Titan are popular early-season producers. Brightwell, Powderblue and Tifblue are mid-season producers. Baldwin, Centurion, and Ochlockonee are good late-season producers. Titan is a very new variety (released in 2011) that produces the largest fruits of any rabbiteye variety to date. Vernon also has large berries. Alapaha and Ochlockonee have medium sized berries with good eating quality and less pronounced seeds than varieties such as Austin and Brightwell.

Southern Highbush Blueberries
These varieties offer some very early ripening fruit so are not good for planting in colder, mountainous regions of the South, where they are susceptible to freeze damage. Early season southern highbush will ripen 2 to 3 weeks before early-season rabbiteye varieties, and midseason southern highbush about 8-12 days before mid-season rabbiteyes. Many southern highbush are self fertile, however, the planting of multiple varieties is still recommended for increased fruit production.

Suziblue, Palmetto and Oneal are good early-season varieties of the southern highbush blueberry. Camellia, Jubilee, and Magnolia are good mid-season varieties. Palmetto is a medium sized berry that is noteworthy for its outstanding flavor. Suziblue has very large fruit as does Camellia. Jubilee and Magnolia are smaller fruited varieties with good plant vigor.

For increased vigor, mulch southern highbush plants with pine bark or pine straw, and be careful not to overwater them, especially in heavy, poorly drained soils. It's best to plant them in well-draining soils.

How To Plant Blueberry Bushes

When planted and cared for properly, which doesn't require much work, blueberry bushes are very easy to grow. One year old bare-root plants will usually start producing some fruit the second or third year after transplanting. Container-grown plants, which are usually available year round at nursery and garden centers, are usually 2 or more years old (depending on the size container) and will produce fruit during the first season after planting. By the sixth year, a blueberry bush can yield as much as 2 gallons of berries per plant, with increased yields after that. That's a pretty good bang for your buck!

STEP 1 - First, make sure the soil is right. Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.2 for best growth and fruit production. If your soil pH is in the range of 5.3 to 6.0, sulfur can be applied before planting to lower the pH. Follow instructions on product label for application rates or use this sulfur application chart to determine how much sulfur to apply. Rates of up to 0.7 lbs per 100 square feet can be used yearly, if needed. If the initial soil pH is above 6.0, growing blueberries will be difficult unless massive amounts of peat moss or milled pine bark are mixed with the soil. You can find out what your soil pH is by testing soil with a soil pH kit or by taking a soil sample to your county Extension office.

STEP 2 - Select a location that provides at least half a day of direct sunlight. Blueberry bushes will tolerate shade but too much will decrease fruit yields.

STEP 3 - Determine spacing. A standard spacing for rabbiteye blueberries is 5 to 6 feet between plants in a row and 11 to 12 feet between rows. For highbush (southern or northern) a spacing of 4 feet between plants in a row and 10 feet between rows is suggested. If developing individual specimen plants give plants a 25 to 40 square feet of area to grow.

STEP 4 - If you are planting blueberry in a row, till the soil 8 to 12 inches deep in a band at least 3 to 4 feet wide. Otherwise, when planting individual plants in avarage, well-drained ground, dig a planting hole at least 3 times as wide as the container the plant was grown in or at least 24 inches wide and 12 inches deep, the wider the hole the better. If the planting site stays consistently soggy or wet, plant on raised beds or mounds 12 inches in height and several feet wide to ensure good drainage. Blueberry bushes like moist soil but do not like constantly soggy or wet soil. If the soil is dense, such as heavy clay, thooroughly mix in an pine bark fines or mini nuggets to break up the soil. Avoid using cheap potting soils and do not apply lime.

STEP 5 - If you are planting a bare-root plant do so in winter, while the plant is dormant. Set the plant in the planting hole so that it is at the same depth as it was growing in the ground at the nursery. If container-grown, plant with the top edge of the rootball at or slightly above the ground level to allow for some settling. If container-grown plants are "root bound" carefully looosen the roots around the exterior of the rootball.

STEP 6 - Bare Root Only: Prune plant back 1/3 to 1/2 it's height at planting time. Remove low twiggy growth entirely and tip remaining shoots to remove all the flower buds. Do not prune container-grown plants at lanting time.

STEP 7 - Mulch blueberry plants with a 2-inch layer of pine bark or pine straw over a circle 18 to 24 inches in diameter or more with the plant in the center.

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