We’ve started a lot of projects this year. One of our big ones this spring was planting blueberry bushes. I wanted a patch large enough to sustain our family of blueberry lovers throughout the year. This meant putting in a lot of bushes.
Man I’m wishing we’d done this our first year homesteading! We’d be harvesting gallons of blueberries by now!
Actually, we did put in a dozen blueberry bushes in the beginning of our journey, but the goats escaped and demolished our poorly planned patch right away. Two of those first plants survived and now live in the garden. We’ve been enjoying handfuls of berries from them for a couple years now, but I wanted more.
I excitedly ordered 20 blueberry bushes from our local 4-H group. They were a good price ($6 each), and I didn’t have to worry about them being shipped. I got five plants of four different varieties to ensure good cross-pollination: Tifblue, Premier, Yadkin, and Powderblue.
Choosing The Right Blueberry Plants
There are quite a few varieties of blueberries to choose from. You’ll want to select those that do best in your area. Do an online search for blueberry varieties in your county and you’ll likely find recommendations from your local county extension agency. You can always give them a call as well.
You’ll want to make sure you get different varieties for cross pollination. Also select plants that come into season at different times so you can extend the harvest over several months.
Blueberries need full sun. Plant blueberry bushes where they’ll get at least six hours of full sunlight for the best harvest. They also need well draining soil. Don’t plant them where they’ll stay soggy, such as a low lying area of the yard.
We picked a sunny spot up on the hill behind our house. There were lots of wild strawberries growing there and there had previously been pine trees, so we felt the soil was acidic enough. They say blueberries will grow where strawberries have done well, because they both prefer acidic soil (4-5 pH).
You can have your county extension office do a soil test to see what amendments need to be made before planting blueberry bushes. It’s best to do this in the Fall and then test one more time before planting in early Spring.
We started preparing the site by creating rows of compost and mulching between the rows with wood chips. The ground is super hard clay, and we thought the compost would help. Later I read that you have to be careful when using compost with blueberry bushes as it can reduce the soil acidity too much. We ended up shoveling out most of the compost to just a couple inches deep.
Blueberry bushes should be planted 4-6 feet apart, in rows 8-10 feet apart. We measured out the space for 20 plants, marked the rows with t-posts and ran a string between them to keep the rows straight.
Preparing The Plants
The first thing you want to do before planting blueberry bushes is to pick off any blooms they might already have. I know this can be hard… but you really want the plant’s energy to go into establishing strong roots during its first couple years instead of trying to send its energy up into the fruit.
You’ll also want to prune off any dead or damaged branches.
Planting Blueberry Bushes
Once you have your site selected and the plants are ready to be put in, the next step is to start digging! Dig the planting hole about 18″ across. It should be a little larger than twice the size of the pot it’s in.
Dig the hole just a tad bit deeper than the pot (or just above the roots if planting bare root plants). Put the plant in the hole to make sure it’s slightly below ground level.
I was told that it’s recommended to add peat moss to the soil when planting blueberry bushes to help with acidity. It should be thoroughly moistened before being mixed into the soil, otherwise it’ll sap all of the moisture out of the ground and away from the plant. I dumped a bag of peat moss into an empty trash can, sprayed it with the hose, and mixed with a shovel until it was the consistency of oatmeal.
Mix equal parts dirt from the planting hole with moistened peat moss. I also added in a shovel full of sand because our ground is such hard clay. Sand helps to break up the clumps and allows for better drainage.
Water the plant to make sure the root ball is moist before planting. If you’re working with bare root plants allow them to soak in a bucket of water for an hour or so before planting (or follow the nursery’s instructions in that regard).
Gently squeeze the pot and tip it over so that the plant slides out. Avoid pulling on the plant itself. I like to break up the bottom of the root ball so that the roots don’t continue to grow around and around in the shape of the container they were in, which can choke off the plant.
Add a little of the mixed soil to the bottom of the planting hole, just enough so that the plant will sit flush with (or just a tad below) the ground level. Then begin back-filling the hole with the soil mixture.
Once the hole is filled in around the plant give it a good watering. If the soil level drops add more dirt as needed.
Continue to do the same with the rest of the blueberry bushes.
Mulch to a depth of 4-6 inches to help conserve moisture, to keep weeds down, and to add organic material to the soil. Some good mulches for blueberry bushes are sawdust, wood chips (NO CEDAR), grass clippings, and pine needles.
Wait at least a month before fertilizing newly planted blueberry bushes.
Water once a week if you haven’t had any rain.
You won’t need to prune the bushes for the first four years.
Pinch back the blossoms until the third growing year to increase future harvests.
We’re super excited about our new patch! Planting blueberry bushes was hard work… I’m not gonna lie. Especially digging through hard ground with lots of roots. But I know it’ll be worth it. I look forward to watching the kids gorging themselves on fresh, organic blueberries. It won’t be long before we have enough to make our favorite Honey Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins!