Grow Blueberries!

July is National Blueberry month, among other things, according to a website I found that lists bizarre and unique holidays. Although blueberries are native to the eastern United States, the hybrids that we grow here actually do quite well. They are self-fertile in pollination, but growers should plant more than one variety to increase yields and extend the harvest season. Blueberries are long-lived and can produce high yields at 50 years of age. Full bearing is not reached until 7 or 8 years of age.

Any soil with high organic matter and good water holding capacity will support blueberries. An acid soil in the range of 4.5 to 5.5 pH is ideal. Remove all weeds, especially perennial weeds prior to planting.

Plant dormant plants in late winter or spring when available. Add peat moss or rotted sawdust to the soil when planting, if necessary. Mulching will help to protect the shallow root system from temperature fluctuations and drying.

Prune after planting to stimulate new vigorous growth. Strip off blossoms the first two years to concentrate on vegetative growth. Prune mature plants to retain 1- to 3-year-old wood for best fruit production. The amount of fertilizer depends on rate of previous growth. Use three separate applications for optimal growth. Ammonium sulfate is a good acid forming fertilizer. Blueberries prefer moist soil, but also adequate drainage. Apply 1 to 2 inches of water when irrigating once every 2 weeks in summer. Blueberries are well adapted to drip irrigation systems. Mulch up to 6 inches to conserve water.

Diseases that affect blueberries include Mummyberry and botrytis fruit rot. Mummyberry can be very severe in wet weather.

Relatively insect-free, blueberries can suffer from Scale and root weevils and cherry fruitworm can be a localized problem. Birds will be a persistent problem. Net the plants as the berries start to color up.

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods website (whfoods.org)… “in terms of U.S. fruit consumption, blueberries rank second to strawberries in popularity of berries. Blueberries are not only popular, but also repeatedly ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings. Antioxidants are essential to optimizing health by helping to combat the free radicals that can damage cellular structures as well as DNA. We recommend enjoying raw blueberries — rather than relying upon blueberries incorporated into baked desserts — because, like other fruits, raw blueberries provide you with the best flavor and the greatest nutritional benefits.”

As one of the few fruits native to North America, blueberries have been enjoyed by Native Americans for hundreds of years. They have also enjoyed great popularity around the world in cuisines from Asia to the Mediterranean.

If you have a gardening question you can contact a Master Gardener on Mondays from noon – 3 pm at the WSU Extension office at 303 N. 4th Street in Shelton. Have you ever thought of becoming a Master Gardener?Call 360-427-9670 Ext. 688 for details.

Submitted June 26, 2013.

Written by R. Jeanne Rehwaldt, Extension Coordinator Supervisor
WSU Extension – Mason County Food $ense Nutrition and Master Gardener Programs