Blueberry bushes can be fruitful

Blueberry bushes have become favorite additions to Augusta gardens.

 

Unlike most fruit-bearing plants, they require little care and take up little room.

A blueberry bush produces a bountiful supply of delicious, healthy fruit for the table, and its blue-green foliage and showy flower spikes add beauty to the landscape. I also see many blueberry plants used as hedges, although you must remember that they lose foliage in winter.

With proper management, blueberry bushes will produce fruit the second or third year after planting. By the sixth year, they will yield as much as two gallons of berries each. The yield will continue to increase for several years as the plants get bigger.

Select only the best blueberry plants from varieties that are appropriate to our area, and buy from a good nursery or garden center. Bargain plants are usually not a bargain over the long haul.

You have to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. Choose two or more varieties within each ripening group for good pollination. Some good early varieties are Austin, Brightwell, Climax, Premier and Woodard. Bluebelle, Briteblue, Chaucer, Powderblue and Tifblue ripen at midseason. Baldwin, Centurion, Choice and Delite are late season.

By planting early, midseason, and late varieties, you can enjoy fresh blueberries for six weeks.

Here are some points to remember when planting and caring for blueberries:

- Select a site that has sun for at least half the day. Blueberries will grow in shady spots, but fruit production will be poor.

- The standard spacing is 6 feet in a row. For a quicker hedgerow effect, plant rabbiteyes 4 feet apart. If you are developing individual specimen plants, set them 8 to 10 feet apart.

- Do not lime the soil when planting. Blueberries require a very acid soil. A soil pH of 4.0 to 5.3 is preferred.

If the pH is too high, you can apply sulfur to lower it. Ideally, you would do this six months prior to planting.

- Mix in two to five gallons of wet peat moss or milled pine bark with the soil in each planting hole.

- Plant shrubs the same depth as they grew in the nursery. Look for the soil line markings on the plants. Firm the soil with your foot after planting.

- Prune plants back at planting. Remove low, twiggy growth entirely and tip remaining shoots to remove all the flower buds.

- Do not apply fertilizer at transplanting. After new growth begins in March, apply two ounces of a good azalea fertilizer or one ounce of 10-10-10 per plant. Fertilize at the same rate in May and July if rainfall or irrigation has been good. Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18 inches in diameter, with the plant in the center.

- During the first year, remove any flowers or fruit that escaped the pruning process at planting so the plants will grow better and not expend energy on fruiting.

- Keep weeds and grass away from the plants.

- Water the plants throughout the growing season when rain is not adequate.

- Cultivated blueberries are almost a perfect fruit. They are easy to pick, the berries are large and the uses are endless.

- They also freeze well. To freeze, dry the berries and put them in plastic containers. The blueberries can be washed after they are thawed.

- Blueberries are a good fruit that the kids will enjoy picking and eating.

Sid Mullis is the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County. Contact him at (706) 821-2349 or smullis@uga.edu.

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