Its blueberry picking season and that means you may be out harvesting berries. But when you get home you begin thinking about blueberries in your own yard. Not only do these plants provide yummy berries, they also are a great hedge, and attract wildlife. Here are a few tips to get your blueberries started in your own North-Central Florida landscape:
Blueberries require a few important inputs to do well.
- Test your soil pH. Blueberries prefer an acidic soil. Most extension offices will test your soil for free or a minimal cost. If you have an alkaline soil (7.0 or higher) then you can still grow blueberries. You just may need to reconsider if you plant them in the ground versus containers.
- Plant in pine nuggets. When you dig the hole make sure it is nice and wide. When you back fill, use a mix of native soil, pine bark nuggets, and organic matter. This will help lower the soil pH around the plant. If you are using containers then you should still mix pine nuggets with the mix.
- Make sure you have access to irrigation. Blueberries typically require supplemental irrigation, especially when they are producing fruit and it is a drought year. They do want well-drained soil and should not be planted in areas that retain water.
- Select a sunny area for your blueberries, away from competition from other plants.
- Make sure you select two different types of cultivars for cross-pollination.
Selecting Your Cultivars
There are two types of blueberries. You can choose either southern highbush or rabbiteye. If you visit a u-pick, they typically plant southern highbush because they will produce fruit earlier in the season. Rabbiteye blueberries are normally harvested after Memorial Day. You can extend your berry season by planting both kinds. However, rabbiteye’s bloom later, so they are less likely to have flower loss from a freeze.
Southern highbush cultivars that may be better adapted to north-central Florida and readily available include ‘Emerald’ and ‘Windsor’. Rabbiteye cultivars include early cultivars, such as ‘Beckyblue’, ‘Bonita’, ‘Climax’, and ‘Austin’. There are also mid to late rabbiteye cultivars that include ‘Brightwell’, ‘Powderblue’, ‘Tifblue’, and ‘Woodward’. By mix southern highbush with early and late rabbiteyes, you could really extend your berry season. We would recommend having at least two cultivars from each group for the best yield.
Here are some quick tips for fertilizing your berries:
- Use frequent and light fertilization.
- Do not over-fertilize or put it in the planting hole.
- Use a camellia-azalea fertilizer. These will help lower the pH. Avoid nitrate fertilizers. Use ammoniacal sources of nitrogen (N) like ammonia sulfate or urea, and avoid chlorinated compounds like muriate of potash (KCl) and magnesium chloride (MgCl2).
- Schedule and amount of fertilizer based on plant age:
- 1st yr: 1-1.5 ounce- Dec/Jan, April, June, August, October; Scatter the fertilizer around the plant creating a circle 2’ in diameter
- 2nd yr: 2 ounces 12-4-8 or something similar (azalea/camellia fertilizer) creating a 3’ diameter circle; fertilize 3 to 4 times per year
- 3rd yr and after: 3 ounces 4’ diameter or broadcast in band 3-4’wide; 2 to 3 times per year
It is important to correctly time when you prune your blueberries.
Some pruning tips:
- Remove any broken, diseased, or crossed branches
- Cut low hanging branches that would touch the ground when it is loaded with fruit
- Take out a couple of old branches that are no longer as productive
- Remove “twiggy” wood
- Prune the blueberry at planting and remove any blooms the first year to promote establishment
- Prune in July/August and January/February after established
Blueberries are a wonderful plant to incorporate into the landscape, as hedges, or as a blueberry patch. With a little care and attention to soil pH, irrigation, fertilization, and pruning you can add delicious fruit to your landscape.