THE CARE AND FEEDING OF BLUEBERRIES
from The Happy Gardens Gazette – spring, 2012
OK, you’ve carefully selected and planted a few blueberry plants last spring. (If you haven’t, see STARTING RIGHT WITH BLUEBERRIES.) So, What now?
The first year after planting, all of the flowers should be removed to prevent the plant from fruiting before it has built up sufficient reserves. Trust me, I know this is a hard thing to do but you will be rewarded in following years with a stronger, healthier plant that will bear loads of fruit for many years to come.
Your goal in blueberry pruning is to maintain a healthy supply of 2 year old wood while removing enough of the older wood to prevent overbearing resulting in smaller berries and/or biennial bearing. Blueberries are best pruned in late winter or early spring as the buds are just starting to swell and break. You’ll do little pruning the first year. Just remove any broken branches as well as any that have died over the winter.
In years 2 through 5, start by removing any broken or winter damaged branches. Next remove any weak, spindly growth and any lateral growth from the base. Then remove any branches that are crossed and rubbing together. Leave all of the remaining old wood intact, select 2 or 3 vigorous, upright branches of new wood to keep and prune the rest out as close to the ground as possible. Your goal after pruning in the fifth year is to have 12 to 15 vigorous, upright branches of various ages.
In the following years your goal is to remove about 1/3 of the oldest wood each year, thinning out the center and maintaining good spacing. Allow a like number of new, vigorous, upright branches to remain and prune the rest out.
Blueberries prefer an acidic fertilizer such as those found in Rhododendron-Azalea formulations. Avoid manure. Apply according to label directions beginning in late April and continuing every 4 to 6 weeks until mid July. Be sure to water in well.
Blueberries require a lot of moisture. Water thoroughly once each week. Drip or soaker hose irrigation is best but if you use sprinkler irrigation, be sure to water early in the morning, allowing the foliage to dry before nightfall.
A layer of organic mulch will help conserve moisture, inhibit weed growth and protect the plants through winter. An acidic mulch is preferred, such as coarse sphagnum peat or partially rotted sawdust or pine needles. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch in autumn, once the ground has frozen but before snow cover.
Blueberries are relatively resistant to insects and disease. Deer or moose may graze on them a bit but rarely do significant damage. Birds may find your berries and if they do, you’ll need to cover your bushes with bird netting once the berries begin to ripen.