The Four Ps – Planting, Pruning, Picking, and Protecting – make up the secret to blueberry success, according to berry expert Amelie Brazelton Aust, at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery.
“While I know a lot about the blueberry business, I do not have a green thumb like the rest of my family. However, blueberries are relatively simple and even I have great success with my blueberry plants at my home,” says Aust. “Simply following these four simple tips help bushes flourish with berries season after season.”
The first secret to success is planting the right variety. Compact blueberries, like those from the BrazelBerries Collection, are perfect for growing in patio pots, raised beds and directly in the garden.
Once you choose a blueberry bush, it’s important to plant it in the right place. Blueberries need at least six hours of sun each day.
Next, consider the soil. A simple soil test indicates acidity, which can easily be adjusted with amendments. Blueberries love acidic soils. A pH of 4.5-5.5 is ideal. Both soil kits and amendments are available at any local garden center.
Aust recommends giving the plant’s roots plenty of growing room when planting in a container. “Plant them in pots 16 inches or more in diameter and water deeply and regularly to make sure all of the soil within the pot is moist to the point that water is dripping from the pot’s bottom drainage holes,” she says.
Cutting beautiful branches off any plant can be daunting, but rewarding. Pruning gives the bush more space between its branches, allowing air to flow freely through the plant and helping to prevent disease.
“It’s best to prune blueberries in late winter when the plants are still dormant,” says Aust, “but I’ve pruned mine in the spring before flowering, and they’ve done great.” Remove all the stems that are damaged, old or dead. Take out up to a quarter or even a third of the bush, then trim it up to a neat and tidy look.
Fertilizing is recommended in early spring. “Add an organic acid fertilizer such as those for rhododendrons and azaleas,” Aust suggests. “I tend to throw on half a handful of slow-release fertilizer. A high-nitrogen organic fertilizer such as blood meal or acidic cottonseed meal works great too.”
Aust recommends a second fertilizer application in late spring to give the plants an extra burst of energy for fruit production. If you’re not sure which fertilizer to use, ask an expert at your local garden center.
With planting and pruning in the bag, the next step — picking — is the pay off. Be sure to watch your berries carefully and pick them before the birds do.
A little protection ensures your blueberry bush will thrive for another bountiful season. If birds are a problem, cover with bird netting in the spring to keep critters away. Birds are less likely to eat the fruit when the plants are in containers on the patio.
Winter weather poses the biggest risk to berry bushes, so be sure to protect roots.
“In very cold regions, apply a deep layer of mulch around the base of the bush to protect the roots,” Aust says. “Blueberries in pots are even easier to protect from winter weather — if you are in a really cold area, just move the pots into an unheated garage or against a building and cover with thick mulch, burlap or a blanket.”
Spring’s sudden cold snaps endanger emerging growth, as well. Be sure to cover blueberry bushes with burlap or blankets when the forecast calls for frost once buds and flowers are emerging.
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