How to Fertilize Blueberries

One of the early treasures of the New World found by the Pilgrims was blueberries. The soil of Cape Cod and its surroundings--sandy, loamy and covered with oak leaves and pine needles--is perfect for blueberries, and their cousins huckleberries, to grow wild in abundance. To this day, you can find these bushes everywhere. While people associate the Pilgrims with pumpkin pie, surely blueberry pie was one of their favorite, too. To create a nourishing and hospitable environment for blueberries in your yard, follow these steps.

Plan ahead. Horticultural experts suggest that soil-preparation for successful blueberry culture needs to start at least a season and as much as a year ahead of planting. Experts regard soil-testing as a must. Purchase a kit at your garden center or, if not available, call your County Extension Office, found in government listings in your phone book, for soil-testing information. Blueberries require acid soil (a pH of 4.5 - 5/1 is ideal).

Dig in enough sand and peat moss or compost to produce well-drained soil (to a minimum depth of 12 inches and preferably deeper). Usually 1 part sand and 1 part peat moss/compost to 2 parts soil produces good drainage. Work in elemental sulfer or ammonium sulfate to acidify soil (follow package directions). Add soil acidifier to make a 2-foot radial circle around each plant you plan to plant (blueberry roots are sensitive to all chemicals and soil amendments).

Plant bushes in holes lined with 2 to 4 inches of peat moss or compost. Tamp down soil to remove any air-spaces. Water regularly; do not leave standing water (blueberry roots are sensitive to excess water).

Side-dress plants with high-nitrogen non-nitrate fertilizer. Nitrogen is the primary element blueberries need. Other chemicals in nitrate form can be toxic to blueberries. Some garden centers and many catalogs carry blueberry-fertilizer formulas. Side-dressing is the application of fertilizer to the soil-improvement ring you made around bushes before you planted. Following package directions, work fertilizer into the top six inches of the soil-ring--again avoiding direct contact with delicate plant roots. Some gardeners fertilize as buds emerge, then after fruit is just set. Check directions on package.

Planting blueberries is a little bit like organizing a wedding--much busy work to achieve something that, at best, goes on quietly for a long time. Preparation is a bit of a challenge, but once you have done it, your bushes are likely to settle into the blueberry-making business with little further fuss. After two years, retest soil and add further acidifiers if needed. Fertilize if growth and fruit-bearing seems to slow. Otherwise, relax and enjoy your delicious blueberries.

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