The Edible Garden

Tips for Growing Blueberries

Tips for successful gardening with this easy-to-grow fruit.

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If you're looking for edible plants to grow in your garden, consider blueberries. Once the pH of the soil is right (acid), you'll find they are among the easiest fruits to grow. Blueberry farmer Bill Pace of Overlake Blueberry Farm in Bellevue, Wash., shares these tips for growing this tasty fruit successfully.

Soil preparation
Blueberries prefer acidic soil, somewhere around 5.5. Sulfur can be added to the soil to make it more acidic and suitable for growing. To learn your soil's pH, take a soil sample to your local extension service for testing. The results will also include recommendations on potential amendments to improve the soil. Then prepare loose, rich soil for planting, working in compost as necessary. After planting, make sure that plants are well watered.

Plant selection
Plant multiple varieties that mature and produce fruit at different times of the season. This way you can extend the harvest time to the end of the season, which is generally July to September. The good thing about blueberries is that they are self pollinating, so they don't need another plant to pollinate. This means you need only one plant to produce fruit. If you don't have much space in your garden beds, consider growing blueberries in containers. There are several hybridized selections, including dwarf cultivars, that are well-adapted for different climates.

Fertilization
The ideal time to fertilize blueberries is in the spring. Use sparingly. Amendments, like compost and fertilizers, that are approved for use on acid-loving plants like camellias and azaleas are also good for using on blueberry plants. Beware of high-nitrogen fertilizers. Although you may get plenty of vegetative growth, fruit production won't be as good. Pace plants cover crops, such as clover, under his blueberries to add nitrogen to the soil naturally.

Healthy, pest-free plants
Maintain good ventilation around the plants to keep them disease- and insect-free. Prune away crossing and rubbing branches. Thinning out branches every other year or so helps to promote air circulation within the plant.

It will take about two years for young branches to produce fruit, so be patient. Remove leaf litter and other debris from the base of plants. Harvest all the berries, instead of allowing them to fall to the ground.

To keep birds from eating the tasty berries, you can put netting around the entire plant to prevent access. Or, Pace uses a machine that sounds like a dying, squawking bird to chase away other birds.

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