Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Growing Blueberries

Both the highbush and rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) are hardy in the Southern Appalachian region (zone 6-b to 7-a). A hot summer is a nemesis for highbush and an extremely cold winter limits where you can grow rabbiteye within zone 6-b.

Blueberry bushes grow 8-15-feet tall, requiring annual pruning. Its dark green foliage turns brilliant red in the fall. Pale pink flowers appear in the spring followed by the berries which start out as pale-green (pictured) and ripen to dark bluish-purple.

Blueberries are very shallow rooted and must be irrigated regularly during their growing season.
Space blueberry bushes 5 to 7-feet apart with rows 8-feet apart. Mulch with a black fabric matted base and cover with an additional 3-4 inches of sawdust, wood chips or pine needles. For info. on garden soil prep, see blog dated 4/30/10.

Use an organically-based, slow release fertilizer composed of sulfur-coated prills. A newly blueberry plant starts with one ounce of ammonium sulfate to a maximum of 8 ounces of ammonium sulfate for a mature bush per year. Bushes reach full production in 6-10 years.

For highbush blueberries (I recommend 'Duke', 'Bluecrop' and 'Blueray' cultivars) are harvested starting from mid- June thru late July and rabbiteye ('Tifblue' and 'Premier') are ready from mid- July thru September.
Birds love ripe blueberries as much as people do. Cover your bushes with netting or plan on sleeping outside when harvest time.

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