10 tips for growing blueberries in the backyard
WANT TO SUCCEED with blueberries? Ask the guy with a Ph.D. in the subject, author of all the best books on home-garden fruit growing: Lee Reich, a repeat guest on my public-radio show, and an old friend. That’s Lee’s blueberry “gazebo” up top, meant to keep the crop safe from birds and other hungry types. All the delicious details…in print or the podcast:
10 tips for blueberry success
ALL OF LEE REICH’S instructions except for pruning refer to care of all blueberry plants, whether lowbush or high; pruning details below are for highbush types. (That’s him with ripening paw paws, above.)
- Choose a sunny spot. Though blueberries grow in semi-shade in nature, heavier fruiting happens with more sunshine.
- Test for pH, and adjust to a very acidic 4-to-5 range using pelleted sulfur (a natural element, and easier and safer to use than dusty powders).
- Though blueberries like infertile soil (yes!), it must be high in organic matter.
- Add peat moss to the hole when planting. Lee doesn’t usually use much peat moss, which is a non-renewable resource, except for this one-time application.
- Water well, and provide regular water for maximum fruiting (especially critical the first two years in the ground). Lee’s plants are on a drip system.
- Mulch to a depth of about 3 inches with wood shavings and chips, pine needles, shredded autumn leaves or sawdust.
- Net the plants during fruiting season to outsmart the birds. (Lee grows his 16 highbush shrubs in a netted “gazebo,” seen in the top photo, and they yield an astounding 190 quarts of fruit.)
- Replenish the mulch each fall, after leaf drop—and also feed the plants just a little Nitrogen at that time by spreading soybean meal (from the feed store) at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.
- Recheck the pH and readjust every couple of years with more pelleted sulfur.
- Don’t prune till highbush plants are four or five years in the ground. Stems aged six years or older–about inch-thick stems–don’t produce optimally. In late winter, the oldest stems are cut out to the base (photo below shows how the base of a mature plant looks after pruning, with a good mix of older, younger, and middle-aged stems remaining).
- Need more detail? Lee’s complete blueberry how-to is in our podcast, and in this story from my archives, along with other tips and resources. Or visit Lee’s website.
prefer the podcast?
HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES naturally was the subject of the March 25, 2013 edition of my weekly public-radio program, with Lee Reich as my guest, including tips for planting, pruning and aftercare. Listen anywhere, anytime (including on the easy player below or at this link): Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio’s three stations on Monday about 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun Saturdays.
The podcast is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The March 25, 2013 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show has been produced weekly since 2010.
how to win ‘grow fruit naturally’
TO ENTER TO WIN one of two copies of Lee Reich’s latest book “Grow Fruit Naturally”, which Lee was generous enough to share with me to offer to you, comment below by answering the question. UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed, but comments are always welcome.
What fruit, if any, have you had success with in the garden? Which one(s) have outsmarted you thus far?
Don’t worry, you can simply say, “Count me in” and your entry will be official, in case you’re feeling shy–but I love hearing your answers. Two winners will be drawn at random after entries close at midnight Sunday, March 31, 2013. Good luck to all!
(Garden photos and portrait courtesy of Lee Reich. Disclosure: Books purchased from my Amazon affiliate link yield a small commission.)