According to berry expert Amelie Brazelton Aust, a second-generation owner at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery who's been growing blueberries on her family farm for most of her life, the secret to blueberry success is the four Ps: planting, pruning, picking, and protecting.
"While I know a lot about the blueberry business, I do not have a green thumb like the rest of my family," says Aust. “However, blueberries are relatively simple and even I have great success with my blueberry plants at my home. Simply following these four simple tips help bushes flourish with berries season after season."
Planting the right variety of blueberries is one key to success. BrazelBerries’ blueberries are great for patio pots, raised beds or directly in the garden. Blueberries need at least six hours of sun each day – "It's the sun that makes berries sweet and juicy, so plant in a very sunny spot," said Aust.
Another consideration to make is the soil. "Blueberries love acidic soils," said Aust. A pH of 4.5 to 5.5 is ideal. A simple soil test indicates acidity, which can easily be adjusted with amendments; soil testing kits and amendments are available at any local garden center.
When growing in a container, Aust recommends giving the plant's roots plenty of growing. "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."
"The truth is that blueberries over-produce, and pruning helps it to put enough energy into producing the best plant and big, yummy fruit for the next season,” said Aust. Pruning also gives the bush more space between its branches and allows air to flow freely through the plant, helping to prevent disease.
"It's best to prune blueberries in late winter when the plants are still dormant," said Aust, "but I've pruned mine in the spring too before flowering, and they've done great." Remove all the stems that are damaged, old or dead – don’t be afraid to take out up to a quarter or even a third of the bush.
Fertilizing is recommended in early spring. "Add an acid fertilizer such as those for rhododendrons and azaleas," suggests Aust. "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."
Picking and protecting
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.
Watch your berries carefully and pick them before the birds do. If birds are a problem, cover with bird netting in the spring. Birds are also less likely to eat the fruit when the plants are in containers on the patio.
"In very cold regions, apply a deep layer of mulch around the base of the bush to protect the roots," said Aust. "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." BrazelBerries varieties Peach Sorbet and Blueberry Glaze are hardy to USDA Zone 5, while Jelly Bean withstands the slightly colder conditions of USDA Zone 4.
For spring's sudden cold snaps, Aust suggests covering blueberry bushes with burlap or blankets when the forecast calls for frost once buds and flowers are emerging. "Spring's warm days can be deceptive," said Aust. "Keep an eye on the weather, and before night falls, cover and protect that tender new growth."
For more information on the BrazelBerries Collection, visit www.brazelberries.com.
Information and quotes in this piece provided by Garden Media Group.
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