Feeling Blue

March 1, 2018 | By More

I was as green as I hoped my thumb would be someday, but nothing could stop my determination. Having not even planted a single vegetable in my very first garden, I made plans to grow blueberries.

In the same way I approached everything in my first garden, I researched. Following advice of those who had successfully grown blueberries, I set out to start my own plot.

My dad found me a tiller on Craigslist, and my husband manhandled the rusty beast until the early March weeds gave way to crumbly brown earth. I drove to a local nursery and picked out four different types of baby bushes.

A baby gardener myself, I knew just enough to get started, but five seasons later we harvested enough berries to eat fresh, give to friends, freeze for year-long use, and sell at the Pottsville Farmer’s Market.

If you want to make space for blueberries in your garden, consider these specific requirements  to get your bushes off to their best start.

Blueberries must have acid soil with a pH of 4.0 to 5.5. We are fortunate in Arkansas because our Cooperative Extension Service will test our soil for free. Dig soil six inches deep in several places from the area where you’d like to grow blueberries. Place the soil in a gallon-size zip-top bag and take it to the Cooperative Extension Service in Russellville (next to the Courthouse, across from Peter’s Family Living). The lab will test your soil and you’ll receive a letter in the mail a few weeks later that tells you the pH.

Soil in our area tends to be on the acidic side, but if the pH of your soil is higher than 5.5, you can add pelletized sulfur to the planting area. The cooperative extension agents can give you specific rates based on your soil test.

Blueberries must have full sun to fruit. When choosing a location to plant your blueberry bushes, select an area that gets over six hours of full summer sun. Although the plants will grow in shade, they will not fruit heavily without full sun.
Buy two to three different types of blueberries for best pollination. Blueberry bushes cross-pollinate each other. Plant two at minimum (no more than twenty feet apart from one another), but three or four is even better. Each bush should be planted at least six feet away from its neighbor. In a few years when their growth spans five feet or more, you’ll be glad you did.

Ensure planting area stays moist but is well-drained. You don’t want blueberries to sit in water, but they do need consistent moisture, especially the first year. Add mulch up to four inches deep to help the soil retain moisture and also to discourage weed growth. You can use wood chips, autumn leaves, pine shavings, or pine needles

Most of the labor required to grow blueberries occurs at planting time. Once the bushes establish themselves, the only work you’ll be doing for the most part is harvesting. But you’ll have to be patient. While some blueberry bushes may give you a handful of berries the first season, the heaviest fruiting occurs in the third year and beyond. By then, you’ll be begging your friends to come help you with your harvest.

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Category: Journey with Jill in the Garden

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